July 09, 2009

Evaluation essay writing: shaping strategies

The shaping strategies you have used in previous essays may be helpful, but the strategies that follow are particularly appropriate for shaping evaluations.

Analysis by Criteria

Often, evaluations are organized by criteria. You decide which criteria are appropriate for the subject and audience, and then you use those criteria to outline the essay. Your first few paragraphs of introduction establish your thesis or overall claim and then give background information: what the subject is, why you are evaluating it, what the competition is, and how you gathered your data. Then you order the criteria according to some plan: chronological order, spatial order, order of importance, or another logical sequence. Phyllis Richman's evaluation of the Hunan Dynasty restaurant follows the criteria pattern:

  • Introductory paragraphs: information about the restaurant (location, hours, prices), general description of Chinese restaurants today, and overall claim: The Hunan Dynasty is reliable, a good value, and versatile.
  • Criterion #1/Judgment: Good restaurants should have an attractive setting and atmosphere / Hunan Dynasty is attractive.
  • Criterion #2/Judgment: Good restaurants should give strong priority to service / Hunan Dynasty has, despite an occasional glitch, expert service.
  • Criterion #3/Judgment: Restaurants that serve moderately priced food should have quality main dishes / Main dishes at Hunan Dynasty are generally good but not often memorable. [Most important criterion, the quality of the main dishes, is saved for last.]
  • Concluding paragraphs: Hunan Dynasty is a top-flight neighborhood restaurant.

Comparison and contrast

Many evaluations compare two subjects in order to demonstrate why one is preferable to another. Books, films, restaurants, courses, music, writers, scientists, historical events, sports — all can be evaluated using comparison and contrast. In evaluating two oriental restaurants, for example, student writer Chris Cameron uses a comparison-and-contrast structure to shape her essay. In the following body paragraph from her essay, Cameron compares two restaurants, the Unicorn and the Yakitori, on the basis of her first criterion — an atmosphere that seemed authentically oriental.

Of the two restaurants, we preferred the authentic atmosphere of the Unicorn to the cultural confusion at the Yakitori. At first impression, the Yakitori looked like a converted truck-stop, sparsely decorated with a few bamboo slats and Japanese print fabric hanging in slices as Bruce Springsteen wailed loudly in the ears of the customers. The feeling at the Unicorn was quite the opposite as we entered a rcom that seemed transported from Chinatown. The whole room had a red tint from the light shining through the flowered curtains, and the place looked truly authentic from the Chinese patterned rug on the wall to the elaborate dragon on the ceiling. Soft oriental music played as the customers sipped tea from small porcelain cups and ate fortune cookies.

Cameron used the following alternating comparison-and-contrast shape for her whole essay:

  • Introductory paragraph(s)
  • Thesis: Although several friends recommended the Yakitori, we preferred the Unicorn for its more authentic atmosphere, courteous service, and well-prepared food.
  • Authentic atmosphere: Yakitori vs. Unicorn
  • Courteous service: Yakitori vs. Unicom
  • Well-prepared food: Yakitori vs. Unicorn
  • Concluding paragraph(s)

Cameron might have used a block comparison-and-contrast structure for her essay. In this organizational pattern, Cameron's outline would be as follows:

  • Introductory paragraph(s)
  • Thesis: Although several friends recommended the Yakitori, we preferred the Unicorn for its more authentic atmosphere, courteous service, and well-prepared food
  • The Yakitori: atmosphere, service, and food
  • The Unicorn: atmosphere, service, and food as compared to the Yakitori
  • Concluding paragraph(s)

Chronological order

Writers often use a chronological order to organize their claims and criteria. In her review of Star Wars, for example, Judith Crist shapes her evaluation by following a natural chronological order:

  1. Comments on Lucas's previous film, American Graffiti.
  2. Review of the plot.
  3. Evaluation of the climax of the film.
  4. Comment on the viewer's good feelings at the end of the film.

Causal analysis

Analyzing the causes or effects of a place, object, event, or policy can shape an entire evaluation. Works of art or performances, for example, oftenjneasure the effect on the viewers or audience. Mark Stevens claims that Goya'si painting has "severairctefmife" effects on the viewer; those specific effects become the evidence that supports the claim.

  • Criterion #1/Judgment: The iconography, or use of symbols, contributes to the powerful effect of this picture on the viewer.
    • Evidence: The church as a symbol of hopefulness contrasts with the cruelty of the execution. The spire on the church emphasizes for the viewer how powerless the Church is to save the victims.
  • Criterion #2/Judgment: The use of light contributes to the powerful effect of the picture on the viewer.
    • Evidence: The light casts an intense glow on the scene, and its glaring, lurid, and artificial qualities create the same effect on the viewer that modern art sometimes does.
  • Criterion #3/Judgment: The composition or use of formal devices contributes to the powerful effect of the picture on the viewer.
    • Evidence: The diagonal lines scissor the picture into spaces that give the viewer a claustrophobic feeling. The corpse is foreshortened, so that it looks as though the dead man is bidding the viewer welcome.

Title, Introduction, and Conclusion

Titles of evaluative writing tend to be short and succinct, stating what product, service, work of art, or performance you are evaluating ("The Gettysburg Address," "Goya's The Third of May, 1808") or suggesting a key question or conclusion in the evaluation ("How Much Car for $3990?" "'Feel Good' Film").

Introductory paragraphs provide background information and description and usually give an overall claim or thesis. In some cases, however, the overall claim comes last, in a concluding "Recommendations" section, or in a final summary paragraph. If the overall claim appears in the opening paragraphs, the concluding paragraph may simply review the strengths or weaknesses, or just advise the reader: This is or is not worth seeing, reading, watching, doing, or buying.