Here are a number of great ideas for grading student's essays. Some are practical in nature - the actual "how to" steps, and others are basic human nature - don't grade when you are tired and try to include humor and positive comments on each paper.
Wow - there are a number of great tricks of the trade mentioned in this article. I agree with prepping the students prior to the grading and including students in the grading process. The suggestion of Turnitin is relevant as well; many teachers use this site to deter plagiarism.
Here are some practical ways to make grading papers faster. However, you must buy into a paradigm shift, relinquishing the teacher's editing role in the grading process. In other words, let the students find their errors, edit and revise. Your role is to grade. Start at about 5:40 and continue to 13:15 for more details about this teacher's innovative approach to grading essays.
This teacher explains how coding and student editing has saved her from hours of grading students' essays. There is a link on the website to purchase her materials - from what I read, these materials have stellar reviews. I may purchase her 5 Minute Grading System right now!
My students often share their work with me via Google Docs and I have to admit, I like it. The digital format is aesthetically pleasing and students cannot say that the dog ate their homework. Seriously, it has a lot of great features for teachers to include comments on students' work. I like the idea of adding a previewed YouTube video link about specific errors. This gives students another "expert" to help them learn or practice a writing skill.
All beginning English teachers should read this article! In very simple, straightforward terms, the author exposes the secrets to essay grading sanity! I especially enjoyed these tips: focusing on specific correction areas (such as transitions), creating rubrics with students, and three strikes and you are out! I recommend trying several of these ideas to make your grading not only easier but more relevant. Read the comments at the end of the article for even more tips!