An evaluative essay presents a critical opinion on a particular topic by marshalling evidence within very specific set of assessment criteria. Thus an evaluative essay is a species of review, in which systematic reasoning is brought to bear in order to justify a particular judgement.
When we evaluate something in scholarly fashion, then, we are employing a systematic means of determining the merit of an object or idea, looking at its significance and value by means of a constant standard of judgement. The overall objective of an evaluative essay is to elucidate a subject as it stands, facilitating reflective analysis – thereby to help with best practice in future.
Put simply, an evaluative essay goes far beyond saying something is merely good or bad. It explains the reasoning behind such assessments and does so in a way that should persuade the reader to a like opinion.
Setting the Standards
We have all had the experience. A friend tells us that this book, film, album or what have you is “absolute rubbish”. We ask them to explain the harsh judgement. Yet they are unable to furnish a convincing response. Perhaps you yourself have been incapable of accounting for why you found a particular experience to be objectionable – or why, contrarily, you loved it.
Sometimes we just like things and we don’t know the exact reasons for it. Yet, there must be some logical reasoning behind our emotional responses. How do we figure out what it is?
One way is to apply consistent standards of judgement. For example if we were judging a film, we might take criteria such as budget, script, the experience of the director, and other such determining factors (that would shape the quality of a movie) into consideration.
So, for instance, one may be more forgiving in assessing the novice and underfunded debut of a first-time movie director, than those of a well experienced veteran working with a full Hollywood budget. Note here that we are establishing two clear assessment criteria: budget and directorial experience. This is because there is a clear and identifiable relationship between a film production’s financial means and the final outcome; just as the experience of the director is also common deciding factor.
It’s important to remember that evaluation is not a disagreement or even an argument against the content of something; rather, it is a discussion as to whether or not you agree that in this case the chosen item meets the criteria of assessment.
Evaluation is Necessarily Comparative
When you boil it down, all evaluative judgements pertain to one of three statements: that an item is less than, equal to, or greater than another item of its kind. Without comparative judgements, evaluation is nonsensical. Something is only good in comparison to that which is bad, and vice versa.
Accordingly, your evaluative essay needs necessarily to present comparative analyses of some kind. Again, this presents a standard of judgement, a watermark that invests your work with a stable frame of reference.
Steps to Success: Preparation, Preparation, Preparation
Before offering an evaluation, you want to deeply research the topic in question. Gaining a broad knowledge base in the specific subject will allow you to make a more informed judgement. In an evaluative essay we are looking at competing explanations. Your case will be more persuasive if it is informed by the broader critical field.
Taking extensive notes is a must when writing evaluative essays. These notes will form the backbone of your judgement. The more notes you take the easier the writing will be and the more detailed the resulting essay.
Exposition of Methods
There must be an expository dimension to your evaluation. Explaining how you are forming your judgements is important because it legitimises our evaluations: by framing them within clearly defined standards. Opinion alone is not evaluation. We have to support our judgements with evidence and examples that justify our position. Your task as the writer is to convince the reader that your evaluation is valid.
You want to begin with an introduction which expresses your overall judgement on the topic; this is often termed a “thesis statement”, and it is a summary expression of what the essay intends to do. The purpose is that the reader will have a clear idea of what your opinion is and how your proceeding essay will expand upon this.
The introduction sets up expectations which the body of the essay needs to fulfil. So, this would certainly be the place where one foregrounded the criteria of assessment and why they are relevant in this instance.
The conclusion would reiterate the overall judgement offered in the introduction, while emphasising how your particular method of assessment corroborates the original viewpoint.
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