54 Evaluation


Evaluative writing is a type of writing intended to judge something according to a set of criteria. For instance, your health might be evaluated by an insurance company before issuing a policy. The purpose of this evaluation would be to determine your overall health and to check for existing medical conditions. The better your evaluation, the less the insurance company might charge you for coverage.

More commonly, if you plan to spend ten dollars on a movie, you might instead go to Rottentomatoes.com read through what professional movie reviewers and even amateur movie reviewers thought of the film. Rottentomatoes.com makes things simpler by boiling down a review into a score of “freshness”, thus if a film is 97% fresh, nearly everyone enjoyed it. However, we are given reasons for this unless we actually start reading reviews on each film. So, go to Rottentomatoes.com and read a review of a film you have recently watched. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a new film.

Reviews are actually evaluations of films. They use criteria such as the plot complexity, characterization, dialogue, relevance of theme, shot composition, acting, and other elements to determine the overall quality of the film.

Reviewers have long praised Citizen Kane, but is it truly a great film? It was a grand film with enormous sets, a larger-than-life protagonist and strong performances by Joseph Cotton, Orson Welles, and Agnes Moorehead. However, many films possess these qualities. Critics were much more fascinated by the use of light and shadow in many scenes and the unique camera angles created by Gregg Toland, the cinematographer. The camera moves frequently and constantly incorporates contrasts. Welles even used ceilings on his sets to create a much more “boxed-in” sense from the viewer. In some scenes, Toland uses reflected images to provide different perspectives of the characters during particular scenes. In another scene, Welles shows both the passage of time and the dissolution of a marriage by first showing the newlyweds talking and flirting over breakfast as Kane’s wife wears a nightgown and a loose silk robe. This is followed by a succession of mornings until the final scene where the wife wears a high collared blouse, long sleeves, and a scowl as the two trade bitter verbal jabs. In a few short minutes, the audience watches the newlywed’s progress from giddy to openly resentful. It’s these innovations that lead critics to praise the film.

Is it everybody’s favorite film? No. Evaluation and preference are two entirely different measures of quality. Evaluation requires criteria so as to create a more objective “measure” of quality. Preference is about what you like. I like National Lampoons Christmas Vacation because it makes me laugh and because I can watch it with other people and they will laugh, too. Luckily I live in world where I can evaluate an objectively great film and enjoy an objectively bad one. (Though I think I can make an argument that it is objectively a great film.)


The key to effective evaluative writing is starting off with a clear and precise assertion. Your main assertion is what you will use to perform the evaluation. You may want to argue that a Chevy Tahoe is better than a Ford Expedition based on its horsepower, gas mileage, capacity, warranty, etc. Other evaluators might argue the difference between their towing capabilities. Whatever the main argument may be for your evaluative essay, make sure that your argument is clear.

  • Make sure you have a well presented subject. Without one, you will lose your readers.
  • Create a thesis statement. Thesis statements help you stay focused and help your reader to understand what is being evaluated or judged.
  • Give only information that is imperative to the decision making process. If it looks like unnecessary information, it probably is.
  • Do not be biased when creating an evaluative essay. Give both good and bad examples of the topic.

You are the “expert” in an evaluative essay. Support your opinions with facts, not whims.


A big question you might have is: how do I evaluate my subject? That depends on what your subject is.

If you are evaluating a piece of writing, then you are going to need to read the work thoroughly. While you read the work, keep in mind the criteria you are using to evaluate. The evaluative aspects may be: grammar, sentence structure, spelling, content, usage of sources, style, or many other things. Another thing to consider when evaluating a piece of Evaluation writing is whether the writing appeals to its target audience. Is there an emotional appeal? Does the author engage the audience, or is the piece lacking something? If you can, make notes directly on your work itself so that you remember what you want to write about in your essay.

If you are evaluating anything else, use your head. You need to try, use, or test whatever thing you are evaluating. That means you should not evaluate a 2005 Chevrolet Corvette unless you have the $45,000 (or more) to buy one, or the money to rent one. You also need the know-how of driving a car of that power and a base of knowledge of other cars that you have tested to make a fair comparison.

On the note of comparisons, only compare things that are reasonably alike. People don’t care to know how a laugh-out-loud comedy like National Lampoons Christmas Vacation compares to Citizen Kane; that is for a different type of essay. Compare comedies to other comedies and dramas to other dramas. That is what people are looking for when reading comparisons in an evaluation essay. However, keep in mind that comparisons are always useful in illustrating an idea and providing context. They give shape and clarity to often complex ideas presented in evaluations.

Whatever you are evaluating, make sure to do so thoroughly. Take plenty of notes during the testing phase so that your thoughts stay fresh in your mind. You do not want to forget about a part of the subject that you did not test.



In the introduction of your evaluative essay, you should clearly state the following: – what you are evaluating (the subject – like Citizen Kane or National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation) – the purpose of your evaluation – what criteria you are evaluating your subject on (plot, characterization, cinematography etc.) For example, you should not just write that you are judging the acting in the film. You should explain that you are judging the individual performances of actor, the plot of the screenplay, and cinematography. Give the reader background on the subject including the “who, what, when, where, and why” elements of the subject.


Be sure to be very descriptive and thorough when evaluating your subject. The more you leave out of the essay, the more unanswered questions your readers are left with. Your goal should be to cover all aspects of the subject and to tell the audience how good or bad it is. Consider, for example, not only what quality the subject possesses, but what is missing. Good evaluations measure the quality or value of a subject by considering what it has and what it lacks.

Check out: Useful Phrases for Use in Evaluative Writing


The conclusion for an evaluative essay is pretty straightforward. Simply go over the main points from the body of your essay. After that, make an overall evaluation of the subject. Tell the audience if they should buy it, eat it, use it, wear it, etc. and why. After that is done, your essay is finished.

The conclusion of a review is also an opportunity for some flourish. Think about how you can sum up the best or worst of the experience to send your audience marching toward or away from the subject of your evaluation. Good job!

Expression and Inquiry by Chris Manning, Sally Pierce, and Melissa Lucken is licensed under CC BY 4.0, except where otherwise noted.



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Evaluation Copyright © 2020 by Liza Long; Amy Minervini; and Joel Gladd is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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