Tips for Grading Microsoft Word Documents

By Phyllis A. King and Lucila Ovino

The old adage, “Typing teachers never die, they just grade away” seems to continue to hold true even though we are in the age of computers and teach numerous business skills, applications, and processes through the use of computer applications software.

The authors suggest the use of the Legal blackline option in Microsoft Word, a transparency of the teacher’s key (transparency key), and/or a rubric to lessen the time and effort teachers spend grading Word documents. A rubric may be used alone or in conjunction with either the Legal blackline option or a transparency key to streamline and speed up the grading process of Word documents. A transparency key and rubric may be used for documents created using any word processing software as well as with Excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentation slides.

Using the Legal blackline option in Microsoft Word XP/2003/2007

The Legal blackline option in Word can be used to grade students’ work by comparing two documents—in this case the teacher’s key and the student’s work. The changes are compared in a new third document. The newly-created third document displays on screen all of the differences between the two original documents.

As increasing numbers of school systems and teachers use e-Education providers (e.g., Blackboard) to assist in instructional delivery and to control submission of assignments, the number of teachers who grade online is likely to increase. Although grading online saves paper and printer toner and ink, it can be more time-consuming for teachers. This grading tip can speed up and improve teachers’ online grading experiences.

To grade a document using this method, access Word’s Legal blackline option for Word XP and 2003 (Word 2007 is addressed later) as follows:

1. With the teacher’s Word document open, click the Tools menu on the menu bar.

2. Click Compare and Merge Documents….

3. In the Look in box, click the down arrow, select the location of the file you want to access, and then select the student document that you want to compare to your open document.

4. Click the Legal blackline check box located to the left of the Merge button and to the right of the filename input box. Notice that after the Merge button is checked, the Merge button changes to Compare.

5. Click the Compare button. A third document is created showing the differences between the two documents.

6. Save and upload the new document to the students for their review and record their points earned.

In Word 2007, the Legal blackline option is located under the Review tab. Click Compare three times in succession. The Compare Documents dialog box appears. Follow the dialog box prompts to select the documents to be compared. Click MORE to change options or click OK to proceed using default options.

The first illustration below shows the new (third) document comparing the teacher’s copy with the student’s copy. Notice that the omitted items are underlined in blue. Also, the balloons show the deleted (omitted) items as well as the formatted differences. The second illustration below shows the suggested rubric for the document.

If students submit printouts of their assignments, you might consider using a transparency key and/or a rubric.

Using a transparency key and/or a rubric

When students submit printouts of their assignments, teachers may discover they can grade more quickly and efficiently by using a transparency key and/or a rubric. Many textbook authors provide keys and rubrics for textbook assignments. If you have not been provided these materials as a part of the instructor’s manual for your textbook, you might consider creating your own and then employing these grading tools for selected exercises.

Insofar as possible, the teacher should follow the procedures outlined below when using a transparency key to compare two documents:

1. Print the teacher’s key using the same printer on which the students will print their assignments. Doing so ensures that the formats, margins, etc. will be in the same proportions.

2. Use the printout of the teacher’s key to make the transparency to be used in grading students’ assignments.

3. Have the students print their assignments on the same printer the teacher used to print the teacher’s key.

4. Place the transparency key over the student’s printed document to see format errors, misspelled words, words left out, etc.

5. Lift the transparency key to mark students’ errors.

6. Optional: Use a rubric (author provided or teacher created) to indicate points earned.

The following illustration shows the teacher’s key marked with items the teacher will evaluate. A transparency of the teacher’s key is made, which is then placed over the student’s printed document.

Many teachers find it helpful to provide students with the rubric at the time the assignment is made so the students can see how they will be graded.

Teachers should note that a transparency key and rubric may be used to grade not only printouts of Word documents but also printouts of Excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentation slides when the same slide design and slide layout have been used.


The authors feel the grading tips presented will serve to save teachers’ valuable time by streamlining their grading process and reducing their grading time. When teaching Microsoft Word and having students submit assignments online, the authors feel the fastest method of grading is online using the Legal blackline option. Also, grading assignments online which were submitted online saves the time of printing and the paper and ink or toner that would be used in printing.

However, when grading students’ printouts, teachers may find they can grade faster by using a transparency key and/or a rubric.

Bio information

Phyllis A. King is a professor of Business Technology at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, Louisiana. She has over 30 years of teaching at the post-secondary level. She has obtained the Microsoft Office Specialist Certification in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. (Contact author)

Lucila Giraud Ovino is an Assistant Principal at Central High School in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She is a former Business Education teacher with over eight years of teaching at the high school level and over ten years of teaching employees at private businesses. She has obtained the Internet and Computing Core (IC3) Authorized Instructor Certification as well as the Microsoft Office Specialist Master Instructor Certification in Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, and Outlook.