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.

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

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