In relation to other academic assignment types the evaluation essay stands somewhere between a persuasive and a descriptive essay. On the one hand, it is supposed to express the author’s evaluation of the subject matter, his/her opinion of it. On the other hand, it should provide a general overview of the subject: its qualities, flaws and other features. Although the author’s opinion should be present and is expected to play a significant role, you have to avoid looking opinionated and trying to force your point of view on the audience. In other words, it is normal to say what you think, but you have to do it in a matter-of-fact, unbiased manner. Think of a typical review by a good critic – reviews are very much like evaluation essays, and the best of them manage to express the author’s opinion without trying to pass it for the only viable one. The more biased you appear to be, the less persuasive your argument is.
Sometimes your professor will assign a topic to each student or have everyone write on the same topic to compare the results afterwards. When it comes to evaluation essays, however, professors tend to give students a free rein, because the ability to choose one’s topic right is just as good an indicator of one’s writing skill as the actual writing.
If you are given freedom in this regard, it is usually better to stick with something you are fairly familiar with. Evaluation essays require in-depth study of the subject matter, and if you go in blind, you always risk stumbling upon a topic that is too difficult for you, or requires too much time to get the hang of, or does not have enough sources of information to use.
The topic itself should maintain a balance between being too broad and too narrow: not too general to write a short focused essay about it, not too narrow to give you trouble finding relevant data. Eventually, you should choose something like this:
A criterion is an individual aspect of whatever you evaluate that you analyze in relative isolation from the rest of its features and use as a basis of your overall judgment on the object of your evaluation. For example, if you evaluate a theory explaining a particular type of criminal behavior, you can single out such criteria as whether it is supported by the majority of criminologists, how useful it is in influencing criminal behaviors of individuals, whether there are general arguments against it and so on. In other words, criteria serve as benchmarks determining whether the item you evaluate meets a certain standard. The number of criteria depends on the size of your essay and the amount of information you have on each of them, but usually students go with 4 to 5 of them.
A thesis statement expresses the main idea of your essay in short (usually one or two medium-length sentences). In terms of an evaluation essay, you have to mention your main criteria and state your preliminary evaluation of the item, which you intend to further support in the body of the essay. Just like with any other essay type, a thesis statement should be laconic, focused and straightforward.
An outline is usually more or less the same as a plan, albeit a little bit more detailed. In it, you jot down what you are going to write in each individual part of your essay: which criteria you will cover, in what order and what sources you will use to back your point of view up, how you start and conclude your essay, what background information you will provide and so on. Having an outline nearby is certainly better than writing in a sort of stream of consciousness – if you follow a plan, you do not risk forgetting something or repeating yourself.
You should give at least one piece of evidence when evaluating each criterion. It may be a quotation from an authoritative source, a piece of statistics, a reference to research by another scholar, etc. Remember that not all sources, especially on the Internet, are equally valuable. Many of them are biased or unreliable. Therefore, before you mention any source of information, you have to make sure you can trust it. Here are questions you should ask yourself before mentioning any source:
There are no ideally informative and objective sources, but you can greatly improve the average quality of your references if you stick to peer-reviewed publications.
Either dedicate more or less the same space and amount of evidence to each of them, or establish an obvious hierarchy, going from either the least to the most important ones or vice versa. If the criteria you cover obviously deserve to be treated differently, start writing with the most important ones (even if you intend to put them at the end) – this way you ensure you will not go over the word count before covering the most important points.
Whether your general evaluation of the item is supporting or condemning, you cannot afford it to be one-sided. No legal theory or practice is ideal, and you should make it obvious that you understand it and do not try to promote your own idea no matter what. Remember, you are not writing a persuasive essay – and even in persuasive writing, one is supposed to treat all points of view equally.
Criminal justice is a discipline that does not accept anything but solid evidence and logic as the basis of argumentation. When you make an evaluation, whatever you write about, you should make sure you do not take criteria in isolation from each other and logically connect individual parts of your argument into a cohesive whole. This is why you should choose your criteria carefully – they should support your evaluation as a whole and emphasize each other’s role.
The flow of logic is ensured by both the right sequence of parts and proper use of transition words and phrases.
The conclusion of an evaluation essay, especially when you deal with a discipline like criminal justice, should be more than a simple summary of what you said up to this point. You should give the audience a strong closure that brings together all the arguments you have made to drive your point home and leave the reader under strong impression. After reading your essay, the audience should either agree with your point of view or at least see your conclusions as based on strong foundations. It is their choice whether to accept your judgment or not, but they should see that your viewpoint is strong, unbiased and based on fair analysis.
Do not try to write your essay in one go – most good pieces of writing go through several drafts before reaching their final iteration. Sometimes you may need to rewrite whole parts of the essay or the entire paper from scratch. Do not shy away from doing it – it is a natural part of the creative process and signifies your progress. Do not bother with too much correction and rewriting at this stage – simply focus on putting your thoughts on paper, however poorly they may look at this moment. Once you are finished with the rough draft, it will be much easier to revise, restructure and rewrite what you already have than to try and produce a final draft the first time around.
Criminal justice deals with quite sensitive subjects, and requires those who write about it be entirely objective, unbiased and neutral in their language. Any kind of emotionally charged or informal language, slang or jargon are unacceptable. Reread your entire paper carefully and make sure that, no matter how strong your opinions on the subject matter are, you never allow yourself to steer away from normal literary English.
Changing the way your essay looks may help you see it from a new perspective and find mistakes that may otherwise avoid detection. Other ways of changing the way you perceive the text include altering the font and its size, reading the text backwards (sentence by sentence), reading it aloud and so on.
Do not do general-purpose revisions. Single out a few major areas you want to check – grammar, spelling, syntax, sentence length, etc. – and reread the essay several times, each time paying attention to only one aspect of the text. When you concentrate your attention on something in particular, you are more likely to get ahold of it.
Many students are naturally inclined to write in long, complex sentences, usually because they believe it makes their writing look more sophisticated. It does not, but can be quite good at making it hard to read. If you find yourself using a lot of long-winded, multi-clause sentences, try breaking them down into smaller ones or finding other ways of expressing the same thoughts.
The same goes for language in general. Unless you are dealing with an accepted legal term, it is always better to find a shorter, simpler alternative to a multi-syllable word, no matter how much you like the way it looks.
A longer essay is not always better. Quite often, it is the other way around, especially if you are used to bloating your word count because you do not have much of value to say. One of the most crucial stages of proofreading and editing is deciding what needs to go.
Read your essay slowly and ask yourself with every new sentence or even word, “Do I really need to say this to drive my point home?” If you find that a word, sentence or an entire paragraph does not move your argument forward, get rid of them without any regrets. The fewer words you use to express your ideas, the better it will look.
No matter how attentively you read your essay, it is still your essay. You wrote it, you know what you thought when you were writing it, you are familiar with your thought process. Even if you set it aside for a couple of weeks, you can never see it for the first time. This is why it is so important to show your writing to other people and ask them for feedback. Have you missed any mistakes? Is your logic sound? Have you forgotten to mention something important? Ask them what they think and make the necessary changes.
Writing an evaluation essay in criminal justice may be a tough task, especially if it is the first time you deal with an assignment like this. However, by carefully following this guide you can significantly improve your chances of successfully writing one and getting a good grade for it.