If you have ever read an interesting book, eaten delicious food in a restaurant, or seen an exciting movie, you are ready to write an evaluation essay. Most of the people enjoy reading reviews on the movie experience to decide whether to go to the cinema or not. If you have a good sense of humor, you can express it in your essay and increase your chances to inspire your reader. Your essay may be humorous, serious, sarcastic, etc. An evaluation paper should include summary information and your earnest point of view on the subject.
When you need to get independent information about a movie or restaurant, you will be seeking for reviews on the internet. Usually information like “I like this film” won’t help you make a decision, while a detailed evaluation will reveal all necessary information.
An evaluation essay as any academic writing requires critical thinking skills. To write a good evaluation essay you should be able to skip your emotions and proceed to an objective overview of the topic. This will allow you to find the truth about the real worth of the subject.
What Is an Evaluation Essay
An evaluation essay is a form of writing that expresses certain judgment about a particular topic according to a list of criteria. An evaluation essay is a type of literary criticism. Modern people should be able to evaluate anything and prove a point of view. Even science needs the evaluation technique: to compare two inventions, technologies – this is the engine of scientific development.
The review is a kind of feedback, but it has a significant difference. Feedback expresses, as a rule, a personal assessment and contains a subjective view without fundamental justification. The response is “I think this film is interesting/boring/too long …” etc. The review should not just be argued, but also built according to certain rules. All of these points make an evaluative essay, firstly, longer than average feedback, and secondly – more meaningful.
It is important to think about what happens when you find a movie review where the reviewer leaves only one sentence: “It is okay.” How informative will it be? How credible will it be for you? Even if your close friend will tell you the same about the film, you will not understand whether it is worth watching or not. The main characteristic of an evaluation essay that distinguishes it from a descriptive essay is that the writer seeks to add more details and evidence to support his or her point of view. When writing an evaluation essay there is no need to discuss every word or observation. You need to support your point of view with examples that will make the reader take your side.
Steps to Write an Evaluation Essay
If you want to write an evaluation essay and get high grades, you will surely need a plan! Wise planning of time and tasks will not only increase your productivity, but also increase chances to produce a high-quality paper!
1. Read the task.
If the tutor gave you an assignment, don’t skip the opportunity to carefully examine it. A quick glance will not work, as you can miss an important moment and your essay will have a lower mark.
2. Pick the topic.
If you were not assigned with a particular topic, you will need to choose one by yourself. How to choose a good topic for an analytical essay? After all, there is an unthinkable number of interesting problems that can be evaluated in many fields. You can review almost everything: devices, accessories, computer applications and programs, music, books, photos, films, computer games and websites, artworks, recent events, incidents, political statements, etc.
One thing you should consider: the topic should be interesting to you personally. In the ideal world, you should immediately write down the last ten movies, articles, or theatrical performances that appear first in your mind. But on practice it will be better to pick something that is close to you or something that you will eagerly review for a second time. In short, anything that interests you can be subjected to a rigorous evaluation, which should determine the value of the object.
Note: Don’t pick a topic that you don’t know well enough. For example, to evaluate a new iPhone you need to buy one and already have experience with previous versions. Also, you need to have knowledge about technical characteristics and new features so your evaluation will be complete.
3. Define a list of criteria.
First, you need to think about criteria that you will be describing in the first part of the body section. But before you start writing, think about the features of an ideal movie or restaurant. What important point should there be?
For example, what criteria can be considered when evaluating and analyzing a book?
- The plot. How logical is it? Are there any moments that don’t fit together? The narrative is dynamic, unhurried, protracted, driven, torn. How do the dynamics of the narrative correspond to the genre and tasks set in the book?
- Characters. How detailed and authentic are the characters? Are their psychological portraits natural enough? Could they act the same under the given circumstances? Are these heroes sympathetic to the reader? Do they empathize or disgust?
- Psychology of relationships. Do the characters have internal motivations for actions and are they sufficient? Do they behave in a variety of ways or rigidly follow standard reactions?
- The main idea of the text. Is it ethical, clever, original? What does the book teach the reader? What does the author try to tell the readers?
You can consider anything else: style, content, ideas, etc. Compare one book to another written by the same author. Also, consider the audience and how it reacts to the subject of the topic.
4. Find information.
This step involves an important action: read the book, watch the film, or go to the restaurant even if you have already been there a couple months before, etc. You need fresh impressions and to receive more detailed information about the object of evaluation.
