This week: Keeping Negativity Out of the PoolEdited by: Northernwrites
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Greetings from Northernwrites , your guest editor for today's For Authors newsletter.
Most good relationships are built on mutual trust and respect.
Keeping Negativity Out of the Pool
There are many things to do on the site, both site-sponsored and member-sponsored, but the main activity is reviewing.
The site provides guidelines that are designed to promote the health of the community. Members are not required to read and follow the guidelines, but it's more likely that they will enjoy their time on the site if they do.
Sometimes members have difficulty translating the guidelines (if they read them) into useful assumptions about how to interact with others.
Especially when it comes to writing a respectful review reply.
One part of the problem stems from incorrect assumptions about what a writer can expect from a review. This is not a site where all the feedback comes from experts or is guaranteed to be of a certain quality. It is not a classroom. This is a peer review site where all writers are welcome -- writers of any skill level, from absolute beginners to experts. That means all the reviewers also range from absolute beginners to experts. Writing.Com is a place where writers can practice their skills.
Everyone is encouraged to review because it's the best way to learn to evaluate your own writing. Developing your own skills is the primary purpose of reviewing. Writing a review is also an exercise in writing coherent nonfiction. Giving feedback to other writers is a minor secondary purpose that serves as motivation for the primary purpose. For writers to accept feedback and work on revisions is a quite distant third purpose, and entirely optional on the writers' part. Posting work and reviewing uses a free-market system which allows each writer and reviewer to seek out their own like-minded group for long-term exchanges.
Another part of the problem stems from the incorrect assumption that in a peer community one has a duty to correct what one sees as incorrect thinking on the part of others. This interfering-busybody behavior disrespects the autonomy of others. Each member here is an equal and independent individual who has the right to pursue writing according to their own agenda.
A third part of the problem occurs when members incorrectly assume that their own personal preferences are an accurate reflection of the site guidelines. Meeting the site guidelines is within reach of even members who are beginning writers. Although most of the site review incentives set minimum requirements, any polite feedback that isn't review cheating counts as a review. It's not a site goal to have homogeneous reviews, and there is value to writers in having varied types of feedback. What one person doesn't want in a review might very well be exactly what someone else is looking for. Member opinions of "That's not a review" can only apply in a more restricted setting, such as in a review exchange group where a more restricted definition has been agreed to in advance.
So what marks a review reply as negative?
The following are some of the common mistakes. The list is not exhaustive.
Is the review reply rude, vulgar, threatening, or disrespectful to the reviewer?
Let's get this guideline-breaker out of the way first. Every reviewer has their own access to the Block & Ignore utility. Go to My Account/Account Settings, scroll down to the Block / Ignore link and click it. On that page, put the writer's username, not their handle, in both boxes, and submit. Natural consequences have occurred: you've just decreased that writer's potential audience.
For the rest of these negative criteria, you can assume that polite (or at least civil) wording is used.
Does the review reply attempt to train, critique, or educate the reviewer?
This is a peer review site. As a writer, no one here is your subordinate. You are not a manager of employees here, nor are you a customer of a hired service provider. You are not a teacher or a parent. Everyone here has their own agenda, probably different from yours, and their agenda is none of your concern.
When interacting with a writer as a reviewer, everyone here is a potential customer filling out an optional customer feedback form for the writer/business owner. A business that treats its customers like subordinates in need of training, critiquing, or educating, isn't going to have much repeat business.
What about other times and places around the site? It's not good manners to attempt to train, critique, or educate your peers without an assignment from a mutual superior (there isn't one), or an invitation from the person themselves to do so. Wait until you're asked.
It is not a breach of etiquette to post educational materials in your port on offer and let others make use of them if they wish to.
It's also allowed to state your opinion in a review of an item of theirs which has the pertinent issue. Assuming you think it's a good use of your time to find such a reviewable item. At this point you already know this reviewer isn't one of the like-minded people you're looking for.
Does the review reply criticize or complain about the review?
A review is a gift. I sincerely doubt that any good-manners guide says that it's ever okay for a gift recipient to critique a gift or to complain about it.
The bottom of every review notification email contains a link to the site guideline that applies to review replies: How To Deal With Negative Comments from Writing.Com 101 . The short version is that when a writer receives a review they don't agree with, the recommended response is to ignore the review, do not reply to the review.
While that seems to go against what's required by good manners, not replying is better manners than replying negatively. This manners guideline is usually stated: If you can't say anything nice, say nothing.
