This section explains the basics of writing and
revising an evaluation--why an evaluation process exists and how to start, organize, and edit it.
You may want to first see the "Introduction"
before reading this page. Be sure, before or after reading this "Basics Page," to
see "Sample Papers"
by students. For more advanced information, go to "Advanced Methods."
This Type of Paper?
of an evaluation is a judgment. An evaluation uses a set of standards
or criteria to
make its judgments. The most obvious example is the process that occurs in a court of law. A judge
(and sometimes a jury) must work with a set of laws to decide whether a person's
behavior is legal or criminal. However, an evaluation in academic and professional usage (and in this chapter)
often is more specific. This kind of evaluation usually means a judgment
of effectiveness. It asks such questions as "How effective
is the text of a reading (or an action, a business practice, a person, etc.)?" and
"How can one take a set of 'laws' or standards and apply them to make a
determination about how well or poorly the text of that reading is
An evaluation of effectiveness is not a disagreement. You should avoid
agreeing or disagreeing directly with the content of a text. Instead,
your purpose is to judge only its quality--how well or poorly it is done.
An evaluation for effectiveness also is not entirely factual. It is your
own opinion. Even so, a good academic or professional evaluation is not a
quick judgment but rather one that is thorough, objective, and respectful, using
a set of standards obvious to all parties. An evaluation for effectiveness
does resemble an analysis (see the "Analysis"
chapter), but a limited and special kind: it uses a system or set of guidelines
to determine specifically how effective--how useful, thorough, and balanced--a text
mentioned in the "Introduction,"
the Constitution of the United States is an example of a process
involving an evaluation of effectiveness. It is, in particular, a set of
guidelines. Its writers developed it in the belief that rule by King
George of the American colonies needed to be judged fairly and
objectively for all to see, and to do this, a set of criteria needed to be
developed. The Constitution is that set of criteria. Using
the guidelines in it, the United States determined that a more just and ethical
system of government could be developed. The American revolution proceeded
from this initial evaluation of effectiveness. Another example is that of
an instructor grading a paper. He or she starts with
a set of grading criteria--guidelines by which to grade the paper--and applies
each guideline in turn to determine a grade. A third example is the more
fair and objective versions of today's real-life television dating shows.
Participants are asked to democratically emphasize the question
"What are my criteria for a good mate for me?" and not to develop a
disagreement or argument with the other person about his or her intellectual
beliefs. At their best, such shows help viewers develop their own more
objective, consistent criteria for evaluating the effectiveness of
is one of the most fundamental functions of intelligent decision making.
Evaluating goes beyond simple analysis, which at its simplest describes the
parts of a subject, and it also goes beyond disagreement, which merely engages
someone in disagreeing (or agreeing) with the content or ideas of a
subject. Instead, evaluation rises above these levels of thinking to
higher plane from which the methods of argument and of writing are
observed. Sometimes much more can be gained in this way than in simply
breaking down a text into its parts or opposing it. If you rise to this
higher plane and examine the way an argument is made, you may find, for
example, that there are few supporting details for it, points at which it
appears to be illogical, and other points at which ideas have been left out;
your conclusion might be that the argument itself has not been sufficiently made
to adequately represent its subject. In other situations, evaluation may
be the logical final destination of your thinking. This may be
particularly true if you must make a decision in which you must choose between
competing arguments (or, for example, competing candidates for a job
interview). If you have a set of criteria by which to judge the competing
arguments, you then can judge which ones fall short of being complete or
sufficient. You also can decide, if one of the competing arguments is your
own, what you need to add to it to make it as logical, thorough, and well
supported as competing arguments are.
is a skill that becomes very important in the professional world, too, as you
rise from competence to competence in your work. You must be able not just
to argue and counter-argue, but more importantly, to evaluate situations and
people. In fact, as discussed in the "Dialogic
Argument" chapter, your ability to dispassionately rise above competing
arguments and evaluate the quality of each helps you act as a better coordinator
of people and of plans and gains you more trust and respect than simply arguing
strongly for one issue. Those who are capable of consistent, balanced
evaluation--of others and of themselves and their actions--usually are more
capable of making necessary changes and of leading others well.
