- Define judgments and criteria that are appropriate to the object of evaluation
- Evaluate using these judgments and criteria
Evaluation, Every Day
While some of us might struggle to define evaluation, we nevertheless use evaluation every day. Deciding on what to buy, what to eat, what classes to take: all of these activities involve a process of evaluation. Our opinion of these things takes into account all kinds of evidence, attitudes, and likes and dislikes.
So, in many ways, we will be familiar with the kind of paper that centers evaluation. The activities and assignments we will cover in this chapter differ somewhat from those everyday evaluations. We probably don’t have to make our judgments clear when we decide to eat cereal for dinner. Our thought processes and rationales don’t have to be written down, and we don’t need to appear unbiased. Our dinner, our opinions.
If you’ve ever read an article about the latest iPhone that told you whether or not it was worth the money, then you’ve read an evaluation essay. Other examples of evaluation essays are movie reviews, book reviews, restaurant reviews, or car reviews. The point of all these examples is to make a judgment about the subject; is it good or is it bad?
In this paper, and for this unit, we will see how these everyday evaluations become formal, as these papers require explicitly stated judgments, clear criteria, and statements about counterarguments.
These characteristics and the skills necessary to produce them will also prove useful in the chapter focused on Compare and Contrast.
The Purpose of Evaluative Writing
Writers evaluate arguments in order to present an informed and well-reasoned judgment about a subject. While the evaluation will be based on their opinion, it should not seem opinionated. Instead, it should aim to be reasonable and unbiased. This is achieved through developing a solid judgment, selecting appropriate criteria to evaluate the subject, and providing clear evidence to support the criteria.
Evaluation is a type of writing that has many real-world applications. Anything can be evaluated. For example, evaluations of movies, restaurants, books, and technology ourselves are all real-world evaluations. At your job, your manager may write a year-end evaluation of your performance, or you may be the one writing an evaluation of an employee, and these evaluations often impact your pay!
Evaluation is important because it is a bedrock and foundation for Compare-and-Contrast essays, which require evaluations of two or more different objects, events, or people, to judge them together and against each other.
The Structure of an Evaluation Essay
How do you structure an evaluation essay?
First, in an introduction, the essay will present the subject. What is being evaluated? Why? The essay begins with the writer giving any details needed about the subject. For example, a restaurant review must at least include the name and location of the restaurant. In an evaluation of a vehicle, you’d include the make, model, and year of the vehicle. If the essay were a movie review, this is where you’d tell us the name of the movie and give a little bit of background.
Even at this early stage, your evaluation of the subject can come into focus for your reader. Your word choice—the adjectives and adverbs you use—can make your judgment clear even before you state your thesis.
Next, the essay needs to provide a judgment about a subject. This is the thesis of the essay, and it states whether the subject is good or bad based on how it meets the stated criteria. This is most often the very last sentence of the introduction. Again, if this were a movie review, this might be where you state that you liked (or disliked) the movie, and maybe a brief indication of why.
Don’t be afraid to take a strong stand! Don’t straddle the fence or water down your judgment. That means your thesis statement should not be a question. Your thesis should not offer up several different perspectives. Instead, make a bold, direct statement. Be clear, concise, and direct. Tell us what you really think!
An important first step in writing an evaluation is to consider the appropriate criteria for evaluating the subject. Criteria are standards that we use when making a judgment.
If you were to evaluate a car, for example, you might consider the expected criteria: fuel economy, price, and crash ratings. However, you could also consider more personal criteria: style, color, sound systems, or whether it has Apple CarPlay. Even though not everyone will base their choice of a car on these secondary criteria, they are still okay to use in your essay; in fact, they can make the essay more personalized and interesting.
Job applications and interviews are more examples of evaluations. Based on certain criteria, management and hiring committees determine which applicants will be considered for an interview and which applicant will be hired.
How do you decide what criteria to use? Start by making a list of commonly used standards for judging your subject. If you do not know the standards usually used to evaluate your subject, you should start with some research. For example, if you are reviewing a film, you could read a few recent film reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, noting the standards that reviewers typically use and the reasons they give for liking or disliking a film. If you are evaluating a football team, you could read reviews of football teams on ESPN, find a book on coaching football, or talk to a football coach to learn about what makes a great (or not-so-great) football team.
You might mention your criteria in your introduction, or you might use the topic sentences of your body paragraphs to clearly identify your criteria. Sticking with the movie review example, you might explain that your criteria are the plot of the movie, the quality of the acting, and how well-made the movie is.
