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Rated: E · Article · Reviewing · #1065724
Are you speechless when you stare at that little reviewing box? Here are some tips.
*Bullet* On Giving Reviews *Bullet*

Thank you, Schnujo, for the beautiful awardicon!



         In Messenger, in replies, in emails...people of every age, case color, and level of writing experience have told me they cannot compose an in-depth review. It can be tough, but when you take it in steps, a lot of the difficulty of writing a thorough review drops away, and it's easier to approach everything with an open mind.

         Whether you seek to help other writers with their work or are simply aiming to critically examine other stories in a quest to improve your own, here are some tips I've gathered from my time on the site, three years as a college writing tutor, a few months of mentorship under a published novelist, and miscellaneous teaching experiences.

*Star* Remember, reviewing will help not only the person receiving the review but also the person sending it. In examining the works of other authors, reviewers gain insight into their own writing.


          *Thumbsup* The Three Most Important Things to Consider When Composing a Review: *Thumbsup*

*Bullet* Be Positive, and be specific. Whether you think the story was written when a cat rolled across a keyboard or find it deserving of world-wide recognition, remember that the people on this site are just like you. They come in search of help with their writing. In this wonderful community on WDC, we join together as writers and readers to learn. Review like you would want one of your own pieces reviewed. Let the writer know what made you smile, gasp, or jump in joy or fright. Let them know what moved you. There are few things a writer loves more than knowing that their words reached someone. Even if you found a story difficult to engage with, review kindly and with consideration.

         *Star* On the other hand—if you enjoyed a story and found little to criticize, don't think you have nothing to say! People too often conflate "critical feedback" with "good reviewing." And critical feedback is excellent. But this is also true: writers are often too close to their own words to know what works and what needs help. If something worked for you, there's value in communicating that to the writer.


*Bullet* Be Honest. The first review I received on this site as a bright-eyed 14-year-old was a 3.5. I remember it fondly to this day. It was an honest, lengthy, encouraging review with ample suggestions for improvement. I was over the moon to be treated like someone whose words deserved that sort of consideration and care. So don't feel obligated to inflate a rating or lie if you ran into problems with character development, grammar, clarity, or pacing (you get the idea) that hindered your enjoyment of a story. Rate honestly, but do it kindly. If you are able to do so, you may wish to end a review by mentioning a willingness to re-evaluate if the author makes significant revisions.

*Bullet* Be (Constructively) Critical. There is a difference between critique and cruelty. So many writers on this site have proven that they have an amazing capacity for growth. Thoughtful and constructive feedback builds writers up and equips them with tools to build themselves. Cruel feedback tears down and destroys.

         *Star* Do not confuse personal offense for constructive criticism. We may encounter stories, poems, or articles with themes we do not agree with or are not personally invested in, and we don't need to go on ideological rants. If a work violates the community guidelines, that's one thing, but WDC is a website with an incredibly diverse user base. The one thing we all have in common? We are all here to polish the craft of writing.

         *Star* Keep in mind that it's okay not to review. You are not the target audience for every story. For example, I am not an experienced reader of genre romance. If I were to read a romance novel, I might treat it as I would a sci-fi novel and suggest changes that wouldn't serve the story. Respect the work you're reviewing and be aware that genre conventions differ. What is standard in a chapter book for young readers might seem odd in a hard sci-fi novel aimed at adults. What is common to lush literary novels might not be great for a thriller. You do not have to assert an absolute—there's wisdom in acknowledging that you do not know.

         These three points are some of the most important things to keep in mind when reviewing. However, reviewers must also consider the more technical aspect of looking at a piece critically.



*Bullet* You Always Have Something to Contribute! *Bullet*


         If hyper-detailed reviews that dig deep into grammar and mechanics aren't your thing, seek out your own style. Those three things above still apply, of course, but if, for whatever reason, you're not interested in detailed write-ups, know that you still have a lot to offer! Proofreading and grammatical insight are one thing, but they don't make the bells of joy ring out in the streets for a writer, you know? Getting told to keep an eye out for passive voice or to be careful not to mix up their, they're, and there doesn't really get the blood pumping.