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The major section of WritingforCollege.org called "Starting"
offers a number of useful ways to start thinking, speaking, and writing about a
subject. The advice here, which follows, is for this chapter's type of paper in particular.
Starting by Reading
Generally your very first focus should be on the text of the reading (or on the
other subject) you will evaluate. To start, you may find
your paper easier to write if you find a text that you understand easily and
thoroughly. You should be able to understand the text well enough not only
in content, but also in structure, such that you can easily see its individual
points. You also must be able to treat it very objectively, without
finding it upsetting.
This major section of WritingforCollege.org has, within it, five chapters discussing how to respond to texts
in five specific ways. Because you always must
start with a text, all five chapters of these chapters have these three
paragraphs in common. To see
more about how to start with a text, please
go to the brief summary and resource page "How
to Start Your Paper by Reading."
If you are not starting with a text but rather
a subject, much of the same advice still applies. In other words, be sure that you know your subject
Writing Your Evaluation
Once you've carefully read
your text, start writing. You can start by
freewriting, by organizing/outlining, by collecting and/or expanding upon your
critical-reading notes you've already made, or simply by writing your point-by-point
evaluations. You also can write about your feelings in disagreement with
you read, or even about images that occurred to you as you read the text. Whichever method you choose, you probably will want to get
as much of your thinking on paper as you can at the beginning.
The tone with which you begin should be whatever tone works
for you in the beginning in order to get your thoughts on the page. In
other words, if you must have or develop a strong feeling--such as indignation,
anger, hurt, surprise, etc.--to evaluate for your first draft, then do so.
However, sooner or later--in the first or a later draft--the final tone you
should achieve is one of balanced, reasoned calmness. You must not only
appear to go above the fray of emotional reactions, but you also must actually
find a way to do so. For this reason, if you have any choice of your
reading matter or the points on which you evaluate it, you may want to avoid
those that cause you strong emotional reactions. It is of great importance
that in your later drafts of your paper, you do not show any disagreement with
the author's ideas themselves; rather, you must simply evaluate or judge the
quality of the author's methods of argument and/or writing. If the author
has left out something important, failed to provide supporting detail
adequately, or offered an argument that you can show is illogical, that is fine.
That is how to write your final drafts of your evaluation.
most important step to take in evaluating a text is to decide on a system--a set
of criteria or guidelines--for evaluating it. The simplest and most common
is the following set of commonly asked questions about the quality of a work.
These questions are similar in many ways to the grading guidelines used by
instructors to evaluate the quality of a student's work, and to the professional
standards used by job coordinators to evaluate the quality of an employee's or a
system's performance. You do not need to answer all of these questions to
evaluate well; often, answering several is sufficient. Your instructor may
wish to choose specific questions for you to answer from this list:
GUIDELINES FOR EVALUATING
contradictions, or untruths?
Strong, weak, or missing ideas,
examples, or supporting details?
Strong, weak, or missing
organization, style, or tone?
Bias or unspoken assumptions
that need clarification?
Negative or positive
comparisons/contrasts with similar texts?
Negative or positive emotional
Negative or positive
actions/responses by readers?
Here is a further description of each of these questions:
with More Details
contradictions, or untruths in the text of your chosen text?
Does the text (or other subject you are evaluating) have ideas
that seem inconsistent--that seem to lead to contradictory
conclusions? Are there obvious contradictions internally
(within the text itself) or with what is known fact? Are
there other obvious untruths in the text, untruths that conflict
with established fact?
Are there strong, weak, or missing ideas,
examples, or supporting details? What ideas, examples,
or supporting details in the text are strong or weak, and why
objectively are they strong or weak? Are important ideas,
examples, or supporting details missing? If so, what is
missing, and why should it be present?
Is there a strong, weak, or missing
organization, style, or tone? What in the organization,
style, and/or tone is strong, weak, or missing? Why or how
is it present, weak, or absent, and what could be added, if need
be, to correct the problem? Are all the structural parts
present? What could be added to improve the text? Is
the style written appropriately--e.g., for an academic audience, a
popular audience, an educated audience, etc.? Is the tone
appropriate to the subject matter and the audience?
What bias or unspoken assumptions need clarification?