The evidence of an evaluation essay consists of the supporting details authors provide based on their judgment of the criteria.
For example, if the subject of an evaluation is a restaurant, a judgment could be “Kay’s Bistro provides an unrivaled experience in fine dining.” Some authors evaluate fine dining restaurants by identifying appropriate criteria in order to rate the establishment’s food quality, service, and atmosphere. For example, if the bread served at the start of the meal was fresh out of the oven, then describing that fresh bread would be evidence in evaluation of the restaurant; it would fall under the criterion of “food quality.”
Another example of evaluation is literary analysis; judgments may be made about a character in the story based on the character’s actions, characteristics, and past history within the story. The scenes in the story are evidence for why readers have a certain opinion of the character, so you might include text from the story as evidence in your essay. You might also quote the published opinions of other writers who have already evaluated this story.
In a movie review, for each of the criteria that you stated, you’d provide specific evidence from the movie. Describe pivotal scenes that led to your judgment. For example, if a movie included a really emotional scene that stuck with you long after you saw the movie, you could cite that as evidence of the quality of the acting.
Counterarguing means responding to readers’ objections and questions. To effectively counterargue, you need to understand your audience. What does the audience already know? What do you think their opinions are? Do you expect your audience to agree or disagree with you?
Why bother with counterargument? Effective counterarguing builds credibility in the mind of the reader because it seems like you’re listening to their questions and concerns.
Typically, the best place for counterarguments is the end of the essay, after you’ve already made your points. Think about what objections you expect your reader to have. You can respond to those objections in two ways. The first option is to acknowledge an objection and immediately provide a counterargument, explaining why the objection is not valid. Second, you can concede the point, basically admitting there is room for other opinions. In either case, it is important to be respectful of opinions that are different from your own, while still standing behind your thesis.
Below is an example of a movie review. Now that you understand that a movie review is an evaluation essay that uses criteria and specific evidence to make a judgment on the subject, look for those criteria and evidence as you read. Does this critic use the same criteria that you do when deciding whether you like a movie?
Professional Writing Example
‘The Batman’ Is the Batman Movie We Deserve
By Adam Nayman
The Batman is not the Batman movie we need. That’s because we didn’t need another Batman movie. Not yet, anyway. Maybe if Christian Bale’s climactic self-sacrifice at the end of The Dark Knight Rises had hit a little bit harder, without the winking, now-you-see-him-now-you-don’t resurrection engineered by Christopher Nolan (still prestige-ing after all these years); maybe if we hadn’t had Ben Affleck glowering through various Snyder cuts like the human embodiment of a contractual obligation.
The Batman is the Batman movie we deserve, though: overwrought and overlong, but also carefully crafted and exhilarating. It’s just good enough to wish it were better—a lavish piece of intellectual property that ultimately prices itself out of providing cheap thrills.
Directed by Matt Reeves, The Batman begins like an exploitation movie, with a voyeuristic, quasi-Hitchcockian point-of-view shot seen through high-powered telescopic goggles—heavy breathing on the soundtrack and a family in the crosshairs. Shades, definitely, of Dirty Harry and its all-seeing sociopathic sniper, or maybe The Silence of the Lambs’ Buffalo Bill. As the sequence goes on, stitching us in complicity into an act of surveillance and then cutting stealthily into the home of Gotham’s embattled mayor (Rupert Penry-Jones), there’s a sense of dread that feels new and strangely alien compared to other iterations of the franchise. Nolan’s Dark Knight movies were grim and melodramatic and full of brutal, sadistic acts of violence, but they were never scary. The actors were having too much fun, and the over-cranked psychological intensity was subordinate to spectacle. Reeves, though, uses the visual vocabulary of a slasher movie for all it’s worth. When the owner of the original POV shot suddenly materializes in the shadows behind the mayor and dispatches him with a blunt instrument to the head, the effect is genuinely unsettling. We don’t feel safe.
Paranoia is in Reeves’s wheelhouse; at his best, he’s a fluid, moody virtuoso. Think of the excellent first half of Cloverfield, with its anxious first-person perspective on an impending apocalypse. Or the terrifying car-crash scene in his remake of Let Me In, which unfolds with the camera as a hapless backseat passenger, looking on unblinkingly as the world turns upside down. Reeves isn’t above show-offy camerawork, but it’s less to impart his own sense of control than to keep the audience off balance.