If during the reading of the literature or watching the movie you have taken notes, then at the end of this process you will be ready to represent the approximate scope of the future review.
Along with the facts, you will need supporting information from a variety of sources. If you think that mentioning the movie or book title will be enough, it is not enough. Review not only articles and publications on the topic, but also previous reviews – this will allow you not to waste time describing what has already been described, and will also provide food for thought.
Use this list of questions to find out answers that will help you find more important information that you can include in your writing:
- Have you found a detailed description of the subject?
- How can you evaluate the topic: is it bad or good?
- What kind of audience will be interested in your writing? What does your audience already know about the topic?
- Have you chosen the criteria that you will be using in your evaluation essay? Are they important enough to support your point of view (negative or positive)?
- What do you expect before you get closer with the topic?
- What aspects of the topic are good and what aspects are bad?
- Is there anything that could be compared to your topic? Is the opposing example better or worse?
The answers to the listed questions will give you building blocks for a good evaluation essay. Keep in mind that the main feature of an evaluation essay is the concentration of your evaluation around your point of view.
5. Construct an outline.
A good analytical essay is relevant, systematic, easy to read, well-structured, and critical. Analytical reviews rarely use unified structure. Instead, the author chooses a unique logic for the narrative which depends on the topic of the review. There is no single format for an evaluation essay outline. In general, the paper should be divided into several logical sections, which will be preceded by a short introduction and summarized at the end with the main conclusions.
You need to decide in what way you will organize your criteria. Choose a list of criteria that you will be describing in your essay and insert it in your outline. For example, your outline will look like this:
1.1. Attention grabber (quote, anecdote, interesting fact, etc.)
1.2. Thesis statement (the core idea of the essay)
1.3. The list of criteria (parts of the topic that will be considered in the body paragraph)
2. Body paragraph 1
2.1. Topic sentence
2.2. Criterion 1
3. Body paragraph 2
3.1. Topic sentence
3.2. Criterion 2
4. Body paragraph 3
4.1. Topic sentence
4.2. Criterion 3
5.1. Closing phrase
5.2. Thesis restatement
You can change this sample outline as you wish according to your topic. You can use summary and evaluation separately, or mix it: add evaluation to the piece of summary. Just remember that if you will create an outline before starting to write, it will save your time. You will proceed from one point to another like a tourist with a road map.
How to write an introduction for an evaluation essay? The key role of the introduction is to grab the reader’s attention and briefly tell what your essay is about, so that after reading several sentences, there will be no desire to close the essay and never to return again. By the way, two or three sentences are quite enough for the introductory part.
The thesis statement should highlight your overall judgment about the topic. If you are evaluating a movie, list the criteria for why it’s worth or not worth watching. For example, it can look like this: “The original story, fantastically beautiful battles, and unique characters make Star Wars a must see.”
When the introduction briefly describes important information about the subject, the reader can more easily move to the evaluation section and is more likely to agree with your point.
As a rule, every paragraph begins with a topic sentence that serves as a small introduction. Make sure that you have presented enough basic information and details, so the reader will be ready to agree with your evaluation.
In this paragraph, you will need to fully and logically describe the criteria of evaluation. Each criterion will serve as a puzzle piece to your opinion. To write a good evaluation essay, you will need to include your opinion, criteria, and evidence in your body paragraphs.
Add evidence to every criteria. It is important to include evidence to support your point of view with specific examples. Choose only relevant and interesting examples and avoid too general examples that don’t add additional support to the premise.
What kind of evidence should you include to prove you point?
- If your point of view about the book (for example) is negative, you need to include more evidence that highlights the negative aspects and describe what moments made you feel negative.
- Considering the opposite point of view will show that you have considered an alternative point of view and you are not biased.
- Including personal experience with the book/movie/service is a good type of evaluation as it shows information from firsthand experience.
- Taking into account reviews from other researchers or reviewers that have another experience is very important. Many people can treat the same object from different perspectives, so in other reviews you can find more points that you haven’t mentioned by yourself.
- If you are writing about a certain product or service, you also need to consider reviews from customers. Also you can interview your friends, relatives, or even strangers on whether they like the particular service and why.
- Compare elements of a chosen subject with other similar works. For example with this tool you will be able to evaluate the influence of previous works of art on modern artists. Or compare two books from one single series of books from one author.
- Analyze typical expectations about the subject. If your topic goes beyond the typical genre, this method will help you organize your examples to highlight the difference of expectations and reality.
