Chapter 16: Evaluations

Part 3: Chapter 16

People evaluate all the time. An important and basic function of any evaluation is to recommend or not recommend a product or service to other people. Students frequently utilize evaluation strategies in an academic setting. For example, you have probably used evaluation strategies when you decided whether to use a research article in an academic essay. If you have ever tried out a new restaurant because of its positive online or newspaper reviews, then you are testing out other people’s evaluations. If a friend recommends a movie because they say the film is really, really good, and you later watch the film and find yourself disappointed, the trouble might be that you and your friend have different criteria for what makes a good movie.

The textbook Rhetoric and Composition states that evaluative writing judges using 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.


The key to effective evaluative writing is starting off with a clear and precise argument. Your main argument 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. These concepts are the criteria you will use to evaluate each vehicle. Other evaluators might argue the difference between their towing capability. 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 that introduces your stance. 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.

How to Evaluate

A big question you might have is: how do I evaluate my subject? That depends on your position on the topic. If you are evaluating a piece of writing, then you will 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, or other stylistic elements. Another issue to consider when evaluating a piece of 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 the work itself so that you remember what you want to write about in your essay.

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 items that are reasonably alike. People don’t care to know how an apple compares to a backpack; that is for a different type of essay. Compare different types of apples to each other and different types of backpacks against each other. That is what people are looking for when reading comparisons in an evaluation essay. 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.

Features of an Evaluation


In the introduction of your evaluative essay, you should clearly state the following:

  1. the subject you are evaluating (like a 2009 Toyota Prius)
  2. the purpose of your evaluation
  3. the criteria you are using to evaluate your subject (mileage, price, performance, etc.).

For example, you should not just write that you are judging the taste of an apple. You should explain that you are judging the sweetness, bitterness, and crispness of the apple.


Unlike some types of essays, the introduction is not the most important part of an evaluative essay. Most readers already want to read about the subject that you are writing on, so you don’t need to draw them in with a fancy intro. Your audience just wants the information.

Be sure to be 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 also what is missing. Good evaluations measure the quality or value of a subject by considering what it has and what it lacks.


The conclusion for an evaluative essay is 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 complete. Good job!

Reviews: One Type of Evaluation

In many college courses, the review assignment gives writers the chance to express their personal opinion about anything the writers would like. The main purpose of the review, however, is to develop the ability of supporting arguments and demonstrating an understanding of a subject at hand.

A review is an essay expressing an informed opinion about a subject while explaining why a writer came to an opinion. Instead of simply stating whether a writer likes something or not, a review expresses opinions based on common expectations shared with readers. Opinions in a review are important; however, a review must consider what a potential audience might find successful or unsuccessful.

In print media, reviews commonly cover films, books, or events. In a review, the writer determines whether a film, book, or event was enjoyable; with films and books, a writer determines whether a reader should or should not watch or purchase the film or book. Many people often read a review after purchasing the film or book to see if others agree. Online, reviews abound, from the websites where you shop, like Amazon, to the apps that help you navigate a trip, like Yelp. Even while buying a car, consumers now have access to review sites like Kelley Blue Book.

Writing a review

At least two methods for writing a review are available. In the first method, there is the following:

  • Introduction (Identifying the subject reviewed or evaluated)

  • Description or summary of the subject

  • Strengths and weaknesses of the first feature of the subject.

  • Strengths and weaknesses of the second feature of the subject.

  • Strengths and weaknesses of the third feature of the subject.

  • Conclusion (Offering an overall judgment of the subject).

In the second method available for writing a review, there is the following:

  • Introduction

  • Description or summary of the subject

  • Strengths of the subject

  • Weaknesses of the subject

  • Weighing the strengths and weaknesses of the subject

  • Conclusion.

What Should I Say About My Subject in the Review?

Before writing a review on your subject, many writers use a first-hand experience. For instance, if the subject of the review is a film, it is best to see the film. For a book, it is best to read it. For a product or service, it is best to use it.

