How to Assess Writing Skills

To Understand how to assess writing skills, we have to understand what writing is in terms of English language teaching,

Writing is a visual form of communication, either printed in hard-copy or in electronic form. It follows conventions that are mutually understandable by the writer and the reader, even if these conventions change over time or are used with specific meanings in smaller speech communities 

Writing is considered a productive skill because the writer creates new language and does not only interpret existing information.

Genres of Written Language

Now that we know what writing is, we have to learn a little bit about the genres of written language.

 Academic writing
 Papers and general subject reports Essays, compositions Academically focused journals Short-answer test responses Technical reports (e.g., lab reports)Thesis, dissertations
Job-related writing 

 Messages (e.g., phone messages)Letter / emails Memos (e.g., interoffice)Reports (e.g., job evaluations, project reports)Advertisements, announcements Manuals

Personal writing

Letters, emails, greeting cards, invitations Messages, notes Calendar entries, shopping lists, reminders,Financial documents (e.g., checks, tax forms, loan applications)Forms, questionnaires, medical reports, immigration documents Diaries, personal journals Fiction (e.g., short stories, poetry)

Types of Writing Performance

To understand how to assess writing skills, we have to understand the different types of writing performance:


at this stage, form is the primary concern to assess learner’s skills in the fundamental and basic tasks of writing letters, words, punctuation, and very brief sentences.

This category also includes the ability to spell correctly and to perceive phoneme-grapheme correspondences in the English spelling system


This refers to producing appropriate vocabulary within a context, collocations and idioms, and correct grammatical features up to the length of a sentence.


Assessment tasks here require learners to perform at a limited discourse level, connecting sentences into a paragraph and creating a logically connected sequence of two or three paragraphs. Form-focused attention is mostly at the discourse level, with a strong emphasis on context and meaning.


Extensive writing implies successful management of all the processes and strategies of writing for all purposes, up to the length of an essay a term paper, a major research project report, or even a thesis. Writers focus on achieving a purpose, organizing and developing ideas logically, using details to support or illustrate ideas, demonstrating syntactic and lexical variety, and in many cases, engaging in the process of multiple drafts to achieve a final product.

(1)   Paraphrasing: to say something in one’s own words and offer some variety in expression. It’s more often a part of informal and formative assessment than of formal, summative assessment, and therefore student responses should be viewed as opportunities for teachers and students to gain positive washback on the art of paraphrasing.

(2)   Guided question and answer

A lower-end task as a guided question-answer format may be as long as two or three paragraphs and can be scored on either an analytic or a holistic scale. Writing an outline is a variation of the task.

(3)   Paragraph construction tasks

  1. Topic sentence writing (subject + the controlling idea)
  2. Topic development within a paragraph
  • the clarity of expression of ideas
  • the logic of the sequence and connections
  • the cohesiveness or unity of the paragraph
  • the overall effectiveness of impact of the paragraph as a whole
  1. Development of main and supporting ideas across paragraphs
  • addressing the topic, main idea, or principal purpose
  • organizing and developing supporting ideas
  •  using appropriate details to undergird supporting ideas
  • showing facility and fluency in the use of language
  •  demonstrating syntactic variety
Manuel Campos, English Professor

Manuel Campos

I am Jose Manuel, English professor and creator of, a blog whose mission is to share lessons for those who want to learn and improve their English