End your essay with how your actual experience has met your expectations: tell whether it surpassed, met, or failed to meet expectations. The right conclusion will establish and reinforce your arguments in the reader’s mind. Your conclusion should do two main things: restate the main evidence that supports your point and leave the reader with a feeling of sympathy to your point of view.
As soon as you will finish your first draft, leave some time to clear up your mind. Put your work aside for a couple of hours and reread it with a fresh mind. How can you evaluate the quality? Have you presented enough criteria and evidence to prove your point? Is your writing easy to read?
Ask a friend or relative that you can trust to evaluate your writing and give comments. Write down all moments that should be corrected or rewritten, and make a final checkup: every writing should be checked for grammar, style, punctuation, and format.
Tips to Write an Evaluation Essay
- Read source material to think over your essay before writing it. In this way, you will prevent yourself from re-writing the essay several times before submitting it.
- Read each paragraph of your essay before writing the next one. It will help you to organize your thoughts and you will be sure that you haven’t omitted anything important.
- Avoid discussing aspects about your topic that are interesting only to you. Of course, you want to write about a subject you really like, but remember that your readers might not have reasons to be interested in your topic.
- When evaluating your subject, don’t omit negative aspects. Even if you think that the event, place, and other aspects are important, try to provide readers with disadvantages as well as advantages.
- The whole essay must be written in one tone. It can be: cheerful, persuasive, or informative.
- In the book or article review it is necessary to highlight all the mistakes the author made in the work.
- It is desirable to have expressed all the feelings experienced by the reviewer when reading or viewing the work.
- Avoid too many descriptions of minor details, a lack of reasoning, and a simple retelling of the work.
- Read the reviews published in the media and on specialized sites. Note: they all differ from typical evaluation essays in style of presentation and tone. Try also to make your review fascinating and do not limit yourself with vocabulary. Be ready to show a sense of humor, use imaginative expressions, relevant jokes, etc.
- Express your thoughts in an accessible and concise manner, and avoid unnecessary repetition. Look for evidence of your words in objective reality.
Evaluation Essay Sample
No matter if it’s a performance evaluation sample or another type, you will find essential information to consider in your writing. The writing process will be easy if you will have an example before your eyes. From a good example you can pick the standards that the author has used in his or her writing. We don’t recommend to copy the text of the evaluation sample to your paper – it may be considered plagiarism. In extreme cases, you can rewrite finished essays. But, and if you will write everything by yourself, then your essay will certainly be unique, for which you will get a high grade. But do not forget to check the written essay for plagiarism.
Click the images to see their full size.
How to Evaluate a Movie for Essay
There are several points that you need to consider while evaluating a movie. As a basis you can use the instructions that you have already read above, but don’t forget to mention these points:
- The evaluation of a movie should be written right after watching it. The more time passes after watching, the less you will be able to recall and write. That’s why you need to take a pen and notebook and go to the cinema (or turn on your TV).
- We advise you to go to the cinema, as the experience will help to give you focus and a full range of emotions.
- All examples and information that you will be giving your audience should help them make a decision and agree with your point of view.
- Don’t write too large a summary. The evaluation part of your essay should be much more than half of your paper.
When composing reviews for films, the main emphasis should be on the plot of the picture with all its lines. It is necessary to note:
- The genre of movie.
- The overall mood.
- The name of the director, producer, script writer, and other authors if their names are well known or have a great importance.
- The names of the main characters.
- Indication of the title of the literary work and the author, if it is a film adaptation.
- A brief annotation or a brief outline of the plot.
- Additional information that may be useful for a better understanding of the film and story lines.
- The actors’ performances.
- The idea of the picture.
- The level of special effects and graphics.
And also, don’t forget about the sound, because music is very important in the film. Just share your thoughts about the idea of the director and the conclusion from the picture. Don’t be afraid to write about the conclusions you took from the picture; perhaps it will be interesting. Share your thoughts on the essence of the picture as a whole, and all the elements of its story separately. How do you think the film is complete in general? And don’t forget to share emotions, experiences, and impressions.
The outline for a movie evaluation essay can look like this:
Imagine that you want to share the impression from the movie with friends who are too busy to watch it. Your task is to switch their attention and share your passion, ideally so that they want to see the movie themselves.
