How to Write an Evaluation Paper with Sample Essays
What is an Evaluation Paper?
Evaluation essays are just like reviews. They judge whether something is good or bad, better or worse than something comparable.
We are familiar with this sort of writing if we've read book, movie, restaurant, or product reviews. Evaluation papers can be serious or funny, earnest or sarcastic. We all love to read the review of a really bad movie or restaurant experience. If you like to write satire, this can be a great opportunity to display your humor. Chances are you will have a great time, and so will your reader.
Choosing a Topic
Your topic can be something you've experienced once or many times. Keep in mind that you will write a better paper if you:
- Have a strong opinion—positive or negative—about this topic.
- Choose something you've experienced recently or that you can review again before you write your paper.
- Know a lot about this type of experience.
Use the following list of categories to brainstorm ideas for what you might want to evaluate.
Event (like State Fair)
Program (like Study Abroad)
Steps in Writing
Finding Criteria for Evaluation Essays
To turn your opinion into an evaluation, you will need to use criteria to judge your subject. What are criteria? Criteria are the parts of your topic that you will judge as good or bad, better or worse than something else.
How can you find criteria? Criteria are the parts of the thing you are evaluating. Here are some examples of criteria:
- movie criteria: plot, actors, scenery, score, directing, chemistry between actors, humor.
- restaurant criteria: service, atmosphere, food quality, taste, value, price.
- website criteria: ease of navigation, design, visuals, writing, content.
Finding the best criteria for your evaluation: In order to do this kind of writing well, you need to determine what sort of a topic you are evaluating. If it is a movie, then what genre is it: horror, romance, drama, etc.? Then you need to decide what would make an excellent movie in that genre in your opinion. For example, you may decide that a good romantic comedy has to have three things: humor, surprising plot twists, and actors you enjoy getting to know. Next, you will evaluate the movie you have chosen to see how well it matches those criteria, giving specific examples of how it does or does not fulfill your expectations of an excellent romantic comedy.
Turning Your Topic into an Essay
In order to evaluate something, you need to compare it with the best example of that particular thing. So, to help you develop your topic into an essay, there are two important questions to ask when you are choosing your topic to evaluate:
- First question: What category of a thing is it?
- Second question: What is the ideal example of something in that category?
What category is it? For the best evaluation essay, you want to compare your topic with things that are very similar, so try to narrow the category as much as possible. To get there, you want to keep on asking the question, "What kind is it?" What category does McDonald's fit into?
Answer to first question: Restaurant. (What kind of restaurant?) Fast food restaurant. (Better, but what kind of fast food?) Hamburger-serving fast food restaurant. (This is what you want!)
So if you were evaluating McDonald's, you would want to compare it to other fast food restaurants that mostly serve hamburgers.
Now the second question: What is the ideal example of something in that category? What makes that example better than others? Thinking about what you consider to be the very best example of something in the category of what you are reviewing can help you decide what criteria you will use, and also what judgement you can make. For example, here is a list of criteria my students have come up with for an ideal burger fast food restaurant:
- looks clean
- serves food fast
- makes it easy to order
- has great fries
- has options on the menu
- offers large drinks with free refills
- serves juicy burgers with lots of grease
- doesn't cost a lot of money
No two people will come up with exactly the same list, but most restaurant reviews look at the following criteria:
Answer to second question: A great fast food burger joint offers great service, atmosphere, and food at a fair cost.
Now you know what your paper is going to be about how close McDonald's comes to this ideal.
Is This an Effective Advertisement?
How to Organize Your Essay
Using the list of criteria above, we can make a very fast outline for an essay about an imaginary fast food hamburger restaurant called Bob's Burgers:
Thesis Statement: While you may have to wait a while to get your meal at Bob's Burgers, that is because everyone finds the meal is worth the wait; Bob's Burgers offers not only great service, but a fun atmosphere for eating with friends or family, terrific food, and a good value for the price.
Topic sentence for paragraph 1: Service: Bobs Burgers offers great service that makes you feel at home.
- Food served quickly
- Easy to order
- Not pushy
- They get the order correct
Topic sentence for paragraph 2: Atmosphere: Walking into Bob's, you know you will enjoy eating there.
- Looks clean
- Attractive colors
- Interesting pictures or other decorations
- Comfortable tables and chairs
Topic sentence for paragraph 3: Food: Most importantly, Bob's burgers are the best in town.
- Juicy burgers with lots of grease
- Many choices for toppings, including grilled onions, mushrooms, and peppers
- Small or large burgers
- Have great fries
- One downside: No options for those who don't like burgers
Topic sentence for paragraph 4: Value: While Bob's doesn't have the cheapest meals, they do offer a good value for the price.
