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The Evaluation Essay

Key features of a well-written paper about an evaluative essay about a film, a concise description of the subject.

You should include just enough information to let readers who may not be familiar with your subject understand what it is. Remember, the goal is to evaluate, not summarize.

For instance, if writing about a movie, you’d want to describe the main plot points, only providing what readers need to understand the context of your evaluation. While you are evaluating the movie, you want to try to avoid retelling the story of it.

One other thing to keep in mind, depending on your topic and medium, some of this descriptive information may be in visual or audio form.

Clearly Defined Criteria

Since you are evaluating the subject, you will need to determine clear criteria as the basis for your judgment. In reviews or other evaluations written for a broad audience, you can integrate the criteria into the discussion as reasons for your assessment. In more formal evaluations, you may need to announce your criteria explicitly.

For instance, you could evaluate a film based on the stars’ performances, the complexity of their characters, and the film’s coherence. There are lots of other criteria to choose from, depending on your film choice.

A few things to keep in mind when coming up with your criteria:

  • Don’t try to have too many things to evaluate. Using three to four elements to evaluate should be enough criteria to support an overall evaluation of the subject.
  • Pick things relevant to the evaluation of your subject. For instance, if you are specifically reviewing a movie, you don’t want to include criteria evaluating the popcorn at the movie theater.
  • Remember, you’re going to have to define the criteria for your evaluation, so make sure you pick things you either know about or that you can learn about.

A Knowledgeable Discussion of the Subject

To evaluate something credibly, you need to show that you know it yourself and that you understand its context. Cite many examples showing your knowledge of the film. Some evaluations require that you research what other authoritative sources have said about your subject. You are welcome to refer to other film reviews to show you have researched other views, but your evaluation should be your own.

A Balanced and Fair Assessment

An evaluation is centered on a judgment. You can point out both its weaknesses and strengths. It is important that any judgment be balanced and fair. This is why it’s important to select your criteria before starting your evaluation. Seldom is something all good or all bad, and your audience knows this. If only presenting the positive or negative, your audience may feel you aren’t that credible of a source. While it may feel weird to include less-than-positive comments about something you enjoy, a fair evaluation acknowledges both strengths and weaknesses.

Well-Supported Reasons

You need to argue for your judgment, providing reasons and evidence that might include visual and audio as well as verbal material. Support your reasons with several specific examples from the film. This is also a good place to use knowledge of other movies, movie terminology, and other references to not only support your argument (aka: your evaluation) but show your ethos of the subject.

Step 1: Choosing a Topic

For this assignment, you will choose a film you have watched that was meaningful enough to evaluate. It can be one that was meaningful because it changed your perspective, for instance. You are also welcome to choose a film that was critically acclaimed, but you have objections to. Choose something that strikes you as a film worth analyzing and discussing.

Things to consider while making this selection:

  • What is the purpose of your evaluation? Are you writing to affect your audience’s opinion of a film?
  • Who is your audience? To whom are you writing? What will your audience already know about the film? What will they expect to learn from your evaluation of it? Are they likely to agree with you or not?
  • What is your stance? What is your attitude toward the subject, and how will you show that you have evaluated it fairly and appropriately? Think about the tone you want to use should it be reasonable? Passionate? Critical?

What film are you going to evaluate in this essay? Make sure it is one that is accessible to you (accessible as in you own it, you have checked it out from the library, or it’s available through a subscription you have like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney Plus, etc.) You will need to watch it and take detailed notes so that you have specifics, dialogue, etc. to include. So, what film will you evaluate?

Step 2: Generating Ideas and Text

Now that you know the film you want to evaluate, it’s time to watch it. Make sure you take extensive notes as it needs to be clear that you have taken the time to watch and study your film and that you have thought through not only the criteria that you want to talk about but also specific examples of those criteria.

Explore what you already know. Freewrite to answer the following questions:

  • What do you know about this subject?
  • What are your initial or gut feelings, and why do you feel as you do?
  • How does this film reflect or affect your basic values or beliefs?
  • How have others evaluated subjects like this?

