Academic Evaluations

Defining Criteria

To prepare to organize and write your evaluation, it is important to clearly define the criteria you are using to make your judgments. These criteria govern the direction of the evaluation and provide structure and justification for the judgments you make.

Looking at the Criteria Informing Your Judgments (Working Backwards)

We often work backwards from the judgments we make, discovering what criteria we are using on the basis of what our judgments look like. For instance, our tentative judgments about sustainable management practices are as follows:

If we were to analyze these judgments, asking ourselves why we made them, we would see that we used the following criteria: wellbeing of the logging industry, conservation of resources, wellbeing of the environment, and cost.

Thinking of Additional Criteria

Once you have identified the criteria informing your initial judgments, you will want to determine what other criteria should be included in your evaluation. For example, in addition to the criteria you've already come up with (wellbeing of the logging industry, conservation of resources, wellbeing of the environment, and cost), you might include the criterion of preservation of the old growth forests.

Comparing Your Criteria with Those of Your Audience

In deciding which criteria are most important to include in your evaluation, it is necessary to consider the criteria your audience is likely to find important. Let's say we are directing our evaluation of sustainable management methods toward an audience of loggers. If we look at our list of criteria--wellbeing of the logging industry, conservation of resources, wellbeing of the environment, cost, and preservation of the old growth forests--we might decide that wellbeing of the logging industry and cost are the criteria most important to loggers. At this point, we would also want to identify additional criteria the audience might expect us to address: perhaps feasibility, labor requirements, and efficiency.

Deciding Which Criteria Are Most Important

Once you have developed a long list of possible criteria for judging your subject (in this case, sustainable management methods), you will need to narrow the list, since it is impractical and ineffective to use of all possible criteria in your essay. To decide which criteria to address, determine which are least dispensable, both to you and to your audience.

Your own criteria were: wellbeing of the logging industry, conservation of resources, wellbeing of the environment, cost, and preservation of the old growth forests.

Those you anticipated for your audience were: feasibility, labor requirements, and efficiency.

In the written evaluation, you might choose to address those criteria most important to your audience, with a couple of your own included. For example, your list of indispensable criteria might look like this: wellbeing of the logging industry, cost, labor requirements, efficiency, conservation of resources, and preservation of the old growth forests.

Criteria and Assumptions

Stephen Reid, English Professor
Warrants (to use a term from argumentation) come on the scene when we ask why a given criterion should be used or should be acceptable in evaluating the particular text, product, or performance in question. When we ask WHY a particular criterion should be important (let's say, strong performance in an automobile engine, quickly moving plot in a murder mystery, outgoing personality in a teacher), we are getting at the assumptions (i.e., the warrant) behind why the data is relevant to the claim of value we are about to make. Strong performance in an automobile engine might be a positive criterion in an urban, industrialized environment, where traveling at highway speeds on American interstates is important. But we might disagree about whether strong performance (accompanied by lower mileage) might be important in a rural European environment where gas costs are several dollars a litre. Similarly, an outgoing personality for a teacher might be an important standard of judgment or criterion in a teacher-centered classroom, but we could imagine another kind of decentered class where interpersonal skills are more important than teacher personality. By QUESTIONING the validity and appropriateness of a given criterion in a particular situation, we are probing for the ASSUMPTIONS or WARRANTS we are making in using that criterion in that particular situation. Thus, criteria are important, but it is often equally important for writers to discuss the assumptions that they are making in choosing the major criteria in their evaluations.

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