- Quality ingredients
- Burgers and fries fill you up
- Toppings on burgers are free
- Large drinks with free refills
Using this quick outline, most of you could probably write your own essay on Bob's or another fast food hamburger joint pretty easily.
Other Ways to Organize
- Comparison/Contrast: Evaluate your subject by comparing it to one of the best of that genre (use something everyone would know to save time). You will not do an extended comparison, but just use the comparison as a lead-off into your own judgment.
- Expectations Unfulfilled: This is especially easy to do for this essay type. Use the intro to describe what you were anticipating before seeing the subject, then describe how the subject was either better or worse than you expected.
- Frame: Use a description of the subject to frame the essay. That way you get right into the action. Then break off half-way through to keep your reader in suspense. Give your evaluation and then conclude with the end of your frame.
- Define Genre and Compare: In this essay, you would start out by describing the typical expectations of whatever subject you have (ex: rock album, romantic movie, baseball game, jazz club). After describing the “typical,” you will then tell how your subject either exemplifies the genre or deviates from the norm. Probably this type of organization is best used for a satire or for a subject that deliberately tries to break out of the normal expectations of that genre.
- Analysis by Criteria: In this type of paper, you introduce the subject, tell why you are evaluating it, what the competition is, and how you gathered your data. Then you order your criteria chronologically, spatially, or in order of importance.
- Chronological Order: You might use this for all or part of your paper. It means telling what happened in the order it happened. This is particularly useful for a performance or restaurant review.
- Causal Analysis: This measures the effect on the audience. How does this subject cause a certain effect?
- Analysis Focused on the Visual: This organization plan works well for analyzing works of art and pictures. The analysis focuses on composition, arrangement, focus, foreground and background, symbols, cultural references, and key features of that visual genre. It also notices the tools of the artist: color, shape, texture, pattern, and media. This paper analyzes these details in order to explain how they are related to the cultural and historical context of the work of art and then tells how they relate to the overall meaning of the piece. Be sure to evaluate if and why this piece is effective or ineffective.
- Analysis Focused on the Social Context or the Story: This type of evaluation takes an image and analyzes how it is effective for a particular point. Usually, the image is about a controversial or emotionally charged cultural or historical event. Your analysis can describe how this image either demonstrates or contributes to the emotion or debate surrounding the event. It may be that the image is ironic or misleading.
Introduction and Conclusion
The only problem with our example above is that it is so easy to write, and so it might seem rather trite and unoriginal. How can you make your essay stand out?
- Describe vividly, using interesting verbs, adjectives, and adverbs.
- Make the reader feel that they have been to the restaurant with you.
- Use the introduction and conclusion to entice the reader.
Introduction and Conclusion Ideas
- Use a conversation about the food.
- Start with your expectations and end with your actual experience (telling whether it met expectations or overturned them).
- Talk about popularity or history of the restaurant.
- Use statistics of people eating fast food more. Discuss the controversy about fast food and obesity and health.
See the chart below for more ideas.
How to Connect Introduction and Conclusion
Finish frame story.
Vivid description of subject.
What your audience should expect.
Explain your expectation before seeing or experiencing subject.
Were expectations fulfilled or unfulfilled?
Discuss what other people think of this subject.
Should agree with other people?
Give a quote from someone about this (especially if you disagree).
Tell your audience what they should think, do, or believe about this subject.
Describe how popular or unpopular it is.
Is popularity a good judge for this?
Show a conversation of people talking about it.
Show a conversation of what people think after experiencing it.
Give a scenario of a typical person interested in this.
Would you recommend this? Do you have a better idea?
Tell a personal story of your interest in the subject.
Explain your final conclusion about this subject.
Give history of event, piece of art, or other object.
What is the meaning of this thing over time?
Describe previous work of musician, director, actor, or artist.
How does this work compare to rest of work?
Cite statistics or evidence about this subject.
How does this subject fit into or challenges statistics or facts?
Define this thing or genre and what people typically expect.
Does this fulfill, fall short of, or reverse the conventions of the genre?
Tips for Writing a Great Essay
1. Present the Subject in an Interesting Way
- Give the right amount of detail: Be sure to explain clearly what it is and provide enough information for the reader to agree with your judgment. Sometimes movie reviews leave the reader in suspense as to the outcome of the story. You will have to decide what you want to tell.
