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What is Evaluative Writing?

Evaluative writing is a type of writing intended to judge something according to a set of criteria. For instance, your health might be evaluated by an insurance company before issuing a policy. The purpose of this evaluation would be to determine your overall health and to check for existing medical conditions. The better your evaluation, the less the insurance company might charge you for coverage.

More commonly, if you plan to spend ten dollars on a movie, you might instead go to Rottentomatoes.com read through what professional movie reviewers and even amateur movie reviewers thought of the film. Rottentomatoes.com makes things simpler by boiling down a review into a score of “freshness”, thus if a film is 97% fresh, nearly everyone enjoyed it. However, we are given reasons for this unless we actually start reading reviews on each film. So, go to Rottentomatoes.com and read a review of a film you have recently watched. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a new film.

Reviews are actually evaluations of films. They use criteria such as the plot complexity, characterization, dialogue, relevance of theme, shot composition, acting, and other elements to determine the overall quality of the film.

Reviewers have long praised Citizen Kane, but is it truly a great film? It was a grand film with enormous sets, a larger-than-life protagonist and strong performances by Joseph Cotton, Orson Welles, and Agnes Moorehead. However, many films possess these qualities. Critics were much more fascinated by the use of light and shadow in many scenes and the unique camera angles created by Gregg Toland, the cinematographer. The camera moves frequently and constantly incorporates contrasts. Welles even used ceilings on his sets to create a much more “boxed-in” sense from the viewer. In some scenes, Toland uses reflected images to provide different perspectives of the characters during particular scenes. In another scene, Welles shows both the passage of time and the dissolution of a marriage by first showing the newlyweds talking and flirting over breakfast as Kane’s wife wears a nightgown and a loose silk robe. This is followed by a succession of mornings until the final scene where the wife wears a high collared blouse, long sleeves, and a scowl as the two trade bitter verbal jabs. In a few short minutes, the audience watches the newlywed’s progress from giddy to openly resentful. It’s these innovations that lead critics to praise the film.

Is it everybody’s favorite film? No. Evaluation and preference are two entirely different measures of quality. Evaluation requires criteria so as to create a more objective “measure” of quality. Preference is about what you like. I like National Lampoons Christmas Vacation because it makes me laugh and because I can watch it with other people and they will laugh, too. Luckily I live in world where I can evaluate an objectively great film and enjoy an objectively bad one. (Though I think I can make an argument that it is objectively a great film.)


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Expression and Inquiry by Christopher Manning; Sally Pierce; and Melissa Lucken is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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