2. A short story.
Briefly outline the plot of the film, choosing one of two styles. On the one hand, you can limit yourself to the plot, because you have already seen the film to the end and are familiar with the story. On the other hand, you can write an intriguing announcement based on the plot of the screen events. Choose the first or second path, depending on the genre of the film and your author’s style. But in any case, do not retell the story and try to avoid spoilers.
3. Analysis of the film.
Here you need to describe the work of the actors, how they coped with the task, and what, in fact, the task before them was. Analyze the plot, identify the presence of weak and strong points, how much it is fully disclosed, and its interest and originality. Evaluate the director’s work: the production and submission of material, and whether he or she managed to convey the main idea. If possible, describe the operator’s work, scenery, special effects, etc.
4. Your own impression of the film.
Your personal opinion about the film must match the above text. Be as objective and adequate as possible.
In the conclusion, you need to draw conclusions and summarize the assessment of the film. Finally, you can give advice to readers on whether it is worth watching the movie. If not, you need to briefly explain why. Then, explain who will be particularly interested in it.
Questions that can help you with creating your evaluation essay about the movie:
- Has the film met your expectations? For this type of essay it will be easy to write about this. Describe what you expected before you had seen the movie and whether it has fulfilled your expectations or not. Place it in your introduction.
- Can this movie be compared to another from the same genre or director? You can pick a movie that you think is the ideal movie of a particular genre, or compare movies that were filmed by one director. That doesn’t mean that you need to make a 1000-word comparison; you can use this comparison to highlight negative or positive aspects of the film.
- Can this film be categorized in a typical genre? You can describe all typical expectations from the audience about the movie and use it to refute or meet those expectations.
Each of us from time to time feels the desire to express a point of view or simply discuss this or that event. The more important and interesting it is, the more it causes emotions and the desire to voice your thoughts as soon as possible.
It is impossible to become an experienced writer by reading tips on how to become a writer. It is impossible to become an artist by viewing a drawing course on TV. It is impossible to write a good analytical essay without practice. And while you are just a young student, and journals do not bombard you with “orders” for analytical reviews, you can write them by yourself.
How to Write a Critical Evaluation Essay
I: Purpose of the Essay
The Critical Thinking Goal: Objectivity (Reasoning over Feeling)
II: The Difference Between Taste and Judgment
V: Evaluative Criteria: Setting the Standards Avoid Criteria that Don't Work, such as "It's Popular" or "It's funny."
Choose Fair, Accurate Criteria: Judge by the Same Standards
"Criterion" Versus "Premise"
VI: Should I use What Other Critics Have Written as Support for my Own Argument?
VII: Common Mistakes to Avoid when Writing Evaluations
I: Purpose of the Essay
This lecture will guide you toward the draft of your Critical Evaluation Essay, and along the way, ask you to complete two assignments. In the "Critical Evaluation" essay, you will be writing a review -- supporting a judgment -- on the fiction stories in Blues Vision.
Your writing purpose in a Critical Evaluation Essay is to judge the quality of a mo movie and offer reasoned support for your judgment. You will support your judgment (thesis) with sound, fair, thorough evidence. You will explain "reasons" for you judgment beyond matters of personal taste (what you "like").
The Critical Thinking Goal: Objectivity (Reasoning over Feeling)
The key to the success of a critical evaluator ("reviewer") is to suppress the "fan" or the "hater" in favor of giving the critical, objective thinker a chance to uncover the truth about the quality of a subject. Check your feelings at the door.
For instance, I might choose to evaluate the book Desert Solitaire, which I really liked. The challenge for me would be to suppress the fan and instead evaluate the book by fair criteria, to test their worth. I might find that some of the essays were drawn out too long, some of the statements of fact unbelievable, and some of the dialogue contrived. When I look at the book, critically, I find weaknesses.
See Common Mistakes to Avoid When writing Evaluations.
II: The Difference Between Taste and Judgment
A judgment is a statement of value, of approval or disapproval, and people judge all the time. The term is often viewed negatively, especially when individuals judge other individuals. “You worry too much about your lawn, Bob” is a judgment that may be offensive, whether true or not. (It's true. Bob does worry about his lawn too much).
A lot of judgments are based on taste, which means, “I like something because I like it.” No reasons necessary. A taste-decision doesn’t demand sound reasons to support it. When someone says, “I hate country music,” they are offering a taste-based judgment, when they may not have a solid understanding of the conventions and criteria used to evaluate country music in a fair manner. It’s simply a matter of personal preference, an unsupported opinion. It's a matter of taste.
