Probably one of the first essays you ever had to write (after you wrote about what you did on your summer vacation) was a book review of some kind. You probably gave a brief run-down of the book's major characters, a summary of the plot (if there was one) or told what the book was about, and then said how wonderful the book was (being careful not to reveal too much about the ending). The evaluative essay remains a valuable tool in your arsenal of composition patterns. Hopefully, your ability to say what you like about the object at hand whether it's a book or a painting or a jazz album or a rock concert or a dinner at a fancy restaurant or the design of a new car has become more subtle and convincing over the years since your first book review.
Writing about literature demands special skills, and we recommend an online document called Suggestions about Writing Papers for Introduction to Literature. In writing about poetry or a short story or play or novel, it is very important to keep in touch with the language of the art, showing your reader over and over again where (exactly) in the poem or story you get your ideas, and to do that you have to use quotations sometimes a lot of quotations. Pay special attention to the hints in that document about using quotations.
One device you might want to use in writing your evaluative essay is the device of comparison and contrast. The art work you are looking at doesn't exist in a vacuum. You can beef up your essay and add to your readers' understanding at the same time by comparing, for instance, this rock album to an earlier album by the same group, showing how the group has matured (or deteriorated) or by comparing this album to another group's album, which does the same thing, but better. Be fair in your comparisons.
Whether you are writing about literature or a rock concert, though, there are several points about the evaluative essay you want to keep in mind.
How can an essay about literature or the other arts ever be "wrong"? Isn't it all opinion, all subjective analysis, anyway? How can an instructor say that my feelings about a poem or a painting are wrong? "Discerning Right from Wrong in the Garden of Literature" is our attempt to deal with these questions.
First, avoid using language that is simplistically judgmental. Don't say that something is great or beautiful or exciting or interesting. Your readers are apt to become defensive: "We'll be the judge of that," they'll say. Your job as the writer of this essay is to show how the work under consideration is beautiful or exciting. If you do that well, your readers will be convinced of the work's beauty without your saying that it's beautiful. An occasional, off-handed "beautiful" or "exciting" is all right; just don't expect your readers to be convinced unless you make them feel that beauty or excitement.
Second, as the "Suggestions" (hyperlinked above) notes, don't re-tell the story. Only a sentence or two is enough to recap the story of an entire novel. If you spend your essay telling readers what happened in The Bluest Eye, they're going to wonder why they aren't reading Toni Morrison's novel instead of your essay; after all, the Nobel Prize winner probably did a better job telling her story than you could ever do. Your job is to provide some insight into how Morrison did what she did. Then, in reading your essay, readers will say, "Wow! That's great! I better go read that novel."
There will be occasions when you are forced to use the specialized vocabulary that people who really like this kind of art are used to using. Reading the CD booklets of jazz albums is sometimes like reading a foreign language if you're not hip. That's to be expected. If it is written well, your reader will go along with you. You can't be expected to review a rock concert with the same language that you'd use to review the performance of a string quartet. The environment and special effects of a rock performance are a big part of your enjoyment of it; on the other hand, you would remark on the environment of a string quartet performance only if it were particularly inappropriate for careful listening. Critics who write about art sometimes have their own vocabulary for doing so, and you need to be at least somewhat familiar with that vocabulary before writing seriously about art.
Click HERE to see a full-length student essay on Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem, "Kubla Khan." Click HERE to see a full-length student essay on William Carlos Williams's poem, "The Red Wheelbarrow."
We also have online a fine essay on Charlotte Perkins Gilman's short story "The Yellow Wallpaper." Click on the story's title to read the story first. The essay is called "'The Yellow Wall-Paper': A Twist on Conventional Symbols." It was written by Liselle Sant, a student in Smith College's Connections Program (1995) and is used in conjunction with the Connections Web site with Ms. Sant's permission. For other examples of evaluative essays, we provide a hyperlink here to Capital Community College's Archive of Sample Students' Essays. Click on English in the left-hand frame and enjoy! (There are also some good book reviews listed under History.) The beginning (actually, three full paragraphs) of another evaluative essay (on a painting by Bruegel) is available in the Guide, in the section called "Writing With a Sense of Purpose."
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Here, also, are some hyperlinks to online journals where you can read evaluative essays by professional writers. Remember that these are professionals and they are probably able to make connections to social concerns and make artistic representations and generalizations that you're not ready to make (or shouldn't make). That's all right; they're professionals and they're getting paid for their professional opinions, even. You'll enjoy that status, too, someday, if you're willing to work for it.
If you need help writing an essay on a book, you have come to the right place. Known also as literary essays, this type of essay can be equated more or less to a modern day book report. Once you get your thoughts organized it can be a really easy task.
Here are the basic steps:
1. Select a book - This may already be done for you, if you are currently enrolled in either an English or literature class.
2. Determine the goal for the length - Keep in mind that an essay on a book would already have a predisposed assigned number of words. Let’s set the word count (for the sake of illustration) at 500 words. A 500-word essay is pretty comprehensive and would allow you enough words to describe the plot of the story while having time to disseminate what themes are present and what morals are being conveyed.
3. Decide on a format and style - You will probably be told to use either MLA (Modern Language Association) or APA (Amercian Psychological Association) standard writing style.
So, if you were assigned a 500-word essay, using MLA format, then you would need to use a Times New Roman, 12-point font, with a one-inch (all around) page margin and double space throughout the essay.
4. Read the assigned book. Let’s say (once again for the sake of illustration) that you were assigned to read a book entitled "The Count of Monte Cristo." You would need to be familiar with the themes that are within the story behind "The Count of Monte Cristo."
Sample Help Writing an Essay on a Book
So you have your book, the formatting is complete and you know the word count for the essay. Half the battle is won regarding writing this essay. Basically, you would begin your essay introducing the book.
For example, you might begin your essay like so:
"The Count of Monte Cristo" is a action-adventure book written by the popular French author, Alexandre Dumas.
So your first sentence is pretty straightforward and tells what book you read and who the author is. The second, third, and fourth sentences give a bit of background on the storyline and then the fifth sentence concludes the first paragraph yet provides a smooth transition into the second paragraph. The last sentence may go something like this,
While the plight of revenge of Edmond Dantes was engaging, the idea of forgiveness was completely remiss throughout the text.
You may consider opening the second paragraph with a quote from the book or something that really stood out thematically to you as a reader. Here is another example of a leading sentence that you would start out your second paragraph with.
"Life is a storm, my young friend. You will bask in the sunlight one moment, be shattered on the rocks the next. What makes you a man is what you do when that storm comes."
Possibly one of the most memorable quotes in the entire book, this quote gives a solid basis to move forward to the next thought. Spend the next sentences exploring the quote that set the tone for the second paragraph. Then, spend the next few paragraphs engaging your reader with your view on the book and what you have learned.
The good thing about writing an essay on the book is that you can present both sides of any argument that may pervade the storyline of the book. The sky is literally the limit on what information you can present.