However, before actually experiencing the subject, almost all writers suggest engaging in some preliminary inquiry background research. Both can help form a critical perspective for analyzing the subject. Initial inquiries will also help to determine what both writers and readers of reviews should expect of the reviewed subject. On the other hand, background research can help develop a richer understanding of the subject’s history and context.

Preliminary Inquiry

As mentioned above, the practice of preliminary inquiry can help achieve common expectations between writers and readers of reviews. This allows for an interactive understanding of what makes the reviewed subject successful or unsuccessful. Both writers and readers of reviews should keep in mind that common expectations are not always stated clearly.

When engaging in a preliminary inquiry of the subject, it helps to brainstorm, a writing strategy covered in chapter six. This can help sort out common expectations. For instance, if a reviewer wants to write about a recent psychological thriller seen in a movie theater, brainstorming can help break down the characteristics of that genre of film. When brainstorming, it is best to make a list of points that stand out the most. When writers use this strategy in the reviews they write, it helps readers understand what to expect if something about the film–for instance, a trailer–piques the interest of the prospective reader.

Background Research

Background research can help both writers and readers of reviews better understand the experience of the person reviewing the subject. There are four possible strategies used to gather background research.

Answering the Five-W and How Questions: This can involve using online or print sources to find out as much as possible about the subject under review. The “Five-W and How Questions” are:

  • Who were its creators or original developers?

  • What exactly is the subject under review?

  • When and where was it created

  • Why was it created? (What is its purpose?)

  • How was it made?

Locating Other Reviews of the Same Subject: This can involve the use of online search engines (e.g., Google, Bing, Yahoo!) as well as library indexes and databases. Some questions to consider when locating other reviews involve what others have said about the subject under review. What others have said may bring some important insights. Of course, when using another person’s review, it is especially important in academic writing to cite the source properly; otherwise, you are plagiarizing.

Interviewing or Surveying Others: On many college and university campuses, experts abound, particularly regarding the potential subject under review. In cases like this, experts can help provide some common expectations. If there are no official experts around, many writers review other people who have had a personal experience with the same subject. Here, writers often ask what others thought of the subject, how they reacted to it, and what they liked or disliked about it.

Field Observations:
These involve watching the subject closely and paying attention to the reactions of others. For instance, if the potential subject under review is a film, and if the experience of watching the film under review takes place in a cinema, then it is best to observe the reactions of audience members.

Experiencing the Subject under Review: To experience a potential subject under review involves, on the one hand, reviewing it is as a regular person; on the other hand, it involves stepping back and experiencing the subject from a critic’s point of view. When members of an audience, including the reviewer, react to a moment in the film, the reviewer must analyze why there was that specific reaction. Taking notes while experiencing the subject can provide an additional help. When taking notes, reviewers should keep in mind the common expectations found when engaging in preliminary inquiry and background research.

Included in the experience of the subject under review is what Johnson-Sheehan and Paine define as the Believing and Doubting Game involving three common ideas:

  • Believing (Writing a positive review)

  • Doubting (Writing a negative review)

  • Synthesis (Writing a review with “common ground”)

What is the Style of a Review?

The style of the review depends on the readers and where they will see it. The best reviews are often those that are accurate while keeping the expectations of their audience in check. For instance, if the review appears in a mainstream publication or on a website, the style should appear lively as much as it matches the reviewer’s reaction to the subject. Some important elements of style in writing a review include the use of detail, tone, and pace.

Detail: More often than not, reviews use sensory detail to include sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell. It is not required for writers of reviews to use all of the senses. However, it is important to keep sensory details in mind while writing a review.

Tone: This should be a reflection of the subject under the review. The voice should match the tone.

Pace: The length of sentences in a review can determine how readers of that same review should react. Shorter sentences can create a more hectic, fast-paced feeling while longer sentences can create a more languid, slower-paced feel.