The purpose in this writing assignment, however, is to offer sound reasons to support a personal preference. The judgment you make in this essay must go far beyond “What I like is good because what I like is good.” In this essay, you need to tell the reader “why” your judgment is correct by offering strong support by analysis of the subject itself. Personal taste has no place in a critical evaluation.
Judgments are supported, first, by establishing a base of“Evaluative Criteria”, which are sets of standards used to fairly judge the merits of a particular subject.
III: Evaluative Criteria: Setting the Standards
In order to defend a judgment, there must be a basis for evaluation, or MANY bases for evaluation. If you look at the evaluation forms I use for evaluating essays, you'll see a number of specific evaluative criteria, or standards writers are held up to for a specific type of essay. Creating criteria creates a level playing field for all writers and evaluators by keeping the evaluator on an objective rather than “personal taste” level. The criteria do not measure what the reader personally “likes” in writing, but instead reflect the generally agreed upon principles that are necessary to evaluate the subject.
Choose Fair, Accurate Criteria: Judge by the Same Standards
The key in establishing criteria is to choose the ones necessary to measure the quality of the subject and that can be fairly applied to all subjects in a given category, or genre. For instance, not all movies have the same evaluative criteria. Is American Beauty judged by the same standards as The Matrix? Is Little Children held to the same criteria as Spiderman III? Though the subject area is the same -- movies -- the category, or genres, differ -- drama versus comedy, science fiction versus action/adventure -- and should be judged by different sets of criteria, otherwise one genre movie may be unfairly judged. Other movie genres, for example: family, independent, horror, classics, thrillers, dark comedies, romances, etc. And you can even break down the categories further: British comedies, cult comedies, romance comedies, etc.
Once you identify the specific genre, you can begin establishing the criteria for that genre.
Here's an analogy: are athletes expected to meet the same criteria if one plays football and another baseball? Are all baseball players expected to meet the same criteria? In baseball, what are the evaluative criteria for judging the worth of a second baseman? Are the criteria different for evaluating the worth of an outfielder. Some would say that a shortstop needs to field well and hit well, but those criteria are too broad and apply to all baseball players, which may not be fair to all baseball players. A more thorough set of criteria might be:
- Foot-speed/ Lateral quickness (move side to side fast).
- Fast reflexes and a good glove.
- Strong, accurate thrower.
- Coordinated feet (able to “turn” a double play).
- Hit for average.
The criteria for a first baseman are different:
· Fast reflexes and a good glove.
· Hit for power and average.
The criteria, or standards, differ because the positions differ. Power hitters play first base because they are not quick and wily, but are bulky and built for the long-ball and sizeable targets for the fielders. They are expected to drive in runners and catch throws; their offensive skills are weighed more heavily while the shortstop’s defensive skills are weighed more heavily. When a player meets or exceeds both defensive and offensive criteria, such as an Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter (I hate the Yankees but these two players are great), then there is a “quality” ball player – a subject who not only meets, but exceeds the standards.
Still, with the goal being “to be fair”, would most coaches apply offensive and defensive criteria both to their middle infielders? No. There would be no more middle infielders. Christian Guzman, who hits five home runs a year, would be out of a job. Instead, he is valued for his speed, defensive skills, and ability to get on base and steal them.
"Criterion" Versus "Premise"
The difference between criteria and premises (main reasons) is like this: a criteria, for instance, to judge the category of science fiction films, is "special effects." Special effects, however, is not a "reason" to support a judgment. It's just a criteria. If it were written as a reason to support a thesis, the thesis (underlined) might look like this:
"Star Wars Episode Four: A New Hope" is a wonderful movie because it has special effects.
"It has special effects" is a fact, not a premise. It's not arguable. A premise needs to be arguable. Premises are based on the criteria, but make a judgment about the effectiveness of the criteria; thus, premises are arguable in that, just like the thesis, they make judgments. Thus, the above criteria stated as a true premise would look like this:
"Star Wars Episode Four: A New Hope" is a wonderful movie because it has tremendous special effects."
Simply adding the word "tremendous" turns the criteria into a premise, which is a main reason to support the thesis (main point of essay); thus, the criteria is being evaluated for its worth, whether it's good or bad. And next it's the writer's job to defend that premise with specific analysis of the scenes from the movie.
Pause now to Read some more Reviews
Roger Ebert on Fargo
Roger Ebert on Napoleon Dynamite
Questions for discussion or reflection: Does Ebert establish evaluative criteria in both reviews? Does he have a clear thesis statement? What are his reasons to support his overall judgment of each film? What supporting examples does he give to defend his judgments.