Is the author biased? If so, does he or she state her
bias, or is it left unmentioned? If unmentioned, is it a
reasonable and acceptable bias, or is it a negative prejudice, and
why or how? What sources or background seems to have
influenced the author? What unspoken assumptions does the author make
about her audience? Are these unspoken assumptions
reasonable, or do they need clarification, and why or how?
Are there any negative or positive
comparisons/contrasts with similar texts that might be helpful
to make? What comparisons and/or contrasts can you make
between this text and others that are better or more poorly
written, styled, organized, or argued? Avoid simply
comparing and contrasting beliefs. Rather, what comparisons and
contrasts of the quality of this text and one or two others
can you make? Do these comparisons/contrasts show what
elements of arguing or writing work better and/or worse in your
main text when set side by side with similar elements in the other
What negative or positive emotional
impact will the text have on its readers? What are the
emotional appeals, outcomes, and results of the text? Will most readers
be influenced to feel and/or do something appropriate or inappropriate?
Because of readers' emotional responses, will positive or negative
change result in the world at large?
What negative or positive
actions/responses by readers might the text inspire? What
types of action, positive and/or negative, will readers
take? Will such actions be a good or bad? Will they
result in positive or negative change in the world at large?
What ethical issues or results
have been appropriately considered or forgotten in the text?
What are the main ethical issues involved in the text?
Does it consider or ignore them, and why or how? What should
the text consider to be ethically more appropriate?
For additional evaluative systems, see the "Advanced
Methods" part of this chapter.
sure--as you build your paper--that you have plenty of quotations from the
author so that the reader can see exactly how the author develops his/her
thinking. If you are assigned to do so, you may need quotations from other
sources, as well, primarily to help support the points you are making.
Because you, yourself, are not a professional expert, you are depending--in a
research paper--on quotations and paraphrases from the professional experts.
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organizing an evaluation, you may want to consider three
practical matters. Be aware of
(1) the typical visual/textual design, (2)
central key to organizing this type of paper, and (3) dangers to
avoid. General principles of organization are described in detail in
chapter. Specific details for this type of paper are below.
already shown you the following organization for an evaluation:
Visual Plan or Map
THE READING, OVERALL
and introductory details
Body Section 1: first
guideline and supporting details
Body Section 2: second
and supporting details
Body Section 3: third
and supporting details
Body Sections 4-5:
and supporting details)
THE READING, OVERALL
and concluding details
Jones, A.J. Book One, et al.
Smith, B.K. Book Two, et al.
Here is a more detailed view of this
structure. This view is a visual and textual plan of how an evaluation generally looks when it is finished.
Unique Title OR
Evaluation of "Essay"/Book*
of paper. Source info: Author's Name, "Essay"/Title,
& author's main argument. Your evaluative method and its
overall results. Introductory quotation/details. [1
of the text (optional). Restate author's last name 1-2
times per paragraph; summarize the text accurately, completely, and
briefly. (See "Writing a
Summary.") This should be your shortest body
section. [1+ par.]
First Unique Subtitle
evaluative method or step: (a) topic sentence, (b)
discussion using quotations/paraphrases from
your reading's text using
supporting your opinions (such as quotations/paraphrases from other sources, your or others' personal
experiences, facts, figures, etc.), and (d) a brief, concluding sentence or
paragraph summarizing the entire topic section. [2+ par.]
Second Unique Subtitle
2nd evaluative method: topic
sentence, discussion with quotes,
supporting details, &
Third Unique Subtitle
evaluative method: topic sentence, discussion
with quotes, supporting
details, & conclusion. [2+
Fourth-Fifth Unique Subtitle)
evaluative method: topic sentence, discussion
with quotes, supporting
details, & conclusion. [2+
Source (author and/or title), your overall evaluative
conclusion, and final quotation/details.
Jones, A.J. Book One, et al.
Smith, B.K. Book Two, et al.
Create an alphabetized bibliography on a
separate page, according to the requirements of your
discipline/instructor. Formats vary among differing disciplines.
(See the chapter in Section G. "Quoting/Paraphrasing"
for more detail.)