Putting the short version another way -- If you don't agree with the way someone else reviews, look for another reviewer. No one is here to be subservient to your agenda. You need to find your group of like-minded writers -- people whose views on writing and reviewing are already similar to your own.
On this site, reviews are not rated. This post explains why that should be important to every member: "Re: Re: Re: Rate this Review" by The StoryMaster .
Does the review reply argue that the review is wrong?
It's disrespectful of the reader's experience of an item to argue that their experience is wrong. That's not possible. They had the experience they had -- and for whatever reason it wasn't the one the writer intended them to have. Changing the reviewer's experience after the fact is not an option.
As the writer, it's your responsibility to communicate your idea, not the reviewer's responsibility to understand it. If the reviewer doesn't "get it," then something is off or insufficient, either on the page or in the audience definition for the piece, and it's up to you to do something about it. It's your item.
It's pointless for you to try to "fix" the situation by explaining to reviewers what you meant by what you wrote, or by apologizing if they didn't understand what you meant. Those behaviors do nothing to fix what's on the page.
Instead of spending the time it would take to write that rebuttal in the review reply, you could use the time productively to figure out why the reviewer didn't have the experience you intended, and then how to fix that problem on the page.
Does the review reply go through the review point by point, stating whether the writer agrees with the reviewer or not?
While disagreeing is not as in the reviewer's face as arguing, it still presumes that the writer somehow has the right to dispute the reviewer's experience of the item. That is not the case.
The time it takes to write that point-by-point response would be more productively used working on your writing.
Does the review reply mention or make the point that the item has been previously published, won or placed in a contest, been awarded other honors, or been rated higher by other reviewers?
Doing so disrespects this reviewer's right to their own opinion. Other people's opinions about an item are always irrelevant. Crowd-sourcing does not determine or guarantee either truth or quality. If information about these honors is visible in the item, bringing it up in a review reply is redundant, and is the equivalent of sneering, Can't you read? If this information is not visible in the item, bringing it up after the fact is a demonstration that you have unreasonable expectations and you don't play fair.
Does the review reply state that the writer intends to make use of the comment(s)?
Perhaps you're thinking, "Isn't that positive?" It's generally not. Intent doesn't mean it's actually going to happen, or will happen when and where the reviewer would be aware of it. As the writing advice says: If it isn't on the page, it didn't happen. Another piece of writing advice: Don't make promises to the reader that you don't keep.
The majority of people here hate rewriting, and seldom edit their items. For them, this type of comment is dishonest. The point of exchanging reviews with people you don't know is to find out what kind of writer and reviewer they are so you can find people who are compatible with you; therefore, impersonating a writer who rewrites is negative.
If you're one of those who do rewrite, in this context such comments will still sound empty to someone who doesn't already know that.
Besides which, what a writer does with a review is none of the reviewer's business. The item belongs to the writer, and there's no value in confusing the issue by implying otherwise.
Is there any innuendo in the wording?
The words on the page might not "mean" anything incendiary, but they can carry implications and make associations that are. For example:
Using a negative to make a comparison. This associates stronger with the negative thing than with its opposite.
To condemn with faint praise.
To make a positive statement at the beginning, followed by other statements that contradict it.
Is there any negative emotional content in the wording?
Such emotional content could include anger, frustration, disappointment, sarcasm, or sour grapes. If there is, to edit it out, you need to be in a calm state of mind. If this means waiting to send the review reply, then wait.
It also pays to re-read the review itself while you are calm and ask yourself if it really says the things that got you upset, because often what someone reacts to emotionally doesn't even say what they think it does. All emotions, both positive and negative, drastically decrease the reader's ability to comprehend what's on the page.
Does the review reply segue into a discussion of craft in general or in particular?
Some writers and reviewers think of the review reply as an opportunity to talk shop and get acquainted. In reality, one size does not fit all, and using a makeshift tool to do a job is likely to result in collateral damage. A review reply is not a particularly good situation to be doing that in. In the context of reviewing, you are not peers on the same side of the table, but peers on opposing sides of the table. As the writer in that situation, you're most at risk of putting your feet in your mouth (see examples above).
This sort of discussion works much better in a forum where no one has any skin at stake. Go make a forum post on the topic of your choice, and link the post in the review reply as an invitation to discuss the topic. Whether you want to discuss writing craft or reviewing craft, inviting them to go to a forum takes you back to a level playing field where you are both on the same side of the table, and it takes the item and the review off the table.
