Adventures in Paperless Grading

At the end of last semester I was faced with a decision. Either I printed out over 500 pages of student papers and take home exams or I graded them paperless, in microsoft word. The thought of slaughtering my printer or my departmental printer was too terrible, so I plunged in and tried to use the Tracking feature in Word. I was surprised to find that I loved it.


On the bottom of the Word window you can find the TRK button. Green means it’s on.

Tracking is a feature in word that allows you to insert text and make deletions visible, in a different color, on a document. Like the Comment feature, it allows you to make your comments or edits visible and distinct from the original text. I did not use Comment because I found that, in tracking, I could more quickly type my comments as insertions in the text of my student papers.


After grading and annotating each student paper, I save it as a file that contains the student’s name, the assignment or abbreviation of the assignment and grade. I put this annotated file in a “Graded” folder corresponding to that assignment and put the original in a folder labelled “Original.” This way, I have both clean and annotated copies of the papers. I email the annotated paper back to my students from the graded file.

As far as record keeping goes, labelling the annotated files by the names of my students enables all grades to be visible by alphabetical order of student names:





The other good thing about this system is that you can burn a copy of both sets of papers, or zip them and store them, and not be stuck with hundreds of pages at the end of a semester that you cannot and should not immediately throw out. You ensure that your students get their papers “back.” Whether they read your comments or not is up to you.

I find that I write more comments when I’m grading in this way. For me, it’s easier to write comments on a keyboard.

I didn’t think I would like it. I didn’t want to like it. But the above advantages make it a done deal. Unless it’s an in-class exam of some sort, I’m grading paperless from now on.


6 thoughts on “Adventures in Paperless Grading

  1. Great posting! I’ve been doing this for about a year but never thought of using the ‘tracking changes’ feature. Because you can make the changes invisible, you don’t need to keep a ‘clean’ original. I use the ‘comments’ feature, but I also do a couple of other time-saving things.
    I made a couple of Word macros that automatically throw in the 6 or 7 most common comments for grammar issues. I have a ‘grading sheet’ file for each assignment that tells students how to read the comments. Spelling errors or other errors they can figure out, I tell them, are just highlighted in green.
    And I have a ‘rubric’ in the form of a Word table, with the 6 or 8 elements I’m grading them on. I copy this onto the top of each student paper. If you set it up, a Word table will automatically average out the numerical score you assign to the different elements. I did this just to help me keep track of the virtual, but I’ve started distributing the rubric table to students when I give them the assignment. They like it and the papers are much better.
    Finally, the best reason to do this is that I can hold students responsible for improving their papers over time. Maybe this is obvious in a language class, but my history students have to be reminded that I’m trying to help them become better writers and thinkers, not just learn more history. On 2nd and 3rd assignments, I copy the comments from the earlier papers, and discuss whether they’re getting better or not.
    Thanks for the great post!

  2. John, I want a tutorial when you come back into town. It sounds like you’ve refined paperless grading alot more than me. In particular, the word table sounds like it would be a huge help to me. Thanks for leaving this valuable feedback to me and other readers!

  3. Chris,

    Thanks for the information. My experience trying to read all the balloons of commented-on pdfs had turned me off of electronically marked texts in the past, but your demonstration of tracked Word docs has convinced me to give it another try! (I can see it being especially useful for feedback on theses.) And, John, I’d like to see your word table rubric, too. Would you consider sharing?


  4. You’re on the right “track,” with going paperless. It’s the green thing to do, but there is so much more you can do if you’ve already asked your students to submit their papers in MS Word or as .rtf documents. Specifically, try using T.A. Toolbar, a cheap shareware product, which will allow you not only to insert comments as you are already doing, but to do it automatically. Plus, each comment carries an embedded hyperlink to websites that have more information on, say, comma splices or paragraph development. And there’s more: it comes with a holistic grader and a plagiarism detection button. I have found that using it makes my grading more objective, and, as long as you don’t overuse it, it makes grading go faster. You can check it out at Good luck!

  5. Thank you! Thank you!
    I’m an adjunct teacher and just figuring out paperless grading. My students are posting all their assignments on a blog (
    Any more ideas on how to handle this? Right now I’m cutting and pasting into Word. The papers are short. Thanks again to everyone for ideas.

  6. Thank you! Thank you!
    I’m an adjunct teacher and just figuring out paperless grading. My students are posting all their assignments on a blog

    Any more ideas on how to handle this? Right now I’m cutting and pasting into Word. The papers are short. Thanks again to everyone for ideas.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s