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Written Assignment Rubric for Improving Writing Quality and Describing Statistical Concepts

Background and Objective

Written Assignment Rubric
Background and Objective
The editorial process is a major component to writing (including science writing). No text that you read was the author’s first draft. Any published work usually has many revisions on the part of the author, and then even more revisions as Reviewers and Editors help format the language to a general audience. This assignment mirrors the editorial process in writing, while helping you to think critically about important concepts in the course. In this assignment, you will also learn how to improve your quality of writing. No student’s writing is perfect. Therefore, it is unfair to grade you out of a hypothetical perfect score. Instead, evaluations will consider (1) how well you can describe statistical concepts, and (2) how well you demonstrate the ability to improve your writing. Both of these skills are invaluable in your daily life. The ability to interpret statistical tests can inoculate you against believing false information, and provides a tool to challenge it. The ability to write effectively can be a powerful persuasive force. 

Assignment Overview
Your assignment is divided into two phases:
1. An initial submission: Your Reviewers (AKA, your TAs) will critique this initial submission. They will provide feedback on the quality and logic of writing. The paper will be assigned an initial grade (see below).

2. A revised submission: Your Reviewers will assess the resubmission. Based on the quality of the revision, the paper may receive additional marks. You will also provide a one-page Letter highlighting the main comments from your reviewer and how you addressed them (worth up to 1 additional mark). 

Revising and resubmitting the paper is optional, but highly recommended. If you do not resubmit, the grade on your initial submission becomes your final grade out of 10 (i.e., 4/10 or 6/10). There are no penalties if you do not resubmit. The revised resubmission will also include a one page Letter to the
Reviewer where you describe their general suggestions and how you addressed them. 

The Letter to the Reviewer is worth up to 1 additional point on your paper. This Letter may increase a students grade maximally from 4 to 5, or from 6 to 7. The final possible three points are based on the quality of the resubmission. Please note that you are free to challenge a Reviewer’s suggestion in this Letter insofar as you give strong and valid reasons why you felt their suggestion was not necessary to implement. Ignoring or giving poor challenges to a suggestion may reflect on your revised grade.

Assignment Overview

Submitted Material
Submit a single Word document for your initial submission. It must be at least four pages long: (Page 1) the APA title page, (Page 2-3) the body of the text, (Pages 4+) the appendix containing any figures, tables, or equations. Make sure the variables are properly defined for any equations (see template).

Plagiarism Detection Tool Statement
Normally, students will be required to submit their course essays to the University’s plagiarism detection tool for a review of textual similarity and detection of possible plagiarism. In doing so, students will allow their essays to be included as source documents in the tool’s reference database, where they will be used solely for the purpose of detecting plagiarism. The terms that apply to the University’s use of this tool are described on the Centre for Teaching Support

1. I do not know how to write a certain component of my paper. Am I at risk of losing marks if I do it wrong? No. If we perceive that your best effort was put into the original manuscript, the initial grade will be 6/10. We expect mistakes on the initial submission. The assignment is not designed to be punitive, but to provide an opportunity for students to improve their writing quality between the initial and revised submission. In cases where numerous concerns are present, such that the TA does not perceive the best effort was put into the paper, the student does risk receiving a lower grade.

2. If everyone receives the same grade on the initial submission, I can just write and submit anything? No. The initial aim should always be to give your best effort. If there are numerous concerns and errors with the paper, the student risks a 4/10 grade or, worse, a 0/10. Additionally, more effort in the initial submission will likely result in fewer edits and revisions for the revised submission.

3. Are part marks given [or] am I still at risk of losing some marks if certain aspects of the paper need a lot of improvement (e.g., results are not properly listed)? No, the grade brackets are 0, 4, 6, or 10 out of 10. As long as we perceive your best effort is given, you will likely receive a 6/10 on the initial submission. If numerous concerns are present (e.g., no formulas/figures/tables in an Appendix) you risk being in a lower bracket. The only case where a grade different from one of the four brackets will be given are in the event of late deductions. Instances of plagiarism will obviously result in a grade of zero.