Does the wording in the review reply make any assumptions about who is in control of the rating?
A respectful review reply does not tell the reviewer what the rating should have been, or what rating the writer finds acceptable, or suggest that the reviewer should change their rating. The writer does not get to determine the opinion of the reviewer. The reviewer's opinion as represented by the rating is their opinion, and they have a right to their own opinion.
A respectful review reply does not tell the reviewer how disappointed, hurt, or shocked the writer was about the rating. The writer's feelings are not something to attempt to give the reviewer a guilt trip over. When the writer makes an item rateable, they're agreeing that how they choose to feel about the ratings they receive will be their own responsibility.
A writer who has a problem with this is not using a rating/reviewing preference that fits their needs.
What marks a review reply as positive?
That doesn't leave much to put in a review reply, but what's left is productive. Review replies don't need to be long.
In real-life critique groups that last, a simple thank you is usually the only response writers are allowed to make to reviewers. It's also good manners.
In a situation where direct reciprocity in reviewing is not involved, you can indicate appreciation in other ways to show the reviewer that their review has value to you.
If the reviewer seems likely to be a like-minded writer, you have the opportunity to check into the matter further. This might not involve saying anything in the review reply, but a review reply is a place where you can indicate your possible interest and inquire whether they might also be interested. Doing a reciprocal review could be your next step, and you could ask if they have an item they'd like you to review. If the reviewer has their Review Request page set to OFF, your review reply could invite them to visit your port again. If it's set to ON, etc. it's probably better to wait and make a review request when you have an item ready. Particularly if you haven't cleaned up the access and/or review settings on items you don't need reviews for any more.
If a review included something that you didn't understand, you can politely ask the reviewer to clarify it. Responding is their option. When asking such a question, remember that the site doesn't have a complaint department: if you have a problem, politely ask for help.
Karma rules. As the saying goes, "Fertilize what you want to grow."
And for the other situation, Will Rogers had some good advice: “If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.”
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These comments were submitted in response to my previous editorial in "Ratings On or Ratings Off?" . I appreciate all those who took the time to write in:
Comment: Any writing which responds to the standard is rated from 5 to 3 according to the pertinency of the text.Outside the standard it is rated below 3. Great !
NW: Thanks for writing in.
BIG BAD WOLF Is 31 on 6/3/20
Comment: For me, one of my tics is when someone tries to review one of my poems, which are all, more or less, free-form and they try to uphold it to the technicalities of a Formal Style - kudos to those who can do that - and they fault it for not fitting the style, or complain that it is an overused topic, or something along those lines.
Then there's the sort that reviews the item, says that "(I) look like a good writer but (the reviewer) immediately lost interest in (the item)" upon finding out that the item did not conform to their ideas about a certain topic, or that the item somehow doesn't, in some obvious fashion, seem to relate to the search term that they used, and thus gave the item a below average score, along with a negative rant about the item.
I mean, if the item is just full of errors, I could understand getting below a three, but I do find getting just getting a low rating with no, or even a negative, explanation annoying.
NW: Sounds like you're getting good feedback about what kind of people are not in your audience, but are you making use of that information? If you keep doing the same things, you'll keep getting the same results. The point is to stack the deck as much as possible to favor the kind of feedback you want. What are you doing that you could change to get a different outcome? Perhaps your titles, brief descriptions and keywords need to be adjusted so they don't attract those wrong types of people to your port.
Comment: This is so timely! I recently went through some of my work, which are drafts needing revision and set them to no ratings for the time being. I think rating them while I'm revising defeats the purpose somewhat and would give a skewed view of the piece (I've had someone give me a 1 star) while it's still be worked on. I still allow ratings on my more polished stories and use that as a gauge for audience response. So thanks for this wonderful breakdown of the advanced settings.
NW: You're welcome.
Comment: Fantastic in depth look at ratings and the "deeper" meaning. Very comprehensive. I'd also like to suggest that the information offered can be applied to how people handle challenges in real life as well. Two thumbs up for a great newsletter.
NW: Thanks. That's true, it can.
Write 2 Publish 2020
Comment: Ratings are subject to reader interpretation. I never look at ratings and would never give one except its required. Mine pretty much follows the one listed above. I'd rather read the review to see what the reader thought.
NW: They tend to be, anyway, though reviewers could link to the site guideline, "Comment-In-A-Box" , or to their own ratings explanation. Thanks for writing in.
Additional comments were posted in the newsfeed to "Note: View this Note"
Until our paths cross again, keep writing!
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