         I'm going to say something most writers already know: detailed critique from fellow wordsmiths can be great, but there's a very special sort of pleasure in getting a review from the perspective of a reader. Even something as simple as, "I actually screamed at my computer when Bob walked into that trap! It was so tense!" can make a writer's day. We all want to use words effectively, but stories are not style. They exist to paint a world. You don't have to be able to identify passive voice or predicate adjectives or nonessential relative clauses to be a breathtakingly excellent reviewer. You simply have to review as a reader and let writers know how you interacted with their worlds and characters.


                    *Star* How To Review As a Reader: *Star*

*Bullet* Don't Stress! Your review doesn't have to be long to be good.

*Bullet* Let writers know what parts of the story worked! Tell them what made you smile or cry or laugh or yell! What succeeded in rousing your emotions? Was the story a romance that really made you feel warm and fuzzy? A thriller that succeeded in keeping you on the edge of your seat? Were you biting your nails while you read? Did that one scene bring actual tears? Did you have to get up and pace a bit before returning to the story? Did a particularly deft mystery keep you guessing right until the final line? If a story successfully roused emotion in you, feel free to let the writer know!

*Bullet* In the same way, let them know which parts fell flat. Did you guess the mystery or the twist way too early? Was it hard to stay engaged because the main character was too unlikable? Did the romance seem flimsy? Did that one scene seem a little too coincidental? Do you work in a field about which a certain story is written and have the ability to point out inaccuracies?

Three Things to Keep in Mind:

         *Star* Take notes when you get bored. (This can often point to pacing issues, excessive exposition or introspection, inadequately-sustained tension, or other issues. You don't have to be able to identify why you feel bored! Just mention that you did. The writer can figure things out from there.)

         *Star* Take notes when you get confused. (While this can be a reader issue and not a story issue, it often points to issues with inadequate exposition or build-up. It sometimes indicates pacing or character development issues. If a character who has always been stoic and self-centered suddenly and unaccountably starts reciting love poems and self-sacrificially charging into danger, the writer might need to build more slowly to that change or reconsider the character's response. If you wish to share why you're confused [for example, "Didn't she have a flashlight in her left hand and her other arm in a cast? I'm confused. How did she catch him?] that can be very helpful!)

         *Star* Take notes when you feel cheated or doubtful. (When a story stretches your suspension of disbelief, that can indicate that a writer may need to work on continuity, motivation, or build-up.)

*Star* Keep Neil Gaiman's quote in mind: “Remember: when people tell you something's wrong or doesn't work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.” In other words, it's okay to be detailed if you recognize an issue and present a potential solution, but a reader's suggestion may not always align with a writer's vision, and it's also okay to just express your concerns.


         *Thumbsup* Diving a Little Deeper / How to Review Critically *Thumbsup*


         Poems, short stories, essays, and articles are relatively common sorts of writing on this website. This section is to familiarize reviewers with some elements they may wish to consider when crafting a review.


*Bullet* Stories *Bullet*


*Shield8* Characters should feel convincing and consistent. As they grow and change, readers should be able to identify and believe in the catalysts for those changes. Was a cold, uncaring character introduced, only to go out of his way pages later to help someone? Good characters are vivid and so real that you could swear you've met them before. Was Larry flat because the author said he loved his wife, but we as readers had no reasons to believe it, no scenes where we saw that love in action or moments where Larry thought about her? Let the writer know. If you find yourself disliking a character or disinterested in his story, feel free to share that, but do be aware that opinions of characters are subjective.