Rubric for the Revised Submission

4. Is it possible to get a 10/10? How many students have received 10/10? Of the hundreds of students who have participated in this assignment format throughout other courses, none have received 10/10 on the initial submission, but quite a few do receive 10/10 after the revisions. The purpose of this assignment is to provide an opportunity for students to improve their writing and interpretive logic. Given this, it is not impossible to attain 10/10 on the initial submission. However, this is highly improbable. Nonetheless, a paper that demonstrates high quality revisions and improvements can still receive 10/10 even if the final manuscript is not “perfect”.

5. What does a 4/10 or 0/10 look like on the initial submission? To the TAs, a 4/10 would look like it was put together the previous night, have had few (or no) read-throughs by the student, or generally lack depth or substance. To the TA, the paper would not look like what is expected by a second-year undergraduate student. There may be a lot of redundancy, superfluous text, logical inconsistencies, or missing elements of a section. A 0/10 would contain substantial concerns, or an extenuation of those present in a 4/10. There could be too little text in each section, or be missing entirely, the text may be convoluted and uninterpretable, among other reasons. In essence, there would be no way for the TA to give feedback for improvement, making a resubmission moot and ungradable.

6. Is it not unfair to give all students 60% on an assignment? You are not actually getting 60%. Your grade is broken down into two parts, one part out of 6 (the initial submission) and one part out of 4 (the revised resubmission). It is possible to get a perfect score (i.e., 10/10) on this assignment even if your final paper is not perfect, insofar that its revisions took into account all feedback. This differs from traditional single-submission assignments, where a perfect score is nearly unattainable. 

7. Can I get an example of what a 10/10 paper would look like after resubmission? The final aim should be to provide the quality of writing present in any published textbook. As long as all suggestions and revisions are completed, a 10/10 is attainable on the final submission.

8. I cannot fit all the information into the page limit, can I go over? Going over will result in us requesting you to reduce it for the resubmission. You also risk a 4/10 if you overly surpass the page limit. Writing can be verbose for numerous reasons including superfluous sentences, redundancy, and drawn-out sentences, all of which can clutter up the paper. Learning to compact your writing so it is dense and coherent is important. Brevity is a major writing skill. Prevent sentences that exist only to setup the next (see below for an example), have empty statements, or reiterate something that the reader may already know (i.e., trust your audience). 

Submitted Material

9. I received many comments. Almost every sentence is highlighted with a comment. Should I just rewrite the resubmission? You will most likely receive comments on nearly every sentence, sometimes multiple per sentence. This is normal, even for advanced writers and should not be disheartening. Do not rewrite. Tackle one comment at a time and revise the paper, even if the final paper ends up being completely different from the original. Yes, this means entire
sentences or paragraphs may be rewritten. However, if you rewrite from scratch, it ignores the original comments making it very difficult to add revised grades. You also may introduce new problems into the paper that were not in the original. Your revision demonstrates an improvement, not a second attempt.

10. Do I lose marks for improper APA format? As said above, the initial submission falls into one of four grade brackets. There are no part marks given or lost. It is expected that students will make some APA mistakes, particularly when it comes to describing statistical values, so these usually do not impact the grade for the initial submission. However, considering we made an APA template available for all students, we do expect the general page layout of the submission to follow APA guidelines. 

11. Some of the feedback on how to change sentence structure appears to be based on the TA’s preferences (i.e., they want me to describe something a certain way). Should I do this? A big part of writing is placating your audience. In all forms of published writing, the author’s original work is remolded to fit the general audience. This includes everything from scientific manuscripts, fiction novels, and media outlets. Unfortunately, this important aspect of writing is rarely taught to science students.

12. How can I improve my writing on the initial or revised document? Some ways to improve include avoiding redundancies and superfluous text. For example, a common mistake is using what can be called a “setup sentence”, which merely states what a following sentence will say. For example “We completed a study comparing apples to oranges (sentence 1). This study found no differences between apples and oranges (sentence 2)”. The first sentence is superfluous due to the second sentence, and can be simply combined to “A study comparing apples and oranges found no differences”. Be sure to read your drafts aloud, and judge whether it verbally makes sense. Alternatively, ask someone outside this field to read your paper and critique it. This should be someone willing to give you critical feedback and not merely reply “yeah, it’s good”. 