- Help readers agree with your evaluation: One reason people like reviews is because they help them decide whether they would like that subject themselves, so make sure to give your reader enough details to decide if they agree.
- Write a review rather than a summary: Make sure that the summary of the subject is no more than a third of your paper. The main part of your paper is supposed to be the evaluation, not the summary. It is possible to do the summary separately and then do the evaluation, or you can summarize as part of your evaluation.
- Make sure what you are evaluating is clear: It is often effective to use an introduction which describes the subject or gets the reader involved in the action quickly.
2. Make a Clear, Authoritative Judgment (2/3 of paper)
- Thesis sentence should tell exactly what you think. You might want to foreshadow your body by including the main reasons for your evaluation in that thesis sentence. (Ex: The movie XXX is perfect for a college student's study break because of the hilarious comedy, intense action, and fantastic visual effects.)
- Define the audience you are addressing and the genre of the subject (in the above example, the audience is college students and the genre is action comedy).
- Create a three-column-log to help you make notes for your paper. Separate your notes into three columns for criteria, evidence, and judgment.
- Pick at least three criteria to talk about in your essay. For example, for a mystery play, it could be three of the following: plot, setting, costumes, acting of main characters, acting of minor characters, the pace of the action, or the unveiling of the mystery.
- Be opinionated! Passionate reviews are always more interesting to read. Use vivid nouns and engaging verbs. Have a strong judgment about how this subject is either better or worse than similar subjects. Your judgment can be mixed. For example, you might say the concert on the mall was a good mix of bands and that the new songs from the main act were energetically played, but that the sound equipment was poorly set up and tended to make it hard to hear the singers.
- Order the body paragraphs from least to most important.
- Back up your opinions with concrete examples and convincing evidence.
3. Argue for Your Judgment
- As you state each of your judgments, you need to give reasons to back them up that are specific, interesting, and convincing.
- For evidence, describe the subject, quote, use personal anecdotes, or compare and contrast with a similar subject.
- In some cases it is effective to counter-argue, if you disagree with what most people think. For example, if your subject is very popular and you think it is terrible, you may want to state what most people think and tell why you disagree.
Evaluate the Hype Around a Movie
This exercise is intended to help you prepare to write your paper. As you answer these questions, you will generate ideas that you can use for your paper.
- What is the topic (subject) you are going to evaluate? Do a short description of it in a list or paragraph.
- What category is your topic? Be as specific and narrow as possible.
- Who might be interested in this? This is your audience for the paper.
- What does this audience already know? What do they want or expect from this thing? (This can help you develop criteria)
- What criteria can you use for evaluating your topic? (Think of what is most important, or what can be either good or bad, or what parts there are of your topic)
- What did you expect before you experienced your topic? How did your experience either fulfill or reverse your expectations?
- In your evaluation of your topic, what is good?
- In your evaluation of your topic, what is not as good?
- What is the best example of something in your topic? (Or what other things can you use to compare your topic with?). How does your topic compare to the best of this sort of thing?
- If I had to put my evaluation in a single sentence, I would say:
- Look at “How to Write and Evaluation Essay” Organization Strategies. Which of these will you use? Explain how you will use it.
- Introduction/Conclusion ideas: Which of these will work best for you?
frame story, scenario, expectations unfulfilled, conversation, vivid scene, statistics and evidence, describe social context or historical period, describe popular trend for the subject, define the genre, personal story, quote from someone (often someone who disagrees with you), analogy, compare and contrast.
- How will you use this introduction and conclusion idea in your essay?
- Now write a brief outline of your paper (see hamburger example above).
Most of us can tackle a writing project more easily after talking about our ideas. Instructors may have you work in groups to talk out your ideas. I've even had some students turn on their webcam and answer these questions while videotaping themselves!
If your instructor doesn't have you work in a group, you can get together with some friends to answer the following questions and take notes to help you get ideas for your paper. Take turns in your group. The main goal is to help one another prepare to write. Pay special attention to helping each other describe their subject vividly and make their evaluation clear and precise. Also, look for good ways to organize papers.
- Tell your subject to your group. Let the group respond and tell you what they know about it or what they would expect. You write down their answers.
- Explain your subject. Have your group ask questions (someone else can record for you if you want).
- Explain your criteria for judging it (#5 in pre-writing). Have the group respond. Do these seem like the best criteria? Any other suggestions?
- Tell your group your one-sentence evaluation (this is your thesis). Get suggestions for how to make is more effective.
- Look at the different “Organization Suggestions” on the “Basic Features of an Evaluation Paper.” What type of organization would work best for this paper? Try to write a simple outline.