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Evaluative Essay: Examples, Format & Characteristics

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  • 1:15 Judgement, Criteria & Evidence
  • 1:56 Intro & Background
  • 4:15 Criteria
  • 5:14 Tools for Effective Evidence
  • 6:00 Conclusion
  • 6:33 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kelly Roach

Kelly earned her Master of Mass Communication from Arizona State and has taught consumer behavior and communication courses at the undergraduate level.

A good evaluative essay helps a writer present an opinion using criteria and evidence. Learn all about the evaluative essay and its components in this lesson.

Defining an Evaluative Essay

It's Friday night and you and your best friend, Gina, have plans to see a new movie. The only thing is, you can't decide between two that just came out: Love, Specifically, a lighthearted, romantic comedy, or The Mountains Have Ears, a new, artsy independent film thriller.

You're kind of in the mood to laugh, but Gina thinks a scary movie would be fun. Since you two can't seem to come to an agreement, you call your friend Samantha, a movie buff who's already seen both of them. Samantha tells you she thought Love, Specifically was good and you should go see that one. Gina, still wanting a good scare, asks her what was so much better about Love, Specifically compared to The Mountains Have Ears. 'I dunno, I just liked it more, I guess,' she answers.

Samantha's response would be frustrating to most people. If only she'd learned the essential components to an evaluative essay - then she'd be able to give a better explanation of why Love, Specifically was her favorite. You see, an evaluative essay is basically a review of something. As the name suggests, the evaluative essay presents a value judgment based on a set of criteria.

Judgment, Criteria, and Evidence

There are three key parts to an evaluative essay:

  1. The judgment, or your overall opinion
  2. The criteria, or reasons why you've made your opinion
  3. And last, evidence to support it

Think about all those times you asked your mom why you couldn't do something that you wanted to do, and she simply responded, 'Because I'm your mother, that's why!' or 'Because I said so!' Remember how frustrating that was? When writing an evaluative essay, 'because I said so' is not a good enough argument. Neither is Samantha's answer, 'I dunno, I just liked it more, I guess.' You have to have specific reasons and evidence to support your judgment.

Parts of the Evaluative Essay: Intro and Background

So, how do we put these three elements to work to make an evaluative essay that says more than 'Because I said so'? For starters, you will want to include four main components: your introduction, some background information, your criteria, and your conclusion. The introduction has a pivotal role in this paper: it gives your overall judgment in the form of a thesis statement. This is where, if you were Samantha, you'd say, 'The engaging plot, relatable characters and believable storyline made Love, Specifically a must see.' Sounds a lot better than, 'I just liked it more, I guess,' doesn't it?

You'll notice in Samantha's new thesis, she not only tells you whether or not she thought it was a good movie, which was her overall judgment, she gives you some specific reasons, or criteria, why she thought it was a good movie. This is key to the evaluative essay; it helps to focus your review. Being as specific as possible helps you formulate an effective evaluation because you're not trying to cover it all: just a few key parts that come together to make your overall judgment.

After establishing your overall judgment and defining your focus, you'll move on to the next key component: background. Before you start giving your opinion on something, people need to have some kind of idea of what you are talking about. In the case of a movie or book review, you'd include a brief summary. For a restaurant review, you'd talk about what kind of food is served and the style of dining.

The background's purpose is twofold: first, it helps the reader get on the same page and understand exactly what you are reviewing. Second, it helps establish the purpose of whatever it is you are evaluating and justify your criteria. Think about it, romantic comedies are generally geared toward a different audience than artsy, independent films. They often have different goals, too. While a romantic comedy may be made purely for entertainment purposes, the independent film might try to present some sort of commentary on everyday life or make you consider a new idea or viewpoint.

Or, in the case of a restaurant review, Bob's Burger Stand, a casual, walk-up burger joint would be evaluated using completely different criteria than Merlot Burger, a gourmet, sit-down restaurant that serves Kobe beef burgers marinated in fine wines.

Parts of the Evaluative Essay: Criteria

Once you've set the focus and given your background, you'll move on to your criteria. In your essay, you should devote at least one paragraph to each criterion. This way, you have plenty of room to discuss what the criterion is, give your judgment, and present your supporting evidence. That's right, those three key elements need to live in each paragraph as well as your essay as a whole.

So, for Samantha's evaluative essay, each criterion she mentioned in her thesis would have it's own paragraph: the plot, characters, and storyline. For each paragraph, she'd go on to give her judgment and evidence. Samantha's paragraph on the plot might sound something like this:

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