And All for One: Assessing Team-Based Writing

Matthew Luskey

Last month’s TWW post offered three suggestions for assigning and supporting team-based writing. These suggestions emphasized a consensual, interdependent, and collaborative vision for team-based work. It’s a fine vision, but, at the end of the day, how do you assess it? Because our students often think of grades as individual, distinctive, and competitive markers of performance, team-based writing assignments can raise challenging questions when it comes to their evaluation. Should one grade be given equally to each student on a team? Should members of a team have a say in how grades are assigned? How should the grader account for variation in performance within teams or the division of labor? Answers to these questions (and many others) will vary depending on how collaborative your team-based assignment is, how accountable students are to their team members, and how much weight you give to the product and the process of team-based writing.

Here are three suggestions for assessing team-based writing.

Suggestion 1: Align the Degree of Shared Assessment with the Degree of Collaboration

The Writing Center at UNC Chapel Hill offers a useful graphic for determining how collaborative a team-based writing assignment is:

Collab Chart

Identifying where your assignment falls on this spectrum can help you determine the basis for  how much the project’s grade should be shared among team members and how much should be weighted by individual work. For example, if your assignment requires collaborative research on a topic (e.g., locating and annotating articles about climate change) but requires individually written sections of a report, then consider assigning individual grades for the writing, and a shared score for the research. If all parts of the writing process are done together, then consider assigning one shared grade to all team members. If you would like to consult on developing grading criteria for your team-based assignment, please make an appointment.

It’s important to keep in mind that one shared grade for a team’s product might not translate into a shared final grade for the entire product when one factors in points for process. This brings us to the next two suggestions.

Suggestion 2: Have Teams Assess Their Accountability

Team-based projects can be strongly influenced by “team dynamics”—personality differences among team members and the degree to which members work cooperatively with one another. Rather than waiting until the end of the assignment to address and assess these issues, anticipate they will be a factor at the outset. When teams first form, ask members to create accountability criteria they will use to evaluate one another and their own performance. These criteria might include the fulfillment of agreed-upon responsibilities, dependability, cooperation, effort, quality and level of work, the ability to meet deadlines, attendance at group meetings,  timeliness of contributions, etc. Team accountability criteria help teams establish productive norms, and they can then be integrated into team evaluations and self evaluations.

Read more about using team evaluations and self evaluations.

Suggestion 3: Consider Social Grading

Clear grading and accountability criteria can do much to reduce questions about the assessment of team-based projects, but they might not resolve all issues. For some instructors, the use of social grading (Gottschalk and Hjortshoj, 158) can provide an additional source of evaluation, one that values each participant’s experience. With social grades, team members evaluate everyone’s contributions to their project, including their own, and they assign a letter grade or points, along with a written rationale for their scores. Instructors may determine a set amount of points for a team to distribute among its members, based on the levels of contribution. Especially productive team members can be awarded additional points by their team members, providing both a grade boost and a formal recognition for their contributions. Conversely, unproductive team members can be docked points, if their team members believe they have not contributed adequately to the project. If you decide to use social grading for your team-based writing assignment, make sure that students are aware of this assessment tool at the outset. If you would like to discuss social grading, feel free to make an appointment.

What about you?

Do you have a strategy for assessing team-based writing projects? Do you use team and self evaluations? Have you tried social grading? If so, please share your perspectives in the comment section below.

Further Support

See the Teaching with Writing pages on the Center for Writing website for teaching resources, including sample assignments and syllabi. As many of you know, our WAC program also hosts the popular Teaching with Writing event series. Each semester, this series offers free workshops and discussions. Visit us online. To schedule a phone, email, or face-to-face teaching consultation, click here.


Thanks for this discussion, Matt.

One assessment method for teams is a "Teammate continuous improvement update." The purpose of the update is for teammates to share continuous improvement ideas with teammates after they've worked on a project together for two weeks. Teammates rate each other on values discussed in the course.
A 5-point rating scale
Strongly agree Agree Neither agree nor disagree Disagree Strongly disagree


Team member is consistently timely, professional, and clear in communications.


The team member consistently focuses on producing high-quality work.


The team member consistently values building consensus and seeking positive team outcomes over just getting his/her own work done.

Continuous Improvement

The team member consistently seeks to improve and help others to improve so that skills, knowledge, and productivity of the team increase.

Positive energy

The team member positively influences the team, especially when facing challenges. Instead of finger-pointing or expressing frustration, the team member is encouraging and seeks positive outcomes for the whole team.

For assessing individual contributions to team writing, Google Docs are great. I can't post an image here, but the Version History feature in Drive highlights which content is added, by student. Each addition is date- and time-stamped, too.

Joe Moses, Writing Studies