Grading Writing: Creativity, Subjectivity, & Building Confidence

When we write for school are we being creative or formulaic?


When it’s not a creative writing class, can academic writing still rely on our imaginations?


These are questions I am constantly asked.


As a defender of academic or scholarly writing, I am often confronted by people who see “creative” writing on one side of a divide and “critical” or “scholarly” writing on a complete other side, and never the twain shall meet.


But is that accurate?


When asked this question before, I’ve written this:


Often when academic writers put their pen to paper–or their fingers to the keyboard–what they write is dry and, well, academic.


Their writing is filled with technical jargon and impressive research. They advance a position with scholarly acumen. They convince you with the confidence they deploy as they navigate the complexities of their field.


Academic writing is often referred to as critical writing, because it involves key critical thinking skills.


Is there room for creativity in this kind of writing? If so, where and how?


The contemporary critical landscape finds authors drawing less hard lines between critical/creative writing. Bits of memoir or anecdotes from life find their way into dissertations and scholarly articles, and a good argument can be made that storytelling is part of academic writing.


But if critical/creative writing is becoming more and more hybrid, how do we evaluate it?


If the best critical/creative writing takes risks and breaks generic rules how can students learn to master what is so subjective?


How can grading be standardized and without bias when writing is critical/creative?

How can we expand the expectations of scholarly writing to be less rigid and simultaneously create pedagogical frameworks that allow for student success?


One recommendation is that in addition to measuring student success in terms of grades and qualitative improvements from one piece of writing to the next, we understand confidence building as a key component of writing assessment.




Research suggests a correlation between confidence in one’s writing abilities and subsequent writing performance [1], and studies suggest “a consistent association between self-confidence and performance” [2].


Perhaps one component of assessment, especially of hybrid writing styles where creativity and experimentation will be key to success, should be grading practices specifically built to boost student confidence.


If we want our students to be courageous and take chances, we need to help them feel confident!




Works Cited:

[1] Pajares, Frank, and Margaret J. Johnson. “Confidence and Competence in Writing: The Role of Self-Efficacy, Outcome Expectancy, and Apprehension.” Research in the Teaching of English, vol. 28, no. 3, 1994, pp. 313–331. Accessed 29 July 2021.

[2] “Self Confidence and Performance.” Learning, Remembering, Believing: Enhancing Human Performance. Daniel Druckman and Robert A. Bjork, Eds. Washington DC: National Academy Press, 1994. 194.


This article originally appeared on Medium.

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