Book Review: The End of Ownership

Kerry Sheehan

Book cover
Book Review: The End of Ownership
Kerry Sheehan

In The End of Ownership: Personal Property in the Digital Age, Aaron Perzanowski and Jason Schultz walk us through a detailed and highly readable explanation of exactly how we’re losing our rights to own and control our media and devices, and what’s at stake for us individually and as a society. The authors carefully trace the technological changes and legal changes that have, they argue, eroded our rights to do as we please with our stuff. Among these changes are the shift towards cloud distribution and subscription models, expanding copyright and patent laws, Digital Rights Management (DRM), and use of End User License Agreements (EULAs) to assert all content is “licensed” rather than “owned.” And Perzanowski and Schultz present compelling evidence that many of us are unaware of what we’re giving up when we “buy” digital goods.

Ownership, as the authors explain, provides a lot of benefits. Most importantly, ownership of our stuff supports our individual autonomy, defined by the authors as our “sense of self-direction, that our behavior reflects our own preferences and choices rather than the dictates of some external authority.” It lets us choose what we do with the stuff that we buy – we can keep it, lend it, resell it, repair it, give it away, or modify it, without seeking anyone’s permission. Those rights have broader implications for society as a whole – when we can resell our stuff, we enable secondary and resale markets that help disseminate knowledge and technology, support intellectual privacy, and promote competition and user innovation. And they’re critical to the ability of libraries and archives to serve their missions – when a library owns the books or media in its collection, it can lend those books and media almost without restriction, and it generally will do so in a way that safeguards the intellectual privacy of its users.

These rights, long established for personal property, are safeguarded in part by copyright law’s “exhaustion doctrine.” As the authors make clear, that doctrine, which holds that some of a copyright holders’ rights to control what happens to a copy are “exhausted” when they sell the copy, is a necessary feature in copyright law’s effort to limit the powers granted to copyright holders so that overbroad copyright restrictions do not undermine the intended benefit to the public as a whole.

Throughout the book, Perzanowski and Schultz present a historical account of rights holder attempts to overcome exhaustion and exert more control over what people do with their media and devices. The authors describe book publishers’ hostile, “fearful” response to lending libraries in the 1930’s:

…a group of publishers hired PR pioneer Edward Bernays….to fight against used “dollar books” and the practice of book lending. Bernays decided to run a contest to “look for a pejorative word for the book borrower, the wretch who raised hell with book sales and deprived authors of earned royalties.”…Suggested names included “bookweevil,”…”libracide,” “booklooter,” “bookbum,” “culture vulture,” … with the winning entry being “booksneak.”

Publishers weren’t alone, the authors show that both record labels and Hollywood studios fought against the rise of secondary markets for music and home video rental, respectively. Hollywood fought a particularly aggressive battle against the VCR. In the end, the authors note, Hollywood continued to “resist[] the home video market,” at least until they gained more control over the distribution technology.

But while historically, overzealous rights holders may have been stymied to some extent by the law’s limitation of their rights, recent technological changes have made their quest a lot easier.

“In a little more than a decade,” the authors explain, we’ve seen dramatic changes in content distribution, from tangible copies, to digital downloads, to the cloud, and now, increasingly, to subscription services. These technological changes have precipitated corresponding changes in our abilities to own the works in our libraries. While, as the authors explain, copyright law has long relied on the existence of a physical copy to draw the lines between rights holders’ and copy owners’ respective rights, “[e]ach of these shifts in distribution technology has taken us another step away from the copy-centric vision at the heart of copyright law.” Unfortunately, the law hasn’t kept up: Even as copies escape our possession and disappear from our experience, copyright law continues to insist that without them, we only have the rights copyright holders are kind enough to grant us.”

Perzanowski and Schultz point to End User License Agreements (EULAs), with their excessive length, one-sided, take-it-or-leave-it nature, complicated legalese, and relentless insistence that what you buy is only “licensed” to you (not “owned”), as a main culprit behind the decline of ownership.  They provide some pretty standout examples – including EULAs that exceed the lengths of classic works of literature, and those that claim to prevent a startling array of activity. For the authors, these EULAs

. . . create private regulatory schemes that impose all manner of obligations and restrictions, often without meaningful notice, much less assent. And in the process, licenses effectively rewrite the balance between creators and the public that our IP laws are meant to maintain. They are an effort to redefine sales, which transfer ownership to the buyer, as something more like conditional grants of access.