Now it’s time to identify criteria. Make a list of criteria you think should be used to evaluate your film. Think about which criteria will likely be important to your audience.

Here are ideas for specific criteria:

  • Evaluate your subject. Study your film closely to determine to what extent it meets each of your criteria.
  • You may want to list your criteria and take notes related to each one as you watch the film.
  • You may develop a rating scale for each criterion to help stay focused on it.
  • Come up with a tentative judgment. Choose 3-4 criteria to discuss in your essay.
  • Compare your subject with others. Often, evaluating something involves comparing and contrasting it with similar things. We judge movies in comparison with other movies we’ve seen in a similar genre.
  • State your judgment as a tentative thesis statement. Your thesis statement should be one that addresses both pros and cons. “Hawaii Five-O is fun to watch despite its stilted dialogue” “Of the five sport utility vehicles tested, the Toyota 4 Runner emerged as the best in comfort, power, and durability, though not in styling or cargo capacity.” Both of these examples offer a judgment but qualify it according to the writer’s criteria. Experiment with thesis statements and highlight one you want to use.
  • Anticipate other opinions. I think Will Ferrell is a comic genius whose movies are first-rate. You think Will Ferrell is a terrible actor who makes awful movies. How can I write a review of his latest film that you will at least consider? One way is by acknowledging other opinions–and refuting those opinions as best I can. I may not persuade you to see Ferrell’s next film, but I can at least demonstrate that by certain criteria he should be appreciated. You may need to research how others have evaluated your subject.
  • Identify and support your reasons. Write out all the reasons you can think of that will convince your audience to accept your judgment. Review your list to identify the most convincing or important reasons. Then review how well your subject meets your criteria and decide how best to support your reasons; through examples, authoritative opinions, statistics, visual or audio evidence, or something else.

Step 3: Organization of the Evaluation Essay

The following provides two ways to organize your document:

Black text "start with your subject" above five light blue boxes in a line connected with black arrows pointing to the next box in the line. Each box includes writing. First box, "describe what you are evaluating"; second box "state your judgement"; third box "provide reasons and evidence, discussing criteria as you apply them"; fourth box "acknowledge objections or other opinions"; "restate your overall judgement"

Step 4: Drafting

Now that you’ve watched the thing, written the notes, and collected your thoughts, it’s time to draft. Use the organizational scheme you created in Step 3 to help you create your evaluation.

Step 5: Get Feedback

Step 6: revising.

Once you’ve received feedback, if possible, read through it and then walk away from the work for a little while. This will allow your brain time to process the feedback you received making it much easier to sit back down to make adjustments. While revising, try to avoid messing with punctuation or fixing any grammatical issues. Revision is when you focus on your ideas and making sure they are presented properly, so make sure you’ve set aside plenty of time or scheduled multiple times to go through your project.

Once you’re finished with revision–everything is well defined, claims justified, conclusions given–it’s time to edit. This is when you correct punctuation and adjust grammatical issues. During this stage, try to only focus on one or two issues at a time. Work all the way through your project looking for these couple of things and then start again with the next couple of issues you may need to smooth.

Hopefully you’ve finished all of these steps before the deadline. If you are running behind, make sure you reach out to your instructor to let them know; they may have some tips to help get you through the final push.


Creative Commons License

“ The Evaluation Essay ” by Rachael Reynolds is licensed under a  Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License  and adapted work from the source below:

Adapted from “ Writing the Evaluation Essay ” by Sara Layton and is used according to CC BY-NC-SA 3.0.

UNM Core Writing OER Collection Copyright © 2023 by University of New Mexico is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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  1. The Evaluation Essay

    “The Evaluation Essay” by Rachael Reynolds is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License and adapted work from the source below: Adapted from “Writing the Evaluation Essay” by Sara Layton and is used according to CC BY-NC-SA 3.0.