The tension, then, is between a filmmaker who specializes in disequilibrium tackling material that’s almost ritualistically familiar. For the first 45 minutes, The Batman does a beautiful job of giving us the beats that we expect, tricked up just enough to seem fresh. There’s a crime-riddled Gotham crisscrossed by low-level mobsters; the title character smacking down street-level hoods during his nightly rounds; and a police force resentful of the vigilante in their midst. We’ve seen it all before, but not usually with such a patient, arresting sense of confidence. When Robert Pattinson’s Batman stalks through the bloody crime scene at the mayor’s apartment, staring down the cops lining his path, the effect is pure pulp friction—a kind of vivid, scummy immediacy. And when Batman emerges from the shadows to pummel some face-painted gangbangers, the bleak imagery evokes vintage Frank Miller.
Miller’s 1987 DC comics arc Batman: Year One is an obvious inspiration for Reeves and Peter Craig’s screenplay, which makes it clear that Pattinson’s incarnation is still just experimenting with his nocturnal alter ego. In this version, Batman is less authentically world-weary than prematurely burned out—a nice Gen Z spin on the archetype. “Two years of nights,” he grumbles in voice-over sounding (purposefully) like Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle or the Rorschach of Alan Moore’s 1986 graphic novel Watchmen. Miller’s vision of a Gotham City buckling under Reagan-era anxieties—nuclear proliferation, inner-city crime, encroaching spiritual malaise—remains deeply influential, even after Tim Burton’s gothic, expressionist Gotham. While Reeves’s style and color palette are different from Nolan’s, he’s equally interested in the Miller-derived idea of the city as psychic protagonist, with lots of earnest monologuing about whether such a corroded urban landscape is worth saving, or if a self-styled crime fighter is just wasting his time.
Once it’s clear that we’re going to be spared yet another version of Batman’s origin story—no flashbacks to his parents getting shot outside the opera or close-ups of a moony, grieving little Bruce Wayne—the novelty of watching a relatively fledgling superhero earning his wings kicks in. There’s probably less of Bruce Wayne in The Batman than any other movie version, and so the usual trick of having the star play up the differences between the two personas doesn’t apply. Pattinson’s skill at playing awkward, antisocial characters works well for a vigilante who cloaks himself in solitude and isn’t interested in making friends (except for Jeffrey Wright’s nicely soulful James Gordon, imagined here as a principled wingman rather than a head honcho). That said, it’s not like there are any galas or fundraisers for Bruce to attend anyway. The only time he’s called on to appear in public is at the mayor’s funeral, which ends up turning into a murder scene as well at the whim of the masked killer whose sporadic appearances drive the story and punctuate it with a series of question marks.
It’s telling that Reeves went with the Riddler as the main bad guy for his first crack at the Batman universe. For one thing, it’s not like Paul Dano has to compete with a universally acclaimed movie take on the role. (Almost 30 years later, we still cannot sanction Jim Carrey’s buffoonery in Batman Forever.) For another, the character’s enigmatic shtick is easily torqued into the kind of taunting, Zodiac-style cryptography that Reeves is using as a visual motif. (The Fincher comparisons also extend to Se7en, right down to the Riddler collecting his scribblings in a series of unmarked notebooks; the line between theft and homage remains razor-thin.) Dano, who’s usually cast as a punching bag, is impressively creepy in small doses, and disappears for long stretches that leave us wanting more.
The complexity of The Batman’s narrative is both a bug and a feature. Reeves is going for something sprawling, and there are subplots for Zoë Kravitz as a subtly feline, cat-burglarizing Selina Kyle and Colin Farrell as a mobbed-up, battle-scarred, humorously ineffectual Penguin. (As usual, Farrell is at his best when playing against his leading-man looks; his middle-aged transformation into a master character actor is something to behold.) They both work for suave crime boss Carmine Falcone (John Turturro), who’s got the cops in his pocket and a nebulous connection to the late Thomas Wayne, imagined here as a good-hearted but hardly flawless father and magnate with skeletons in his walk-in closet. The big through line is the idea that the Riddler’s victims are all connected to some dark, heartbreaking civic secret, one that also implicates the Wayne family, and the clues are parceled out judiciously, with enough mystery and flourish to suggest that the revelation will be worth the wait.