And unfortunately, despite their departure from some of contract law’s core principles, some courts have permitted their enforcement, “so long as the license recites the proper incantations.”

The authors are at their most poetic in their criticism of Digital Rights Management (DRM) and Section 1201 of the DMCA, perhaps the worst scourges of ownership in the book. As they point out, even in the absence of restrictive EULA terms, DRM embeds rights holders’ control directly into our technologies themselves – in our cars, our toys, our insulin pumps and heart monitors. Comparing it to Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit 451, they explain:

While not nearly as dramatic as flamethrowers and fighting robot dogs, the unilateral right to enforce such restrictions through DRM exerts many of the types of social control Bradbury feared. Reading, listening, and watching become contingent and surveilled. That system dramatically shifts power and autonomy away from individuals in favor of retailers and rights holders, allowing for enforcement without anything approaching due process.

As Perzanowski and Schultz explain, these shifts aren’t just about our relationship to our stuff. They recalibrate the relationship between rights holders and consumers on a broad scale:

When we say that personal property rights are being eroded or eliminated in the digital marketplace, we mean that rights to use, to control, to keep, and to transfer purchases – physical and digital – are being plucked from the bundle of rights purchasers have historically enjoyed and given instead to IP rights holders. That in turn means that those rights holders are given greater control over how each of us consume media, use our devices, interact with our friends and family, spend our money, and live our lives. Cast in these terms, it is clear that there is a looming conflict between the respective rights of consumers and IP rights holders.

The authors repeatedly remind us that who makes the decision between what is owned and what is licensed is crucial – both on the individual and societal scale. When we allow companies to define when we can own our stuff, through EULAs or Digital Rights Management, we shift crucially important decisions about how our society should work away from legislatures, courts, and public processes, to private entities with little incentive to serve our interests. And, when we don’t know exactly what we give up when we “buy” digital goods, we’re not making an informed choice. Further, when we opt for mere access over ownership, our choices have broader societal effects. The more we shift to licensing and subscription models, the more it may become harder for those who would rather own their stuff to exercise that option – stores close, companies shift distribution models, and some works disappear from the market.

In the end, Perzanowski and Schultz leave us with a thread of hope that we still might see a future for ownership of digital goods. They believe that at least some courts and policy makers, and “[p]erhaps more importantly, readers, listeners, and tinkerers – ordinary people – are expressing their own reluctance to accept ownership as an artifact of some bygone predigital era.” And they provide a set of arguments and reform proposals to martial in the fight to save ownership before it’s too late. They lay out an array of technological and legal strategies to reduce deceptive practices, curb abusive EULAs, and, reform copyright law. The most thoroughly developed of these proposes a legislative restructuring of copyright exhaustion in a flexible, multi-factor format, in part modeled on the United States’ fair use doctrine. It’s a good idea, and it would probably work.  But (and the authors acknowledge this) even modest attempts at reform have failed to garner the necessary support in Congress to move forward. A more ambitious proposal, like this one, seems at least unlikely in the near term.

Overall, the End of Ownership is a deeply concerning exposition of how we’re losing valuable rights. The questions it raises about whether and how we can preserve the benefits of ownership in the digital age will likely continue to be relevant even as technology, and the law, evolve. Most critically, it asks us to rethink who we want making the decisions that shape how we live our lives. While the book tackles complex issues in law and technology, it does so in a way that’s accessible and interesting both for lawyers and laypersons alike. The book’s ample real world examples of everything from disappearing e-book libraries, to tractors, dolls, and medical devices resistant to their owners’ control bring home both the impact of abstract legal doctrines and the urgency of their reform. 

Thanks to Electronic Frontier Foundation.


Kerry Maeve Sheehan is a former consulting policy strategist with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, focusing on intellectual property and net neutrality.  She currently works for the Internet Law & Policy Foundry. This review was reprinted from The Seattle Star. 

Book Review: The End of Ownership by Kerry Sheehan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Adapted from “Chapter Three” of Rhetoric and Composition, 2013, used under creative commons 3.0 CC-BY-SA

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