The first problem with writing an evaluation essay lies in the fact that many students simply do not understand what they have to do, especially when evaluating something related to such a complicated discipline as criminal law. There are many things to evaluate: established legal procedures, laws dealing with particular offences in different jurisdictions, well-known court rulings and so on. How are you supposed to do it? What does it mean to evaluate when you are not talking about a book or a film?
In relation to criminal law, it means something along the lines of so-called detached evaluation – you do not speak about feelings or opinions on the matter directly but comprehensively analyze it and weigh all positive and negative features across several well-chosen criteria. Eventually, you make a conclusion: yes, you agree with it, or no, you do not agree and believe it can or could have been improved in a specific way.
In this manual, you will find everything you need to write a complete evaluation essay in this discipline.
Unless your professor has already assigned you a topic, you will have to choose for yourself. The specific criteria for the choice of topic depend on the nature of your task and what kind of item you are asked to evaluate, but here are some suggestions:
Eventually, you should end up with something like this:
You cannot simply say that you approve or disapprove of the item under scrutiny. You have to explain why this is your opinion and how you came to this conclusion. Doing this is more manageable if you deal with individual criteria than if you try to evaluate the item as a whole.
An evaluation criterion is an individual aspect of the item you evaluate significant enough to be analyzed separately. Eventually, your overall evaluation of the item will be a sum total of how you see its various aspects. For example, if you evaluate a legal practice, you may take into account its eventual price for the state, its effectiveness for preventing further crime, ease of application, likelihood of misapplication and so on.
For your evaluation to be meaningful, you have to prove that you do not invent your arguments. This means that you have to build your essay on solid and trustworthy evidence, which is obtained from sources. It is important to both diversify your sources of data and make sure they are as authoritative as possible. Peer-reviewed papers are generally considered to be the most reliable sources, because, in a sense, they are already verified and checked for consistency by the scientific community.
You can further estimate the value of a particular source by looking at the h-index of its author. H-index is a metric that measures both a scholar’s productivity and impact on his/her field – it is the number of published papers that have been cited at least the same number of times. E.g., to have an h-index of 7, an author has to have at least 7 published articles that has each been cited at least 7 times. Naturally, the higher it is, the better. In criminal law, h-index beyond 10 usually makes a person a reliable source of information.
Most academic databases list h-index – however, you should consider that it may differ from database to database because each resource only considers the works listed on itself.
Now that you have enough information to base your judgment on, you can write your thesis statement – the main idea of your future essay reduced to a single sentence. Make sure it:
Without an outline (a detailed plan), you risk forgetting what you meant to say, repeating yourself and generally losing the flow of logic halfway through your essay. An outline should list all the main points of your text: how you attract the reader’s attention in the introduction, how many body paragraphs there should be and what points they cover, how you conclude the essay. Having an outline does not mean that you are bound to blindly follow it – if in the process of writing you realize that you can mention a certain detail to a great effect, by all means, do it – just make sure it fits into the bigger picture.
Whenever you quote or summarize, make sure you do it according to the formatting style assigned by your professor. If you cannot find pertinent instructions anywhere in the assignment, ask the professor directly – formatting styles differ wildly in the ways they organize bibliographies, quotations and other things, and reorganizing your essay to fit a different style at the last possible moment can be a lot of work.
The purpose of an evaluation essay is just as much to give the audience new information on the item as it is to tell what you think about it. In fact, it even emphasizes the provable facts about the item over your feelings and opinions on it. Therefore, even though you try to evaluate the item, this evaluation should be based not on subjective opinions, but on objective facts, statistics, references to other works – in other words, on evidence.
To an inexperienced writer, an average body paragraph from an evaluation essay may look rather haphazard – it seems as if the author just pours his/her thoughts on paper at random. In reality, a well-written essay arranges its paragraphs according to a more or less typical structure:
Do not be in a hurry to finish, but do not allow yourself to slow down and start rehashing the parts you have already written because you are not sure what to do next. Set a somewhat challenging time limit by which you should finish the essay and strive to meet it. If you have an outline and information sources prepared beforehand, you have your work laid up in front of you, and there is no reason to lose time. Write on and do not worry about grammar, spelling, finding exactly the right word or making sure everything goes exactly in the right sequence. There will be plenty of opportunity to correct it later on, when you do the revisions.
Transition words and sentences are used to create the feeling of cohesion across the text. Properly selected transitions make the flow of text much more natural, and sometimes even can hide certain gaps in your reasoning (at least if they are not blatant ones).
The tone of an evaluation essay, especially one on criminal law, should be serious and objective. There is no place for drollery, emotionally charged language, slang, jargon or anything else that goes out of the boundaries of neutral English.
Single out a few aspects of your writing you want to pay attention to: grammar, syntax, stylistic cohesion, spelling mistakes, proper use of words, whatever you believe to be the most important. Then revise the essay multiple times, each time focusing on a specific aspect of your work. Better yet, take breaks between these revisions (if you can afford it) so that you are less inclined to simply skip over fragments of the text you remember well.
Make sure your essay is well-organized and logically consistent. Each section should support the primary idea and be logically connected to the adjoining fragments. Individual paragraphs should be coherent and follow their internal logic as well.
Criminal law is a discipline that has zero tolerance to vague and ambiguous wording. Everything you say should be precise, exact and only accept a single interpretation. Dedicate an individual rereading to rooting out potentially inaccurate expressions and sentences to make sure you maintain the standard.
As somebody who wrote it, you are the worst person to judge whether an essay is consistent, easy to understand and logical. You know what you wanted to say, and subconsciously you make all the connections that, in fact, may be absent. Ask somebody who is unfamiliar with the topic and with whom you did not discuss your writing to read your essay and say what he/she thinks. Did you manage to get your message across to the audience? Is the flow of writing logical throughout the essay? Are there any fragments that are dubious, hard to understand or just plain inconsistent with the rest of the paper? Does the reader have any questions left after finishing the essay? If you have to explain somebody to the person who just read your essay for him/her to understand what you meant, you are doing something wrong. Make the necessary changes.
Criminal law is a hard and rather unusual discipline to write an evaluation essay on. If you get such an assignment, it means that you have to prepare deep analysis of some practice or court ruling, and one can hardly be expected to do it without preparation. We hope that this guide can replace at least some of the practice one needs to get good at writing this sort of tasks.