You're probably used to having your writing evaluated by teachers. The odd abbreviations ("AGR," "REF," "AWK!"), the comments in the margins, the grade at the end of the paper--these are all methods used by instructors to identify what they see as the strengths and weaknesses of your work. Such evaluations can be quite helpful, but they're no substitute for a thoughtful self-evaluation.*
As the writer, you can evaluate the whole process of composing a paper, from coming up with a topic to revising and editing drafts. Your instructor, on the other hand, often can evaluate only the final product.
A good self-evaluation is neither a defense nor an apology. Rather, it's a way of becoming more aware of what you go through when you write and of what troubles (if any) that you regularly run into. Writing a brief self-evaluation each time you have completed a writing project should make you more aware of your strengths as a writer and help you see more clearly what skills you need to work on.
Finally, if you decide to share your self-evaluations with a writing instructor or tutor, your comments can guide your teachers as well. By seeing where you're having problems, they may be able to offer more helpful advice when they come to evaluate your work.
So after you finish your next composition, try writing a concise self-evaluation. The following four questions should help you get started, but feel free to add comments not covered by these questions.
A Self-Evaluation Guide
What part of writing this paper took the most time?
Perhaps you had trouble finding a topic or expressing a particular idea. Maybe you agonized over a single word or phrase. Be as specific as you can when you answer this question.
What is the most significant difference between your first draft and this final version?
Explain if you changed your approach to the subject, if you reorganized the paper in any significant way, or if you added or deleted any important details.
What do you think is the best part of your paper?
Explain why a particular sentence, paragraph, or idea pleases you.
What part of this paper could still be improved?
Again, be specific. There may be a troublesome sentence in the paper or an idea that isn't expressed as clearly as you would like it to be.
* Note to Instructors
Just as students need to learn how to conduct peer reviews effectively, they need practice and training in carrying out self-evaluations if the process is to be worthwhile. Consider Betty Bamberg's summary of a study conducted by Richard Beach.
In a study specifically designed to investigate the effect of teacher comment and self-evaluation on revision, Beach "The Effects of Between-Draft Teacher Evaluation Versus Student Self-Evaluation on High School Students' Revising of Rough Drafts" in Research in the Teaching of English, 13 (2), 1979 compared students who used a self-evaluation guide to revise drafts, received teacher responses to drafts, or were told to revise on their own. After analyzing the amount and kind of revision that resulted with each of these instructional strategies, he found that students who received teacher evaluation showed a greater degree of change, higher fluency, and more support in their final drafts than students who used the self-evaluation forms. Moreover, students who used the self-evaluation guides engaged in no more revising than those who were asked to revise on their own without any assistance. Beach concluded the self-evaluation forms were ineffective because students had received little instruction in self-assessment and were not used to detaching themselves critically from their writing. As a result, he recommended that teachers "provide evaluation during the writing of drafts" (p. 119).
(Betty Bamberg, "Revision." Concepts in Composition: Theory and Practice in the Teaching of Writing, 2nd ed., ed. by Irene L. Clarke. Routledge, 2012)
Most students need to conduct several self-evaluations at different stages of the writing process before they're comfortable "detaching themselves critically" from their own writing. In any case, self-evaluations shouldn't be regarded as substitutes for thoughtful responses from teachers and peers.