*Shield5* Dialogue is not just talking. It accomplishes much more than speech. Dialogue isn't, "How are you doing, John?" and "I'm doing wonderful, Bob, how about you?" Dialogue shows emotion and furthers the story, seeming real without being real. If dialogue in books was as fragmented and wandering as real-life conversations are, the story would go nowhere. Dialogue also reveals character. For example, you'll probably be able to glean some information about characters from lines like these: "Margaret, darling, do shut up." / "Dude, that's the cops! Hit it!" Most people have a distinct way of speaking. A reader should be able to tell who's speaking even without the constant help of dialogue tags like Bob said. If you find yourself having trouble understanding who's talking, that's worth mentioning.

*Shield9* Plot, in general, refers to the events that transpire in your story. Plot is the story, and at the same time is inextricable from the characters and the setting in which they move. What happens in the story? Do events and people that are mentioned contribute to the story? Are cliffhangers left hanging? How do you feel when the story has ended? Were you satisfied with the conclusion? Why or why not? There are sometimes situations where the plot seems to move the characters, rather than the characters moving the plot, resulting in a story that feels stilted/forced. If you think the main characters really wouldn't go on that dangerous quest because they all have good lives and families and seem level-headed and just aren't the types of people to throw themselves into the GAPING MAW OF INEVITABLE DEATH, that could very well be a case of the plot trying to manipulate characters rather than characters organically advancing the plot.

*Shield2* Description paints a world for us, adequate and evocative without being excessive. (Be aware that the definition of “excess” will differ between genres and even between authors in the same genre.) However, in certain places—fights or very tense scenes—excessive description can make the plot drag. Something as simple as having too many long sentences can even affect the mood. If a writer spent 600 words describing a tree in a story that wasn't even about a tree, it's worth pointing out. In contrast, if you find yourself with a case of “talking heads” (lots of dialogue, no grounding detail) or “white room syndrome” (characters are talking and acting, but there's no evocative specificity to the world they inhabit), let the writer know!

*Shield8* Grammar, Mechanics, and Presentation are the fiddly bits, the things that hold everything together. An excellent and compelling concept with fantastic characters can fall flat if readers grind to a halt every other sentence thanks to line-level issues. If you have knowledge of grammar and mechanics, feel free to flex it, but be aware that many "rules" of formal writing are often actively and purposely broken in fiction. It doesn't hurt to provide explanations, if you have time. “Do this!” is not quite as compelling as, “[X] is not proper usage here because [REASON]. It seemed to me that you were trying to achieve [EFFECT] but I only felt [REACTION], which I don't think was your goal. Here are some potential fixes!” If you foresee needing to make several hundred suggestions, it's okay to navigate away. If you choose to send a review, though, avoid taking note of every single error. Instead, consider pointing out patterns of errors. Does the writer consistently punctuate dialogue incorrectly? Is their work littered with passive voice, comma splices, or instances of showing rather than telling? These are patterns. You can point out one or several examples, explain what the problem is and how to avoid it, and inform the writer that there are many examples of this error that they should try to notice on their own. By not pointing out every error, you're enabling the writer to actively seek self-improvement rather than being the passive recipient of a few hundred grammar and punctuation suggestions. On a basic readability level, Since indents don't register on Writing.Com, the {indent} tag should be used, or a story should be double-spaced to give readers a chance to rest their eyes.



*Bullet* Poetry *Bullet*


*Shield4* Rhyme: Not all poems have to rhyme. In poems that do, it should add to the poem rather than distracting or detracting from it. Rhymes need not be perfect. Poets often use off-rhyme or slant-rhyme to great effect. It need not be at the end of a line. Poets use internal rhyme, matching words in the middles of lines, sometimes. If you run into something that feels jarring, it can be useful to point out where rhyme doesn't quite fit or a syllable count is off. Sometimes, a rhyme feels stale—used to the point that it has become weakened or predictable. Sometimes it's clear that a rhyme is forced—the poetic form required a rhyme, and because it was wedged in, it feels sharp-edged and wrong, or a sentence feels confusing or clumsy. Poetry can be extremely personal and emotional to the people who write it, but thoughtfully and kindly pointing out any concerns can still be valuable. Similarly, if you found any particular lines delightful or moving or evocative, tell the poet how you felt! I promise you'll make someone's day.