Sadly, it isn’t—not quite, and definitely not after more than two hours of portentous buildup involving loaded references to rats, moles, and other nocturnal animals. It’s bizarre how closely Reeves and Craig bump up against a potentially audacious twist without pulling the trigger; the way the story is shaped, it seems like Dano’s and Pattinson’s characters are supposed to be secret siblings as opposed to two different case studies in forlorn orphan psychology. The theme of duality between Batman and his foes—already stomped into the ground by Nolan, Burton, and pretty much everyone else who’s had a crack at the character—rears its head here, but not as disturbingly as the filmmakers seem to think. A big, late confrontation between Pattinson and Dano strives for the sociopathic chill of Se7en but feels lukewarm, as does the revelation that one of the film’s characters has been gradually amassing an army of similarly aggrieved, incel-style acolytes—the same idea that Todd Philips already (and more effectively) evoked in Joker.
The bigger problem is that having finally unraveled every tightly wound strand of its narrative, The Batman takes an exhausting swing at apocalyptic grandeur. For all the expectations that Reeves is trying to subvert or at least play with, he’s as susceptible to the lure of blockbuster-sized spectacle as Burton or Nolan. The carnage is well-staged on a technical level, but it’s weirdly desultory, even as it pushes topical hot buttons around the idea of armed, civic insurrection. Based on shooting dates, The Batman’s striking evocations of January 6 must be coincidental, but either way, it feels like Reeves and his collaborators are trying to capitalize on a melancholy, disenfranchised zeitgeist more than actually saying anything about it.
As for what they’re saying about Batman—that it’s a lousy, lonely job, but somebody’s gotta do it—suffice it to say that it’s all been said before. One reason that Michael Keaton’s interpretation of Bruce Wayne holds up is that he was able to retain a sense of ridiculousness; Pattinson’s a terrific actor and his gaunt jaw line and bruised, battered body language are striking, but he’s acting in such a narrow emotional range that, for the first time after a killer run of performances, he grows monotonous (especially when no-selling Kravitz’s come-ons). A Batman who listens to MTV Unplugged in New York on repeat is a perfectly OK idea in theory, but there’s Something in the Way that Reeves piles on signifiers of tragic alienation that just feels pretentious. It’s the same mock gravitas as when he used “The Weight” to score a moment of lyrical down time during Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, as if trying to channel the ghost of Easy Rider into a story about mutated chimpanzees firing guns on horseback.
“Vengeance won’t change the past,” Bruce Wayne observes late in The Batman. “People need hope.” There are worse thesis statements to base a movie around. But there’s also something disingenuous about a movie that drenches itself in unpleasantness before trying in the end to peddle uplift and recast the title character as a kind of humanitarian activist. Ultimately, this Batman accepts the thankless, death-defying role he’s stepped into, and the sacrifices that go with it. But that choice would be more compelling if it weren’t framed as a tacit acknowledgement of all the inevitable sequels to come—whether we need them or not.
- How does the essay serve as an evaluation essay? In other words, what judgment is it making?
- What are the criteria Nayman uses to judge Batman as a franchise? What criteria does he use to judge the newest Batman movie?
- How does Nayman address counterarguments?
- What kinds of evidence does he use and from what sources?
- Whether or not you’ve seen The Batman, do you agree with Nayman’s judgment about the movie? Explain your answer.
Student Writing Example
Gender differences and biases have been a part of the normal lives of humans ever since anyone can remember. Anthropological evidence has revealed that even the humans and the hominids of ancient times had separate roles for men and women in their societies, and this relates to the concepts of epistemology. There were certain things that women were forbidden to do and similarly men could not partake in some of the activities that were traditionally reserved for women. This has given birth to the gender role stereotypes that we find today. These differences have been passed on to our current times; although many differences occur now that have caused a lot of debate amongst the people as to their appropriateness and have made it possible for us to have a stereotyping threat by which we sometimes assign certain qualities to certain people without thinking. For example, many men are blamed for undermining women and stereotyping them for traditional roles, and this could be said to be the same for men; men are also stereotyped in many of their roles. This leads to social constructionism since the reality is not always depicted by what we see by our eyes. These ideas have also carried on in the world of advertising and the differences shown between the males and the females are apparent in many advertisements we see today. This can have some serious impacts on the society as people begin to stereotype the gender roles in reality.