VI: Should I use What Other Critics Have Written as Support for my Own Argument
The answer to this question is both yes and no. Since you are essentially writing your own review and supporting your own judgments by giving your thoughts and reasoning about the book, there may then be no reason to offer up other reviewers judgments on the book. Reader can read those people's reviews on their own.
The most likely case where you might bring another person's review into your own writing is if one or many of those reviewer's points are in opposition to your. It can be really interesting to present what you think is an unsound point made by another review, and refute it with your own analysis of the book.
VII: Common Mistakes to Avoid when Writing Reviews
Avoid Summarizing the Plot or Overviewing the Characters
(for films, TV shows, books)
In an evaluation, a two sentence overview of the story, if a movie or a book is plenty. A reader can always find this basic information on a website like IMDB.com or Wikipedia or any number of places. The last thing an evaluator should do is repeat that information. It serves no purpose to critical evaluation. What you do not want to do is spend more than a paragraph either summarizing the story or summarizing the characters and who plays them. Your job as an evaluator is not to tell the reader what the story is about, but instead to explore the reasons why the story is good or not; thus, the body of the essay should deliver focused examples that support your premises/ reasons why you think the movie or book or CD is quality, or not.
Cliches are words or phrases, and sometimes images, that are so overused they they become either meaningless or irritating, or both. Here are some common movie-review cliches to avoid:
A triumph of the human spirit
Keeps viewers on the edges of their seats.
An instant hit/classic
The feel-good movie of the year.
The best film of the year/ever. (Avoid overstatement, too.)
A film the whole family can enjoy.
This movie doesn't know what it wants to be.
Your essay title should not simply be the title of the subject, as in Avatar. In the first place, that’s technically plagiarism, titling the essay the same as an already-titled movie. More importantly, there’s no focus in the title. Make sure to add your point of view to the title. Use a colon, as in “Subject: It’s Good.” That will give the reader the purpose of the essay, what is being written ABOUT the subject. Example: “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off: the most excellent skipping school movie of the 20th Century!” The title should give the reader an indication of the purpose of the article, in this case, that you are evaluating the subject.
Avoid using the pronoun “You,” which directly refers to the reader. This pronoun sometimes serves a purpose in essays of instruction (“how-to” essays), but not in persuasive forms. In any persuasive essay especially, it can seem heavy-handed and preachy, trying to force the reader aggressively to believe in something rather than allowing the reader to make his or her determination based upon the logic and support you provide. Instead, use terms like “audiences” or “viewers” or “readers,” depending on the subject. This at least makes the argument seem more objective rather than “telling” the reader to think a certain way. Oftentimes, this “telling” with the word you is a mask for a lack of developed reasoning. Make your “reasons” do the persuasive work.
Be sparing in using first-person pronouns, though they sometimes work. First of all, there is no need to use first-person announcements such as “I think” or “I feel” or “I believe” or variants because it’s implicit to the essay form that these are your thoughts; thus, the use of "I" is redundant and unneeded. The reader knows that you are writing the essay. It’s implicit that your main judgment and premises are yours.
Also, using too much self-reference may make the essay seem less objective, based more on "feelings" rather than "reasons" that are based on evidence and example. The purpose of this essay is to avoid evaluating the subject based on personal taste and instead to evaluate the subject from a critical, objective, emotionally detached perspective. Self-reference works against this objective, or at least appears so from the reader's perspective.
Finally, you can more forcefully advance your ideas, and much more concisely, by avoiding self-reference and instead using third-person pronouns, which makes your ideas universal rather than personal. Instead of announcing your idea, just state the idea. Instead of, “Avatar is the best movie I have seen this year,” simply state, “Avatar is the best movie of the year” and then support the idea with reasons.
With all this said, reviewers sometimes use the first-person "I" when describing their actual viewing or reading experience. Here is an example of perfect, sparing use of "I" in a Roger Ebert Review on The Life of Oharu. The first line of the review reads, "Here is the saddest film I have ever seen about the life of a woman." And then he only refers to himself twice more in the review, once in the middle, incosequentally, "the movie I have outlined," and then once more as the last line of the review: "No woman in a Japanese film that I have seen is more tragic and unforgettable than Oharu." He uses "I" for emphasis alone, in his first and final point. He uses it perfectly, for effect. If it's used too much, it loses its power.
