Evaluation essays are probably closer to what we are used to think about when we hear about essays as a writing genre than any other type of this assignment. If you boil it down to the essentials, an evaluation essay is akin to a review. After you get acquainted with something (a book, an article, a subject, a body of work, etc.), you get your thoughts together and express your opinion in a piece of writing.
Typically, an evaluation essay first provides a basic summary of the subject under scrutiny – it assumes that the audience has the basic acquaintance with the topic but requires some clarification on the specifics. After that, the author gives his/her argument on the matter in a well-structured and detailed manner, supporting his/her point of view with examples and proofs. At a glance, it may seem that this assignment is the same as persuasive essay, but it is not entirely true. A persuasive essay tries to bring the audience over to the author’s point of view. An evaluation essay simply expresses the author’s opinion on the subject. The border between the two is vague, but an evaluation essay gives a more balanced and less charged argument.
Anthropology in particular presents a number of special challenges to the writers of evaluation essays. As the study of humans, human behavior and societies, this science naturally deals with a lot of sensitive subjects that, in today’s political climate, have to be touched upon with utmost care to avoid offending anybody.
Unless your professor already assigned you a topic, your first step would be to define what you are going to write about. Probably the most effective way to choose a topic (whether you already have a basic understanding of the subject and simply want to narrow it down or intend to start from scratch) is brainstorming – i.e., trying to generate as many ideas as possible within a limited period. It is very important to do it in writing – there is something stimulating about seeing your own thoughts presented on paper.
Set yourself a deadline (usually up to an hour) and make a purpose of jotting down all the ideas that come to your mind. Do not worry about them being good – quantity at this stage is more important than quality. Turn off your internal critic, and you will be able to generate some excellent ideas. You can either do it on your own or ask somebody (a friend, a relative, a fellow student) for help – the ideas generated together with somebody tend to be more vibrant and original.
After the brainstorming session is over, take a break and come back to the list of ideas later, gradually sifting through them and putting aside less viable topics. After a while, you will be able to single out the one you are the most comfortable with.
Here are some suggestions on what you should be looking for:
You cannot just say that you like or dislike something. To evaluate your subject matter, you have to, a) define your criteria, and b) find evidence in support of your opinion. We will talk about evidence later, so let us deal with criteria for now.
Criteria are individual aspects of the subject you are going to evaluate. They are the basis of your analytical approach to this task. For example, if you evaluate burial rites across different cultures, you may single out the following criteria:
By breaking down your general evaluation into the evaluation of individual aspects, you add structure and order to your writing. Make sure you concentrate on a few most important criteria – an essay is a relatively short piece of writing, and you do not have enough space to provide a comprehensive analysis.
An outline is a concise yet relatively detailed plan of your essay, containing the basic information about each part. How detailed it should be depends on your personal preferences: some students go as far as to jot down transition phrases between paragraphs, others simply point out the main points of each paragraph in a couple of words.
A typical evaluation essay consists of the following parts:
A thesis statement is a short (one, two sentences at the very most) statement of the main idea of your essay. Make sure you understand the difference between it and the topic. The topic simply defines the subject matter of the essay, e.g., “Social Media Role in Changing the Behaviors of College Students”. A thesis statement expresses your own idea about it, e.g., “Social media disrupts traditional patterns of interpersonal relations and replaces a small number of deep connections with a great number of shallow ones, which is seen especially well through the example of American college students”.
In essay writing, especially in anthropology, a discipline that deals with a wide variety of human behaviors and is connected to many other sciences, it is very easy to deviate from your original point and start elaborating on things that do not have direct connection to it. To some extent, you can avoid it if you prepare a plan beforehand and write according to it, but still, sometimes you can suddenly realize that you dedicate far too much attention to something you should not write about at all. Therefore, write down your essay question and refer to it from time to time to make sure you do not go off on a tangent. Whenever you want to write something new, ask yourself if it is necessary for your research.
It does not work this way, especially if you try to do it in one sitting. Even if you manage to complete an essay by simply putting your thoughts on paper, 9 times out of 10 you will discover that you had forgotten something or have to rewrite some sections so that they better fit the rest of the text.
We have already suggested that you start with an outline – this will help you avoid repetitions and omissions. What we mean here is that you should not necessarily even follow it when you write – for example, in most cases the best writing order is main part first, conclusion next and introduction after everything else is done. This way you will not have to rewrite it multiple times.
When you introduce evidence (examples and quotations), you should not do it for the sake of doing it. Make sure you introduce it naturally and logically, with the right introductory phrases and after checking that they support what you are talking about.
9 times out of 10, you will have to greatly rework or fully discard your first draft. As you write, you will discover new evidence, come up with new ideas and realize that what you thought to be a good structure does not work nearly as smoothly as you believed. What this means is that you should not waste time trying to make corrections and improve the flaws of your first draft. Instead, focus on putting all your thoughts on paper and finishing it. If you go back and forth, introduce corrections, remove segments and move parts around all the time, you will lose too much time. Better create a roughly-sewn framework of an essay and then use it as a basis for a final draft, probably fully rewriting everything in the process.
As you write, rewrite, revise and reread your essay, you get acquainted with it too much. Sometimes even memorizing whole parts of it. When you start revising, it will work against you. Instead of reading the text, you restore it from your memory, which makes it very easy to miss mistakes and flaws you are looking for. Give it a rest. If you can afford it, set your essay aside for at least a day or two, let yourself forget it a little, and then return to revision.
Transitions are used to connect paragraphs and individual parts of the essay and make sure they follow each other naturally. If they are absent, the text feels disjointed or even illogical. And vice versa, if you use them wisely, you can successfully conceal minor gaps in your logic.
Correct formatting is just as important for an evaluation essay as for any other type of academic writing. First, find out exactly which formatting style you should use (if it is not mentioned in the assignment, ask your professor directly). Then find the relevant guidebook or website with instructions, and check all your quotations, bibliography and other parts of your essay for inconsistencies with it. Some online resources allow you to simply insert the data about your sources and create entries in the right formatting style automatically – they can significantly speed up the process.
Reread the entire text, ask yourself this question and give an honest answer. Even the best essays have weak parts – your purpose is to find the fragment of your essay you are the least satisfied with and make the necessary changes to it.
Of course, writing an evaluation essay in anthropology is still a fairly challenging task – but we believe that with the help of this guide you can both decrease the amount of time you spend writing one and improve the overall results!