Evaluation Essays - Important Guidelines and Tips

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Although we may grumble when an instructor assigns an essay, there's a reason that academics love them -- and it's not necessarily because they're boring fuddy-duddies who have no social lives. It's the duty of your teachers and profs to get you to think, and there's nothing like explanatory writing to help you organize and examine your own beliefs. You may know how you feel about a certain subject, but you may not understand why until you chronicle your reasoning on paper. The act of marshalling your defenses for or against a particular topic teaches you more about the subject, and may even sway your opinion in one direction or another.

While there are many subspecies of essay, the evaluation essay is one of the most popular. The goal of any evaluation essay is to examine a subject and determine whether it's good or bad according to specific criteria assigned by the writer. Their intention is to either to have you accept their judgment, or to change your mind about the subject. Evaluation essays aren't unique to schoolwork: every book or movie review you've ever seen is an evaluation essay. So are many op-ed pieces in the newspaper, and most of the influential political writings in history, from the Federalist Papers to Das Kapital. Even such mundane items as employee evaluations can be perceived as miniature evaluation essays. As both a student and a member of society, then, it behooves you to know how to craft an evaluation essay that'll have your readers nodding in agreement by the time they're done.

Know Your Subject

Within the universe of your essay, you're an authority on your subject; therefore, it's up to you to describe it in sufficient detail to make your case. How much you describe is up to you, and may depend on how much of the subject is perceived to be common knowledge. If you want to convince people that flies are nasty, you're unlikely to have to explain much about flies themselves. If, on the other hand, you want to make a point about an exegesis of Psalm 47 in the Bible, you'd better be prepared to recite the entirety of the Psalm and lay out exactly what an exegesis is, and why it matters.

Make Your Case

By no means is an evaluation essay meant to be an unbiased examination of your subject; the whole point is to take a stance and argue for it. You're making a definitive value judgment, and you must make this clear in your thesis statement. Every paragraph afterward should exist only to support your argument. Said argument can be based on your personal beliefs, but only if it's supported by convincing information. For example, you can't make the case that America should outlaw the color chartreuse just because it's ugly. Ugliness is subjective; some Americans may find chartreuse soothing and pleasant. Nor should your logic be circular: saying "Grapenuts is great because it tastes good, and it tastes good because it's great" is about as ineffective an argument as it's possible to make. If you want people to take your argument seriously, support it with facts, research, statistics, and testimonials. Your goal is to change other people's minds, not to rant about something you hate and inject misleading statements into the discussion.

Tone It Down

Which brings us to the next point: no matter how fervently you believe or disbelieve in something, make sure that the tone of your evaluation essay is quietly reasonable. There are cases where humor is acceptable, but don't be flippant or derisive. Don't create straw men just so you can knock them down, and don't launch ad hominem attacks against those who disagree with you -- that is, don't make fun of them or call them names. After all, what looks more professional: a strident paean against a topic, or an impartial demolition undertaken one careful brick of logic at a time?

Finally, be sure your essay has a clear organization, so that your argument flows seamlessly from point to point. This doesn't mean that you can't occasionally revisit previous points, but if Point A belongs with Point D, it should be with Point D, and not on another page. Provide a generalized introduction that makes it clear where you're headed, and move from there to your specific points. Your thesis sentence should tighten in your focus, lead directly into the argument, and be driven home in a brilliant conclusion that leaves your readers utterly convinced, and ready to concede your point.

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