*Shield1* Flow and Meter: Whether the language in a poem is smooth and beautiful or intentionally choppy, indicating a strong emotion, it should not be awkward or distracting. Internal rhyme, alliteration, consonance, assonance, and other poetic devices can be used to elevate a poem. If you see a great example of a poetic device well-used, point it out! If you're a diligent student of meter and a lover of iambic pentameter and find great joy in talking about stressed and unstressed syllables, go for it! If not, feel free to review as a reader. Did it flow smoothly for you? If you saw something you found particularly lyrical or lovely, let the writer know.

*Shield7* Imagery and Word Choice. Because poetry is short, every word matters. In fiction, there's room for bloat, but poetry is concentrated—language distilled to its essence. Watch out for weak or lifeless words that could be trimmed or intensified. Choose words with color, connotation, and a cutting edge—words that linger. If you notice lackluster word choices (I'm looking at you, BE verbs: am, is are, was, were, be, being, been), it's okay to mention it. But also feel free to get personal. What feelings did you come away with? Did any of the poet's imagery move or transport you? If the poem uses extended metaphor, is the metaphor consistent? If you found a particular line or series of lines powerful and moving or struggled with any sections, include those in your review! It's okay not to understand—some poetry is personal, not universal. But if you'd like insight, it doesn't hurt to ask the poet for clarity. I've struck up some great post-review conversations before! (Though be aware that no writer owes readers explanation and may choose not to provide it.)


*Bullet* Articles and Essays *Bullet*


*Shield7* Topic/Thesis: The writer should (ideally) include a clear thesis statement that outlines the essay's main idea and major points in the first paragraph. The general guidance for academic/informative writing is, “Tell them what you're going to tell them (thesis statement introducing the issue at hand and your main points); go ahead and tell them (expand upon each of those points in one or more developed paragraphs); tell them what you told them (at the end, in the concluding paragraph of long essays, a brief summary and/or call to action can be useful).” Writers should explore their topic in depth with clear, specific examples. If the essay is persuasive, writers should offer logical support for their assertions. Did you learn something from the article? Was the main point (or thesis statement) solidly conveyed? Was the backing for whatever argument the author was making (if applicable) solid and thorough?

*Shield8* Citation: If you draw information from other sources, use proper attribution. Citations should be clear and properly formatted according to whatever citation style the writer is using. If you see clear plagiarism, point it out! Many writers—and I say this from the perspective of a tired writing tutor who has experienced it many times—simply don't realize what they are doing is plagiarism. Even stealing five consecutive words from a published article or Wikipedia page (or any website) is plagiarism if the quotation is not cited. Often, these small citations look something like, Jacob Wright, in his incisive review of "The Heart," calls the climax, "unexpectedly thrilling, like that moment when you accidentally eat a cinnamon jelly bean!" (24). The author is credited, the quote is encased in quotation marks, and the page number (if applicable) is cited. Again, different citation styles have different rules, but if you're familiar with any of them, feel free to tell the writer how they can properly credit their sources.

*Shield9* Transitions: Were the transitions between the author's points clear? Did one thought move smoothly to the next? If you see a place where one point or idea could be moved elsewhere to make it more clear or effective, point it out.

*Shield5* Conclusion: A strong beginning is important because it needs to grab readers' eyes. The end is equally important because it's the last impression a reader will have of an essay. It's often useful for writers to summarize their main ideas at the end to drive the point home. Writers should end with a conclusive statement or a thoughtful observation, but it's usually best not to introduce new information at the end, because there's little space to develop it. When you finished reading, did you understand the writer's point? Even if you don't agree with their position, was it well-argued?