IX: Sample Student Essays
IX: Professional Reviews
Film: See rogerebert.com and RottenTomatoes
Books: See New York Times
Music (album reviews): Anthrax Anthems; Rush's Clockwork Angels; Katy Perry's Prism
X: Basic Structure and Features of a Review: Revising your Essay
In good reviews, the introduction should be no more than one or two paragraphs introducing the subject to the reader. The main purpose of the introduction is to lead the reader logically into the thesis, which is your main judgment, and which is usually at the end of the first paragraph.
In the intro, you can give readers – since it’s assumed that your audience has not seen the film or read the book or watched the TV show, etc. – a brief overview of the subject by presenting the readers with important questions or concerns about the subject that lead naturally into the thesis at the end of the first paragraph. Here is an example of a review that does this perfectly, for the film Happinessby Roger Ebert.
But don’t over-do it. Notice how Ebert gives only enough plot-overview information in the first paragraph to keep the reader moving:
Happiness is a movie about closed doors--apartment doors, bedroom doors and the doors of the unconscious. It moves back and forth between several stories, which often link up. It shows us people who want
to be loved and who never will be--because of their emotional incompetence and arrested development.
Avoid over-explaining the plot for the whole movie, or arc of a whole TV series, and/or overviewing all of the characters. Readers don’t want a “report.” They want a “review,” which is an argument. Instead, a brief description of the basic premise of the show or movie that leads well into your thesis is all that is needed.
Stronger reviews start with a declarative statement about the subject, but don’t directly repeat the thesis. If the statements sounds authoritative (without being too praising or too mean), it can hook a reader quickly. Example from a previous student: “I never thought I’d be able to sit through a whole “chick-flick” without falling asleep, but it finally happened.” Here is a review that begins with a declarative statement before moving into a brief plot overview: American Beauty by, again, Roger Ebert.
Even stronger reviews begin by jumping right into a key scene or passage from the subject being reviewed -- whether a movie or TV or book, or in an album review, lyrics from a key song -- that illustrates the purpose of the work of art (or doesn’t, if a negative review). See this review on the movie Fargo by Roger Ebert.
[Note: I use Robert Ebert’s reviews as examples disproportionately to others because without question he was the best film-review in the world. I’m not even sure that assertion is debatable. He was that good.]
The strongest reviews set the subject in the context of other similar subjects. Context means the “surrounding cultural environment” and also the “historical surroundings” of a subject. What other similar works of art have influenced the creation of this one, and what current works of art are also out there currently that are competing with it?
Setting context could entail explaining what other specific movies or books influenced this one (historical context) or what other important similar movies or books are currently en-vogue and how they are reacting to one another (contemporary content). For instance, if you were writing a review on Guardians of the Galaxy, it might be important to note what other recent sci-fi blockbusters are competing with it (contemporary context), and/or some if its historical influences and background such as other classic superhero tales or even a little of the historical background of the subject itself, how it began as a comic book, etc.
Placing the subject into the broader cultural and artistic context, with specific examples, can really help the evaluation take on serious depth and meaning. Take a look at how the first two paragraphs in this review briefly, but in a detailed way, set the context of the review of the movie Platoon, by, guess who: Roger Ebert.
Your complete thesis should then follow naturally from the introduction. It should be the final sentence of the first paragraph, and no later than the second, because the main purpose of the essay is to defend your judgment, and that’s what the rest of the essay will entail
II: Body of the Essay: Defending Your Premises
You should begin the first paragraph of the body of the essay (the core of the essay) by introducing your first main premise from your complete thesis statement as a topic sentence. To support your first premise, use specific examples from the movie or book or TV show to illustrate your point. It is important to choose relevant examples that support a specific point rather than, in-general, overviewing the main storyline or characters. Instead, make smart, careful choices about the example you will choose to use. Example from the above Platoon review:
There are no false heroics in this movie, and no standard heroes [topic sentence]; the narrator is quickly at the point of physical collapse, bedeviled by long marches, no sleep, ants, snakes, cuts, bruises and
constant, gnawing fear. In a scene near the beginning of the film, he is on guard duty when he clearly sees enemy troops approaching his position, and he freezes. He will only gradually, unknowingly, become an
Do this for all three of your premises, and note that “3” is simply a place to begin/. You may add more premises to your argument, or fewer. What matters is the quality of support for the thesis, not necessarily the numbers of the premises.