The Key to Building an Evaluation: Using Criteria Point by
Point to Judge the Text
The key to
the overall organization of an evaluation is to develop a point by point
critique of the text of your reading using a set of criteria. You can
start with the criteria, or you can start with the points, parts, or methods in
the text that you wish to critique. A third method, which many writers
use, is to intermix text and criteria by looking at the two of them side by
side. This requires reading the text carefully first, by itself, and
preferably by using
techniques to mark it. It also is helpful to think of the criteria as a
list of questions (as
tentatively try out some rough-draft writing. Often, good rough-draft
writers will start by making more judgments--and using more criteria--than they
plan to use in their final draft. By starting with more, they find
themselves able to explore additional points and decide which ones work best for
them. Here are the three starting methods:
Three Starting Methods for Organizing
STARTING WITH CRITERIA
1st criterion you want to try to apply
2nd criterion you want to try to apply
3rd criterion you want to try to apply
4th, 5th, 6th, etc. criterion you want to try to
STARTING WITH THE TEXT
text's 1st point, method, or structure to critique
text's 2nd point, method, or structure to critique
text's 3rd point, method, or structure to critique
text's 4th, 5th, 6th, etc. point, method, or
structure to critique
1st look, side by side, at criteria and text, until
you find a match
2nd look, side by side, at criteria and text, until
you find a match
3rd look, side by side, at criteria and text, until
you find a match
4th, 5th, 6th look, etc., side by side, until you
find a match
Once you have a number of points and you've written
a little (or more) on each one, consider which ones are strong because they seem
the most accurate and/or have the clearest discussion and supporting details.
Consider deleting those that are weak. Also consider whether you can
combine any of them to make a more developed topic section of them. Unless
the set of criteria you are using has to be used in a certain order, consider
placing your strongest topic section first.
When you finalize your organizing, make paragraphs
that contain quotations, paraphrases, story and event examples, numbers, figures,
and/or other specific proofs. To
see how to develop each paragraph individually, see the "Paragraphing"
chapter in the
"Revising and Editing" section.
Dangers to Avoid as You Organize
One of the dangers to avoid in an evaluation is to directly agree or
disagree with the author of the text. The ideal attitude you should try to
incorporate in your evaluative approach is that you are an objective, balanced
judge who is simply applying a set of guidelines, whether you do or do not agree
with the content. Your attitude, in short, should be something like that
of a friendly critic who may even agree with the author--but who ultimately finds
room for improvement in the author's methods of arguing or writing. You offer your
own opinions, but you offer them about the quality and/or efficiency of the writing
or arguing, not the contents. Do not agree or disagree with the
contents--the beliefs--the author is describing.
Another danger is sounding like you are simply writing your own general
opinion piece or general response. Make it clear to your reader that you
have a specific set of criteria by naming those criteria--possibly in the
introduction and most definitely, criterion by criterion, in each body
section. Also make it clear to your reader that you are judging the work
by these specific criteria, step by step. Finally, don't simply discuss
your judgment using a criterion: offer specific details. Give examples of
what the author says by quoting (and paraphrasing) the author's points so that
the reader can see, quite obviously, that your judgment makes sense. If
needed, provide quotations and/or paraphrases from other sources. If your
set of criteria comes from a specific source (such as a textbook), be sure to
quote or paraphrase the actual criteria from that source and give proper credit
to the source.
A third danger is to think you have no right or ability to critique an
author. If this is what you think, you possibly may feel that a beginning
college writer like you has insufficient experience or knowledge to judge an
expert in his or her field. There certainly is some truth to this;
however, it may be helpful to you to remember two facts. First, an
evaluation assignment is a practice activity, one that you are given so that you
can learn how to evaluate consistently and confidently at some future
time in a class or in a professional job when you do know more. Much of
your lower-division coursework is, in this manner, a practice in thinking,
writing, speaking, and acting for a future time and place. Second, there
is a real sense in which you do have every right to evaluate a writer, no matter
how experienced she is: you are an audience member, a reader, and as such, you
are your own expert on how well or poorly the author has communicated to
you. Of course, you need to consider whom it is that the author considers
her audience; if you have doubts and you have some choice of reading, try to
choose an article or essay that seems to be written to your own age group or
level of education. If your reading is chosen for you, develop a thorough
sense of the audience to whom you think the author is trying to appeal:
visualize the audience, write or discuss with someone the traits of this
audience, think about the audience, and try to imagine how its members might
perceive what the author is saying.