There has been a lot of attention given to the portrayal of gender in advertising by both practitioners as well as academics and much of this has been done regarding the portrayal of women in advertising (Ferguson, Kreshel, & Tinkham 40-51; Bellizzi & Milner 71-79). This has led many to believe that most of the advertisements and their contents are sexist in nature. It has been noted by viewing various ads that women are shown as being more concerned about their beauty and figure rather than being shown as authority figures in the ads; they are usually shown as the product users. Also, there is a tendency in many countries, including the United States, to portray women as being subordinate to men, as alluring sex objects, or as decorative objects. This is not right as it portrays women as the weaker sex, being only good as objects.
At the same time, many of the ads do not show gender biases in the pictures or the graphics, but some bias does turn up in the language of the ad. “Within language, bias is more evident in songs and dialogue than in formal speech or when popular culture is involved. For example, bias sneaks in through the use of idiomatic expressions (man’s best friend) and when the language refer to characters that depict traditional sex roles. One’s normative interpretation of these results depends on one’s ideological perspective and tolerance for the pace of change. It is encouraging that the limited study of language in advertising indicates that the use of gender-neutrality is commonplace. Advertisers can still reduce the stereotyping in ad pictures, and increase the amount of female speech relative to male speech, even though progress is evidenced. To the extent that advertisers prefer to speak to people in their own language, the bias present in popular culture will likely continue to be reflected in advertisements” (Artz et al 20).
Advertisements are greatly responsible for eliciting such views for the people of our society. The children also see these pictures and they are also the ones who create stereotypes in their minds about the different roles of men and women. All these facts combine to give result to the different public opinion that becomes fact for many of the members of the society. Their opinion and views are based more on the interpretation they conclude from the images that are projected in the media than by their observations of the males and females in real life. This continues in a vicious circle as the media tries to pick up and project what the society thinks and the people in the society make their opinions based upon the images shown by the media. People, therefore, should not base too much importance about how the media is trying to portray the members of the society; rather they should base their opinions on their own observation of how people interact together in the real world.
Artz, N., Munger, J., and Purdy, W., “Gender Issues in Advertising Language,” Women and Language, 22, (2), 1999.
Bellizzi, J. A., & Milner, L. “Gender positioning of a traditionally male-dominant product,” Journal of Advertising Research, 31(3), 1991.
Ferguson, J. H., Kreshel, P. J., & Tinkham, S. F. “In the pages of Ms.: Sex role portrayals of women in advertising,” Journal of Advertising, 19 (1), 1990.
- What is the topic or phenomenon being evaluated in the example essay above?
- What are the criteria for evaluating it?
- Look for examples of opinion or bias—where are they?
- What kinds of evidence does this essay use?
- Do you find yourself agreeing or disagreeing with the writer’s judgment? Explain.
- Evaluate a restaurant. What do you expect in a good restaurant? What criteria determine whether a restaurant is good?
- List three criteria that you will use to evaluate a restaurant. Then dine there. Afterward, explain whether or not the restaurant meets each criterion, and include evidence (qualities from the restaurant) that backs your evaluation.
- Give the restaurant a star rating (5 Stars: Excellent, 4 Stars: Very Good, 3 Stars: Good, 2 Stars: Fair, 1 Star: Poor). Explain why the restaurant earned this star rating.
While we surely evaluate things and activities every day, now we can see how our judgment of something based on criteria and supported by evidence can create an essay that does more than simply review but analyzes and evaluates in a way that avoids bias and unsupported opinion.
How would you evaluate your own progress in completing these readings and assignments that focus on evaluation—what could you have done differently?
This chapter has been adapted and remixed by Will Rogers from the following textbooks and materials: English Composition licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License and OER material from Susan Wood, “Evaluation Essay,” Leeward CC ENG 100 OER, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. This chapter is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License; It can be found at lms.louislibraries.org under this same license.
“‘The Batman’ is the Batman Movie We Deserve” by Adam Nayman appeared online in The Ringer on March 8, 2022. All rights reserved.
Rhetorical mode that examines criteria in order to make a judgment about a subject or subjects.
A view or judgment, often not based on evidence and often biased
Principles or standards by which things are evaluated
Available facts or information
A conclusion based on evidence
A counterargument is an expressed acknowledgement of opposing views that are fair and accurate coupled with a response to the shortcoming in reasoning in the opposing views.
An audience is a group of readers who reads a particular piece of writing. As a writer, you should anticipate the needs or expectations of your audience in order to convey information or argue for a particular claim.