Another great method of support is compare/contrast (see pages 36-7, A Writer’s Reference), to compare elements of your subject with other works of art in the same genre. This could really build on your introduction of you talk about influences on your work of art and contemporary subjects in the same genre. You could write about your movie, for example, shows how a previous important movie in its genre has influenced it, for better or for worse. Does the movie merely try to copy the previous great movie, or does it add unique and creative elements to build on the previous movies? How does the movie stack up against current movies that are competing with it? Thus, you could build on the historical and contemporary context you previewed in the introduction. Note this passage in a review of Guardians of the Galaxy and its comparative references to the standards of the Sci-Fi genre. This is the perfect example of establishing context in an interesting and fun way:
In many respects, Guardians, directed and co-written by indie wit James Gunn, and starring buffed-up former schlub Chris Pratt and Really Big Sci-Fi Blockbuster vet Zoe Saldana (here dyed green as opposed to her Avatar blue), is a fun and relatively fresh space Western. Think Firefly pitched at 15-year-olds, with a lot of overt Star Wars nods. And super-“irreverent”dialogue that is, more often than not, genuinely funny. The wisecracking by the characters played by Pratt (a kind of junior Han Solo) and voiced by Bradley Cooper (whose Rocket Raccoon, who is, yes, a genetically altered raccoon) is so incessant viewers of a certain age might wonder whether this movie has been put through the What’s Up Tiger Lily dialogue-replacement treatment before release.
Here is the URL for the complete review by Glenn Kenny: http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/guardians-of-the-galaxy-2014
The purpose of the conclusion is to drive your argument home, by restating your key points, but without directly repeating your complete thesis statement. You may want to offer a recommendation or course of action or offer a final conclusion on how the subject fits into its historical or contemporary context, or even end with a question to further provoke the reader. (See “Draft a Conclusion” in section C2 of A Writer’s Reference). Here is a conclusion that does all of the above, from Ebert’s Happiness review:
Why see the film? Happiness is about its unhappy characters, in a way that helps us see them a little more clearly, to feel sorry for them, and at the same time to see how closely tragedy and farce come together in the messiness of sexuality. Does "Happiness" exploit its controversial subjects? Finally, no: It sees them as symptoms of desperation and sadness. It is more exploitative to create a child molester as a convenient villain, as many movies do; by disregarding his humanity and seeing him as an object, such movies do the same thing that a molester does.
These are the kinds of thoughts "Happiness" inspires. It is not a film for most people. It is certainly for adults only. But it shows Todd Solondz as a filmmaker who deserves attention, who hears the unhappiness in the air and seeks its sources.
Choose a Good Topic
Choose a subject that you are passionate about, maybe a film that you like some parts of but hate other parts of. That could make for an interesting review instead of reviewing something you like too much or hate too much, which leads to being uncritical or biased.
Being “critical” means identifying and recognizing strengths as well as weakness, not only weaknesses.
Avoid Coming Across the Reader as Merely a “Fan” or a “Troll.”
Avoid expressing bias, either as a lover or hater of the subject. Your review, even if generally positive, should not simply declare fan-like love for the subject. That shows bias. There should also be an attempt to point out flaws and weaknesses in the subject, even if the review is positive overall. The opposite is also true. If any subject is appropriately scrutinized, there will be found both positive and negative elements.
Write clearly and simply, but avoid speaking directly to the reader with the second-person pronoun “you,” as in, “This movie will keep you glued to your seat.” You can see there how “you” is a dictatorial word that directs the reader how to think. Instead, the reasons and examples should do the work of convincing the reader how to think about the subject, not direct orders.
Be Sparing with the “I”
Be sparing in using first-person pronouns, though they sometimes work. First of all, there is no need to use first-person announcements such as “I think” or “I feel” or “I believe” or variants because it’s implicit to the essay form that these are your thoughts; thus, the use of "I" is redundant and unneeded. The reader knows that you are writing the essay. It’s implicit that your main judgment and premises are yours. Also, using too much self-reference may make the essay seem less objective, based more on "feelings" rather than "reasons" that are based on evidence and example.
Also, avoid movie cliches like the one used in the previous example. “Glued to your seat” is an expression that has been so overused in reviews that it had rendered itself meaningless. Try to offer unique languages and phrases instead of the standard stuff. There are also book-cliches (“A must-read”) and music cliches (“a feast for the ears”) to be aware of.
© Scott Wrobel, 2015