The Evaluative Essay: What do you think?

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If you were considering going to a movie, you might first consider if it’s to your taste. You might read some reviews or ask some friends if they thought the film was action-packed or slow moving, or if it was realistic or too futuristic for you. If your friend told you that the movie you were considering seeing was bad, you would want to know why. Maybe his or her idea of “bad” is that the movie was character-driven, as opposed to action-packed, but maybe you prefer character-driven movies.

As you can see, “bad” is totally subjective. You need specifics. How is your friend judging the movie? Does he or she have solid reasons and evidence to back up his or her opinion?

Everyone has an opinion, but in evaluative writing, it’s not enough to just present an opinion. The writer has to understand who his or her audience is and know what criteria are important for that specific audience.

Parts of an Evaluation

The judgment acts as a thesis for an evaluative essay. This judgment provides specific reasons based on carefully chosen criteria. The criteria are a set of standards based on your topic and audience.

Using our movie example above, a judgment might look like this:

Although the film, The Hobbit, is targeted for children, all audiences can appreciate and enjoy the movie because of its special effects, unique characters, and engaging storyline.

This thesis is a judgment (all audiences can appreciate and enjoy the movie) of the movie based on 3 criteria: because it has inventive special effects, unique characters, and engaging storyline.

When deciding on the criteria you’ll use to support your judgment, you’ll want to choose criteria which speaks directly to your audience. The criteria in our example, inventive special effects, unique characters, and engaging storyline, was chosen with an audience in mind who are adult movie-goers. Children probably wouldn’t care about all these criteria, nor would people who aren’t interested in movies. If you were to argue that The Hobbit is a bad movie because you don’t like fantasy-adventure tales, that’s more opinion, and the criteria help keep the judgment unbiased and balanced.

As you build support for your judgment, you will show evidence, possibly in the form of examples for each reason. Evidence is important, as it establishes credibility with your audience, so presenting a well-thought out judgment and criteria with strong evidence shows you are offering a fair and balanced judgment.

In most cases, each body paragraph will present one separate criteria, offering effective evidence in the form of examples from research, or even visual examples. In our movie example, you might use a film shot to illustrate a point. Depending on the requirements of your assignment, you’ll probably need to include research and cite those sources, but if you were writing an evaluation for a blog or magazine, citations won’t generally be necessary, though you should always name sources in a signal phrase.

Final Thoughts

We evaluate every day, whether we think consciously about it or not. We’re always making judgments, and considering how we make those judgments forces us to reason out our opinions. It’s not unusual to discover that perhaps our opinions are built on a flimsy foundation. Evaluative writing forces us to analyze not only what we pass judgment on, but how we pass judgment.

 

(Some examples from The St. Martin’s Guide to Writing)

 

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