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Rated: E · Article · Reviewing · #1725553
A Guide to Writing Reviews
Guidelines for Reviewing

I've been reviewing on WdC since I joined in April, 2008. Over that period of time, I have grown a lot in my reviewing skills, but my reviewing style continues to change all the time as I continue to find more effective ways to read and review. Yes, a good review begins with time spent reading the piece. There's simply no way a reviewer can provide helpful feedback to the author without, first, carefully reading the piece. It may take several times reading through it before thoughts and opinions can be expressed. Do not begrudge the time spent reading a piece before deciding on its merits and weaknesses. Both reviewer and author will reap the benefits.

*Asteriskb* Always be honest.
If you rave about how wonderful an item is, but fail to mention the parts that didn't work for you because you don't want to hurt the author's feelings, then your review is of very little use to the writer. As authors, we do not learn anything from flattery. We benefit the most from reviews that provide specific examples of what the reader liked (and why), as well as the parts that were weak or poorly expressed. The key word is specific. The author learns nothing from vague comments, such as "I love your poem" or "I lost interest halfway through your story." Take time to figure out why you enjoyed the poem and be sure to give the author specific reasons. What caused you to lose interest halfway through the story? Where, exactly, did it start to lose you? What would have made you want to read more?

*Asteriskp* Always be helpful. Has a reviewer ever mentioned to you that you need to do more showing instead of telling? That sounds good, right? The problem is that too many reviewers fail to explain what that means or how to achieve it. It is important to include suggestions for improving any weaknesses you find when you give a review. Merely telling an author what he or she should do without offering helpful suggestions on how to go about it is to provide only half a review, and the poorer half, at that.

Few of us are experts at writing, so there are always areas where our expertise is stronger than in others. If you can offer accurate and effectual advice for a particular flaw in a story, then by all means do so. By providing rules or other material in support of your suggestions, you give more weight to your review. For those areas that you recognize as being weak but feel less able to explain, it is a good idea to provide one or more links where the author can find more information. This is also a good way to leave the author with tools to improve their story without pointing out each and every place the error occurs in the piece, which might be discouraging and a little overwhelming to the author. In fact, it would be wise to keep a list of good links in your port for easy access as needed.

*Asteriskv* Always be respectful. Though truthful reviews are the most helpful, your suggestions for improvement should always be tactfully stated. A good reviewer is a humble reviewer. You set the tone by the words you choose.

"In my opinion,"
"Perhaps this would be clearer if..."
"I would love to know more about [a character's name],"
"How does [the character's name] show that emotion?"

There are countless ways to phrase your comments so that you are not condescending, presenting yourself as having all the answers, or implying that the author should follow all your suggestions.

In this same vein, you should respect the author's right to his opinion. Your job is not to evaluate the opinions and ideas expressed, but to provide useful feedback on the effectiveness of the writing itself. Crossing that line can lead to hurt feelings and bitter disputes. Stay focused on the writing. If you cannot review a piece with some degree of objectivity, then you should leave the piece alone and find something else to review.

*Asteriskr* Always be encouraging. At Writing.com, we always want to encourage writers to keep writing. Be sure to point out what you like about the item, giving specific attributes and quoting lines you found to be outstanding. Why did the line stand out to you? Did it make you re-think an idea? Did it stir some strong emotion? Perhaps it helped you to visualize the setting or a character or an action. In a poem, maybe it had a smooth flow or described a vivid image. Authors grow in their writing skills by getting feedback about both the parts that were effectively written, as well as the areas that need improvement. It is wise to end every review on a encouraging note. It just leaves a good taste in the mouth.

*Asteriskg* Make your rating match your review. This is very important. *Starr* It's so frustrating when an author receives a glowing review, two or three lines long, and then scrolls down to check out the rating, only to find a 3.0 or a 3.5 star rating. If it's so wonderful, why such a low rating? Always back up your rating, whether it's high or low, with REASONS for the rating. Authors don't really learn a lot from ratings. We learn by listening to the responses of our readers. If they like it, we need to know WHY they like it. What caught the reader's eye? What held their attention and made them want to read more? How did our piece make them feel? If the reader found spots that didn't make sense, the author needs to know which places need clarifying. Just keep in mind that the review process is intended as a means for all of us to help each other grow as writers.

*Asterisko* Never sacrifice quality for quantity in writing reviews. Who profits if you do twenty reviews a day if those reviews are two or three lines and offer no real benefit to the writers? If you need to read an item several times in order to give it a proper review, then that is what you should do. Don't scan an item, then give a quick cookie-cutter review that doesn't help the author in any way. Quality reviews are always appreciated. Read your review. Consider whether or not it will help the author learn what to do, or not to do, the next time he writes. If there is nothing there to help the author, then you have not given an adequate review.

*Asteriskb* Finally, a review is not about summarizing the piece in your own words. There's no need to tell the author what the item is about since he already knows. However, sharing with the author what you got from reading their piece is a good thing. This is different from re-telling it in your words. Authors love to know how their piece affected the reader. What feelings did it trigger? In what way did it make you think about something in a different way? Was there something about it that helped you in your own writing?

Do you want a quick, easy, and free lesson on reviewing? Go to the Public Reviews Pages and read the reviews written by others. In doing that, you will find a lot of great ideas to incorporate in your own reviews.

*Asteriskp* Using a Review Template. Though never required, you may choose to use a review template so that your reviews are attractive and relatively consistent. A template gives you a format that reminds you of what needs to be addressed. As you spend time reading reviews from the Public Reviews Pages, you'll find templates and formats that appeal to you. It's good to have at least two templates--one for poetry and one for non-poetry items. Below is a good, basic template to begin with. As you discover what things are the most important things to you when you are reading a poem, a story, or other items, you will want to make your own template. Until then, you are more than welcome to use the one provided below. Notice the opening statement. It's brief, but provides the author with information about the reviewer.

Hello, {user:mimi1214}. After reading {item:1722418}, I have the following comments to offer for your consideration:

The above ML Writing will yield the following statement:

Hello, Pat ~ Rejoice always! . After reading "Release, I have the following comments to offer for your consideration:

*Asteriskv* This makes the review more personal. Let the writer know how you came to read this item. Name the item being reviewed and tell the author that you have comments to offer. You have set the tone of the review by letting the author know that you will be commenting, as opposed to judging or imposing your ideas on them. I encourage you to keep the opening statement and the section titles brief. You don't want the template to take up so much space that the review gets lost.

Here is the complete template:

Hi {user:mimi1214}. After reading {item:1722418}, I have the following comments to offer:

{e:starr}{b} First Impression:{/b}

{e:starb}{b} Things That Worked for Me:{/b}

{e:starp}{b} Suggestions:{/b}

{e:starv}{b} Final Thoughts:{/b}


If you use this Writing ML to create your template, you will get the following result:

Hi Pat ~ Rejoice always! . After reading "Release, I have the following comments to offer:

*Starr* First Impression:

*Starb* Things That Worked for Me:

*Starp* Suggestions:

*Starv* Final Thoughts:

Pat ~ Rejoice always!

This template is rather general, but it can be added to at your discretion. Allow yourself to learn and grow as a reviewer, your skill and style blossoming as you grow. You may be surprised to find that honing your reviewing skills improves your writing skills.
© Copyright 2010 Pat ~ Rejoice always! (mimi1214 at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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