          *Thumbsup* Making Reviewing Painless: *Thumbsup*

         So, you somehow made it all the way down here. What now? Well, reviewing in the genre in which you write or read is a good place to start (your familiarity with genre conventions makes it more likely that your feedback will be useful), but don't stop there! It benefits all writers to become familiar with many different types. Here are a few miscellaneous pieces of advice to help make reviewing a smoother process.

*Shield6* Read! The more you read, the more you will intuitively understand the content and expectations of stories. If you're a revolutionary or a rule-breaker, you'll understand what rules are in place for you or others to flout. By reading thoughtfully, you can improve your writing, improve your reviewing, and enjoy yourself, all at the same time. It's not a bad deal.

*Shield5* Look at other reviews. What better way to learn what style you want to employ than by seeing what styles others are using? Visit the Writing.Com Reviewing Page   to see how other writers do it. I've found myself going to the public reviewing page not only to look for good reads but also to check out the latest and greatest reviewing trends. Maybe you can get ideas about how to organize your reviews to make then easy to read and understand. It certainly can't hurt.

*Shield1* Develop a template. (Optional). Even the best writers and reviewers are likely to forget things. If you go to the reviewing page and scroll through the most recent reviews, you'll notice that some of them employ a review template, though many reviewers write amazing reviews without one. If you are above the free membership level, you'll find a buttom that says Reviewing Tool at the bottom of items. Here, you can create and save templates for any type of item you might be tempted to review. I have templates for stories, poems, articles/essays, and miscellaneous items, and can call them up just by selecting them from the drop-down menu. If you need some time, you can save draft versions of your reviews, as well. Click Here   to see some of my recent public reviews as an example of just one format/template reviewers can employ.

*Shield2* Review. This one's a no-brainer. The more you read and review, the more comfortable you'll become with evaluating other writers' works. Don't be afraid because a writer is more experienced than you, or a different case color, or older, or any number of things. We're all here to learn, and there's value in having a wide range of perspectives!


         *Idea* Good Places to Start Reviewing *Idea*

*Star* "Please Review
*Star* "The Shameless "Plug" Page

          Writers who post works to those plug pages—especially the "Please Review" page—are genuinely seeking in-depth, constructive feedback, so that's a good place to start polishing your skills. Also, be aware that there are groups on the site dedicated to supporting and encouraging reviewers, so you don't have to go it alone! Check out the Top 50 Most Actively Reviewing Groups   on the site! These groups offer amazing support to their participants and often hold reviewing activities with great prizes. It's a great way to dip your toes into the community!

         I have personal experience with a couple of groups on the site, but there are so many more than just these:

*Star* "WdC SuperPower Reviewers Group The most active reviewing group on Writing.Com. Very welcoming!
*Star* "WYRM An in-depth critique group for serious writers of sci-fi, fantasy, and related genres.

         I hope these tips help you in some way! If you have any questions, disagree with my advice, or want a more detailed treatment of any of these issues, please don't hesitate to comment and ask! Despite its solitary nature, writing is ultimately a collaborative process, and it's only through the effort and suggestions of many people that I can make this article better! Thanks for stopping by.



*Bullet* Uh, Wait. I still don't want to review! *Bullet*


         That's also okay! There are many other things to do on the website. If you don't want to review or are unable to for any reason, there are other ways to support it, if you want. Remember that Writing.Com Reviewing Page   I mentioned? If you happen to have a few Gift Points and see reviews you admire, you can encourage the people who send reviews by using the "credit this reviewer" option. You'll find it to the upper right side of every review, and can give rewards as small as 25 GPs. Rewarding a reviewer doesn't entitle you to receive reviews from them or entail any other special rewards, but if you have a spare moment and a desire to support the writers who are out there reviewing, crediting a reviewer is a bit like giving him or her a high five and saying, "I see what you're doing and appreciate you!"

*Bullet* Review On! *Bullet*
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