Plagiarism Detection Tool Statement

13. Are there any benefits to citing outside sources? No, the point of this assignment (and this course in general) is not to see how well you can integrate published literature into a paper, but how well you can interpret numerical data into meaning. To that end, citing outside sources will merely take up limited space in the paper. The topics we choose are common knowledge and arguable using basic and reasonable assumptions about the natural world. 

14. The TAs often speak of having good flow for my narrative. What is a good definition of flow? A good definition of flow is “the ability to predict what the writer will say next based on what they are saying now”. In other words, good flow means that the reader can keep up with the paper as if a conversation was taking place. This means that the next sentence logically follows from the previous, and topics do not change abruptly. Note, you do not fix flow by use of transition words, but by discussing ideas clearly, letting the reader know the path you intend to take them through your manuscript. 

Tips on Formatting your Textbook Section

1. Start with an introduction quickly reminding readers of the previous section Open with a brief sentence mentioning what readers just have learned in the previous section of the hypothetical textbook. This way readers know what they are going to build on in this next section

2. Introduce the general concept in plain language Don’t just jump into listing equations and definitions, but ease the reader in by introducing the general concept, or bring up a problem that we don’t know how to solve yet that this concept will solve.

3. Try not to use overly technical language until it’s defined You may know what technical terms mean (e.g., “Posterior” and “Likelihood”) because you are already knowledgeable on the topic. But a new reader is not going to know these. Make sure technical terms are defined first, or use plain-language alternatives 

4. Write in a method that engages the reader Your writing should sound like a conversation or discussion, not a list of terms or steps. Take these two phrases:
“The mean is the average. The average takes the sums of scores and divides by N. The average is the value closest to all other scores. The average is unbiased because it takes all scores into account equally. The average is therefore not resistant to outliers. A very large score and a regular score are treated the same.”

Assignment Frequently Asked Questions

5. Avoid redundancy and superfluous text Do not say the same thing over and over again. Reiterating in a different angle or perspective is fine, as long as you are not wasting text rewriting the same sentence. Similarly is superfluous text. Superfluousness is saying something that the reader already knows, or something useless. For example: “I went to the store to buy bread. A store is a place where you buy things.” The second sentence is superfluous. The reader knows what a store is. There is no need to define it. When writing your textbook section, understand what sections likely become before it, so that you are not wasting limited text reiterating it.

6. Have a one sentence ending, transitioning to the next section Similar to having a quick opening, make sure to end with a sentence that introduces the next
section of the hypothetical textbook section

7. Tables and equations should be aesthetic You are writing a textbook chapter that appeals to a general student audience. Your figures/tables/equations should be formatted cleanly, and be easy to understand. 

8. Avoid overuse of headers and subheaders Two or three headers is fine to divide up the paper. Too many headers creates a jagged feeling when reading and disrupts flow. Headers can also waste space, given that each header takes up a whole line of text. Some students may feel they don’t need to include headers at all. This is also fine given that the title itself serves as an overall header for this section of the hypothetical textbook.

9. Come up with your own examples to highlight these concepts In my template I made up a 12 year old name Jeremy to talk about means and standard deviations. Statistics is easier to understand when there’s a concrete attachment and not just a description of numbers and mathematical functions. Examples should make sense intuitively to a reader. Do not merely copy my examples.

10. Overall tips when writing

I. Be specific in your language. Your reader should be able to understand your thought processes. When writing, we know what we want to say, but our reader cannot access information in your head. Therefore, what may sound obvious to you may not sound obvious to your reader.

II. Revise by reading aloud. Slowly read your work line by line and see what makes sense and what could use revision.

III. Have someone proofread for you, and make sure you trust that person to give actual feedback. If someone merely says “yes, the paper is good” they are not being helpful.
IV. Your narrative should have flow. My definition of flow is “the reader should be able to predict what the writer will talk about later based on what they talk about now”. If the topic suddenly jumps without logical transition, that interrupts flow and confuses your reader.
V. Avoid “setup” sentences. For example the two sentences “I went to the store. At the store, I bought milk” can be shortened to “I went to the store and bought milk”.
VI. Brevity is the key to good writing.

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