As you complete your later drafts, look carefully at the visual map above and
the sample papers in this chapter. Rearrange the order of your body
sections and of your paragraphs as needed. Consider your use of major
organizing devices: for example, have you placed the correct key sentences in
your introduction and conclusion, and have you developed a subtitle and topic
sentence at the beginning of each major body section?
Asterisks *, **, and *** for the
organizational plan or map above (advice given in most chapters):
*In most academic disciplines, the title is
typed simply: no quotation marks, underlining, or bold marking. It
is centered, and the font size and style are those used in the rest of the
paper--normally a 12-point font in a style such as Times New Roman,
Garamond, or CG Times. In a professional situation, you may use
academic style or whatever is commonly acceptable in your workplace.
** In some disciplines, the "Introduction" subtitle
may be optional or even forbidden. (Most social sciences and psychology
papers, for example, should not have an "Introduction" subtitle.)
instructors--and some types of papers or disciplines--require a short
(see) of a text before you begin responding to it. Ask your
instructor. Such a summary generally should have no quotations within it
and should be fair and balanced (even if the text is not).
***Some instructors may allow--or even, occasionally, prefer--your paper
to be completely free of subtitles. (Some literature, history, and
philosophy instructors, for example, consider subtitles inappropriate.)
If you use no subtitles at all, consider using an extra space break at the
beginning of each body section and/or an especially strong, clear
sentence. In addition, some instructors may prefer you to have a
series of more than four body sections. If so, pay attention
especially to the paper's flow by using good
about organizing body sections, topic sentences, and subtitles in general,
please go to "Organizing
College Papers." For more about organizing paragraphs, go to the
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Are There Special Revising and Editing Needs?
an evaluation, the focus techniques
with which you started in the Introduction to this
chapter also can help you finish your paper:
FOUR FOCUSES FOR REVISING:
Drafts, Style, & Authenticity
Have you stayed on the subject throughout?
In an evaluation, this means being sure that everything fits the criteria
you have chosen to use, and that your readers will perceive this, too.
Be sure, in addition, to introduce, explain,
or connect each quotation at least briefly (see the "Quoting
& Paraphrasing" chapter
in the "Researching" section) to the content of your
discussion. Have you also considered what
kind of problem the author of your text presents and how each theory or
viewpoint you use represents some kind of solution? Can you help
your readers perceive it in this way? Often, offering
alternative solutions helps readers better understand your point of view
than just saying the author has done something poorly.
FIRST & SECOND DRAFTS: Have
you used all of the needed steps to write and revise your drafts?
Free-write: after you
have added quotations, try reading your paper aloud to see if it is
choppy or has missing ideas. If either is the case, trying rewriting the choppy parts freely,
without copying what you've already written, or freewriting new
paragraphs to complete your missing ideas. (To help cure
choppy sentences, see "Using
Mixed-Length Sentences" in "Editing.")
For general freewriting, see "How
to Start First Drafts.")
Gather details: Do your
details--quotations, paraphrases, facts, figures, and/or stories--fully
support your evaluative opinions? You cannot evaluate effectively
without some kind of proof: you need your own supports to help back up
what you are saying. Be short--brief--on generalities when
evaluating, and long on supporting details.
Write for your audience:
is your audience an instructor, your professional coordinator, or your own
peers? Have you visualized your audience? Have you read
your paper aloud as if reading to this audience? Have you tried
reading your paper aloud to a friend or family member, pretending he
or she is your audience? Will each step of your paper, idea
by idea, sound logical, unbiased, and interesting to your
audience? At what points might your audience have trouble
understanding what the various viewpoints--yours and others--mean, or
how they apply
to your text?
Organize: have you kept your
introduction, conclusion, and/or a beginning summary reasonably short, moving excess discussion
in them to body sections? Do you need to reorganize the body
sections for the greatest degree of logic, clarity, and audience
interest (placing more interesting information first and last)?
Does your paper proceed in each topic section using the same
pattern of application (i.e., is each topic section's presentation
organized like the other topic sections, in a parallel pattern, step by step)?
