A Definition of Evaluation
Kate Kiefer, English Professor
Like most specific assignments that teachers give, writing evaluations mirrors what happens so often in our day-to-day lives. Every day we decide whether the temperature is cold enough to need a light or heavy jacket; whether we're willing to spend money on a good book or a good movie; whether the prices at the grocery store tell us to keep shopping at the same place or somewhere else for a better value. Academic tasks rely on evaluation just as often. Is a source reliable? Does an argument convince? Is the article worth reading? So writing evaluation helps students make this often unconscious daily task more overt and prepares them to examine ideas, facts, arguments, and so on more critically.
To evaluate is to assess or appraise. Evaluation is the process of examining a subject and rating it based on its important features. We determine how much or how little we value something, arriving at our judgment on the basis of criteria that we can define.
We evaluate when we write primarily because it is almost impossible to avoid doing so. If right now you were asked to write for five minutes on any subject and were asked to keep your writing completely value-free, you would probably find such an assignment difficult. Readers come to evaluative writing in part because they seek the opinions of other people for one reason or another.