Friday, 12 November 2010

An exploration into developing a set of marking conventions for creative writing

Background


Almost uniquely amongst academic studies, the Creative Arts are notoriously difficult to assess. Unlike other subjects, they are not about the learning of facts or the expression of theories, and consequently, they cannot be assessed using traditional methods of exams and essays. In Creative Writing modules, work must show an understanding of techniques and an understanding of the effects those techniques have upon the reader. It is a practical skill which can only be assessed by its final product—a piece of written text structured to achieve a desired purpose.

Creative Writing students frequently, and occasionally even tutors, argue that assessment stifles creativity and that writing, as a form of self-expression, should not come under the usual sets of criteria given to other, more prescriptive subjects. Critics of assessment claim that Creative Writing cannot be judged objectively, as assessors will automatically be biased against any work whose style or subject matter they do not personally appreciate.

This is of course nonsense. Creative Writing can and should be assessed against a set of criteria based partly on learning outcomes and partly on guidelines used to judge writing in different contexts. While it is true that aspects of Creative Writing remain somewhat subjective, just as with any other form of art, it is also true that many of the individual elements, particularly technical elements, are of a more black and white nature, i.e. there is/are: good descriptions and poor descriptions; successful structure and unsuccessful structure; consistent narratives and inconsistent narratives; correct punctuation and incorrect punctuation.