Applying a Traditional Writing Program Rubric to Assess Multimodal Compositions

Ball State's Writing Program Rubric

As our survey results demonstrate, some composition instructors are unsure of how they might go about assessing their students' multimodal projects. This is particularly problematic when it occurs in a writing program, such as Ball State's Writing Program, where instructors are required to use a traditional writing program rubric that many feel can not be applied to a multimodal project. However, we argue that a traditional writing rubric, like Ball State's Writing Program rubric, can be used to effectively assess multimodal projects. Here, we will illustrate how such a crossover is possible.


Ball State Rubric: Demonstrates an awareness of audience, is sophisticated, and is clearly established and maintained throughout.

Multimodal Project:
In a multimodal composition, an awareness of audience is demonstrated through a well-chosen selection of both words and images that best meet their needs and persuades the audience of their argument. The argument—or thesis—will not be presented in a single alphabetic sentence as it is in a traditional essay; instead, the thesis will be evident throughout the essay in the variety of modes that are chosen. Focus will be demonstrated by each mode consistently contributing to the overall argument or thesis of the composition.


Ball State Rubric: Has a clear sense of logical order appropriate to the content and the thesis.

Multimodal Project: In a multimodal project, a clear sense of logical order is demonstrated through the variety of modes interacting and flowing with one another to support the argument or thesis. Depending on the modes being used (i.e. website), one may not visibly see a traditional introduction, body, and conclusion; instead, organization will be made evident through the audience’s ability to understand and follow the flow of the text and images in the composition.


Ball State Rubric: Demonstrates critical thinking that is clear, insightful, in depth, and relevant to the topic.

Multimodal Project: In a multimodal project, development is demonstrated by evaluating if a student has taken advantage of all of the available rhetorical possibilities that the modes have to offer. Critical thinking can also be judged by looking at how a student uses each mode to support their argument through the relationship between modes (i.e. redundancy, complementary, supplementary, juxtaposition, and stage setting).

Identical content in each mode; each mode tells the same story.

Complementary: Different content in each mode; both modes are needed to understand the key idea. 

Supplementary: Different content in words and pictures; but one mode dominates the other mode. 

Juxtaposition: Different content in words and pictures; key ideas are created by a clash or tension between the ideas in each mode.

Stage setting: Different content in words and pictures; one mode forecasts the ideas that come in the other modes.

From: Karen A. Schriver's Dynamics in Document Design: Creating Text for Readers (1997).

Syntax and Diction

Ball State Rubric: Uses sophisticated language that engages the reader; manipulates sentence length to enhance the total effect of the essay; uses precise language that expresses complex ideas clearly.

Multimodal Project: In a multimodal project, syntax and diction are evaluated through the student’s choices of text, images, and sounds and the interaction among them in order to express complex ideas clearly. Just as we would tell students they should choose a stronger, more descriptive, and effective word or phrase in a traditional essay, we would make sure that they have used the strongest, most effective text, images, and/or sounds.

Format and Design

Ball State Rubric: Fully integrates elements of design to best serve rhetorical purpose.

Multimodal Project: In a multimodal project , format and design are evaluated as to how well the student pays attention to rhetorical principles of design and visual rhetoric; the student shows that they are aware of color, typeface, layout, image selections, audio choices, etc. Their decisions about format and design are clearly based upon audience awareness.

Research (if applicable)

Ball State Rubric: Uses sources effectively and documents sources accurately.

Multimodal Project: In a multimodal project, research and sources (if used) are evaluated by how well they are documented and integrated into the composition, as well as how well they have abided to copyright and “fair use” policies.


Ball State Rubric: Contains very few errors of spelling, grammar, paragraphing or manuscript format.

Multimodal Project: In a multimodal project, mechanics are evaluated by looking to see if text (when used) is error-free, since these errors are highly visible on a screen where not a lot of text is used. Mechanics in a multimodal project might also include making sure links work appropriately and images and text show up as they are supposed to.

Ball State University Writing Program Rubric

Click below to download a PDF copy of the Ball State University Writing Program Rubric.

File Size: 68 kb
File Type: pdf
Download File

Preface  Introduction  Survey Results  Student Examples

Conclusion  Works Cited  About Us