Research: iF you need
to support your points and/or others' points with research, do you have
a sufficient number of high-quality sources? Have you fully
integrated them with your paper by adding quotations and/or
paraphrases from them? If you are using non-print sources such
as interviews, videos, or television, will
they be considered appropriate and representative (well representing a
viewpoint or theory) by your audience? If you are
using online sources, have you checked them carefully to verify their
quality and accuracy (see "Evaluating
Web Sites" in OnlineGrammar.org)?
STYLE & TONE: Have you converted all parts of
your writing to the appropriate style and tone? This type
should use a formal academic or professional writing style, and you should remember to
include phrases a few times on each page, especially at the beginning of
each new topic section, that indicate you are applying a theory,
viewpoint, or system--not your own personal ideas. Your overall tone
should be quite objective. Your tone may be dry, warm, clinical and
detached, or even somewhat critical. However, it must be even
throughout so that you clearly are being equally objective in every part
of your paper, and so your audience believes this, too.
AUTHENTICITY: Have you written with
respectful consideration of your audience's beliefs? Have you made
your paper appear more authentic by adding plenty of supporting details?
In your criticism, have you tried to go to the heart of the author's style
or argumentative method with respect for her content (even if you disagree
Have you brought interesting, vivid, and even
unusual details into the paper's contents? Have you been true to
yourself and your own interests in the subject by trying to find the most
interesting information to write about in each paragraph, something
meaningful to you?
Final Advice Given in Most Chapters
line-by-line editing, your paper needs proper development
of both your particular points that you are making and points or
places in the text to which you are referring. In other words, you need to
explain not only yourself, but also your sources/readings. Your
sources/readings must be absolutely clear to your reader in a fair, balanced,
logical way. You must,
therefore, not just use quotations and paraphrases. You also explain them.
(See the "Quoting
& Paraphrasing" chapter for how to do this.)
Remember that the
typical quotation should, in many disciplines, have a statement of a source--a
name or title--at its
beginning; and, after it, there should be a page number (if the source is
printed). The typical paraphrase should have a source--a name or
title--either before or after it, along with a page number (if any) afterwards. In addition, quotations,
paraphrases, and stories should not just be tossed into your paper: rather, they
should be introduced by having a statement before and/or after each of its
connection to what you are saying.
In most papers, you should use the third-person
pronoun: "he," "she," "it," and "they." You should not use "you"
are giving directions, or writing a diary or personal reflection, or a less
formal magazine or newsletter article or other specific advice (as in this
In most formal writing situations, instructors and
supervisors also often dislike the use "I" at any time (unless you are referring
to yourself in a story example). However, some forms of academic and
professional writing--especially if a specific instructor or supervisor allows
it--are starting to allow the use of the "I" pronoun. If in doubt, ask
your instructor or supervisor.
Paragraphing in most academic papers follows some relatively standard guidelines.
You are working with a lot of information when you write a formal paper. For this
reason, clear, consistent paragraphing becomes even more important.
paragraphs should help you logically divide your body sections into smaller
sub-parts, ideas, or sub-ideas--just for the sake of clarity and ease of
reading, if for no other reason. Also, generally, for a short- to
medium-length paper, you should have one paragraph each for your introduction,
conclusion, and--if you have it--your summary.
You should, as a matter of habit, have at least two or three paragraphs per page in your final draft.
On the other hand, be careful not to have too many paragraphs per page. If you have a lot of
short, choppy paragraphs, combine them. The goal, graphically speaking,
is to provide your audience with a variety of paragraph lengths--an
occasional short one for emphasis or change of pace added to a mix of varying
medium and long paragraphs. The goal in terms of content is to make your
ideas flow so well that your audience can easily keep them clear and separate
without ever even noticing your paragraphing (or, for that matter, any other
mechanical aspect of your paper).
For more advice, go to the "Paragraphing"
Several other common, useful strategies
of efficient, thorough editing are in the several chapters of the "Revising
and Editing" section. Some of these strategies also are summarized
in the following very-brief web page:
Review of How
to Edit Your Final Draft
Good luck with your writing of your evaluation.
For more advanced and/or interesting information on this type of paper, please
see the "Advanced"
section of the chapter.
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