I love to give reviews. These are my thoughts on doing a review, and how I go about it.
My Idea’s On Writing A Review
One of the greatest things about Writing.com is that we have the chance to let others read our work and provide us with a review. At the same time, we get to read other’s works and do the same for them. Using the advice given (freely!) in these reviews, we can learn to become better writers. But too many times a review contains very little valuable information that one can use to improve their writing skills. After receiving almost 800 reviews, and providing almost 1300, I thought I would contribute my two-cents worth of thoughts on reviewing.
1. Too many times I see someone start a review with something like, “Please remember I’m a writer like yourself, offering only my opinion on your poem (story).” I guess my response there (if I wanted to be a smart-alec), would be, “Duh!” Almost everyone on this site is a writer of one type or another. There is no need to apologize ahead of time for offering your opinion. In providing a review, everything you write has to be your views/opinions. Who else could your comments be attributed to? Along with this thought, there’s no need to apologize for your point of view either. You are offering feedback on something you’ve read, the author’s choice is to take it, or ignore it.
2. When reviewing, always, ALWAYS, say something positive, no matter how badly the item was written. Be positive first and foremost, and then if you must say something negative, be considerate about it. Few people on this site are professional writers (Lord knows I’m not, read a story/poem of mine, and I’m sure you’ll agree) and you may be reviewing someone with a fragile ego. To finish the review off, reinforce the positives you saw so the author is left with an overall good feeling.
3. Something else to consider is providing a review that has substance to it. What I mean by that is, don’t just write, “I loved your story! I found myself immersed in it, I couldn’t stop reading until I reached the end.” Nice review, nice compliment. But this is not a review. It’s a comment on how your story affected this person. If I wanted a review like this, I’d send it to family and friends I know personally, because that’s the kind of comments I get from them. A few questions pop to mind for me here. What was their favorite part? How did the story make them feel as they read it? I know, you’re all going to tell me, “But Jim, you yourself have given reviews like this, I’ve seen them!” Yes I have, but I honestly try not to give a review like this. If you see I’ve given you one of these ‘comments’, then know that I read your story/poem when I was tired, and didn’t have the time or energy to provide a proper review. Is that right? No, not at all. I’m trying very hard to avoid doing that in the future, we’ll see how successful I am.
4. Use a template when you review. At the bottom of the review form below almost everything else, is a button labeled “Review Tool”. Using that, you can create a template for doing reviews. I have four right now, and will have more in the future. Why a template? There’s a lot of reasons for using one. You can create ones that use different images (sigs), you can have one for poetry, one for stories, one for essays. You can also have ‘canned words’ to open the review (I do this a lot with Anniversary Reviews), and separate the review into sections. Sections? Yes, you can have one that allows you to write general comments, maybe comment on their title (Ever see a title with a misspelled word?), Description, Favorite part, overall summary of the item, or whatever you choose. Then use a little color (and bold font) to highlight these, using just standard black font to write your review with. When you preview it, you'll see a nice looking review that draws the authors attention to what you've said. Don't get too 'flowery' here with colors and such. You want the review itself to stand out, not all the colors and the like. Almost anything you can do with a word processor, you can do with the review tool, including save your review so you can come back to it later. I frequently use blue to highlight quoted text copied from the item I’m reviewing, and green to highlight changes I think will work. And the best benefit of all (in my humble opinion), is that you have access to a spell checker. Remember, you are providing a review (feedback) to an author on the quality of their writing. How much weight does your review really hold if it is full of misspelled words, formatted poorly, and just looks worse than the item you’re reviewing? Using a template allows you to take your time to provide quality feedback to the author while keeping your thoughts structured as you write.
5. When you finish the review, give the item a rating that reflects your comments. Don’t tell someone how great their story/poem is, then give it four stars. If you give a rating less than five stars, you should have comments with it that explains/justifies your rating. I try to give very few five star ratings; because to me, that’s a perfect score. I’ve seen reviews that were a five star rating from the reviewer, yet comments with the review will identify typographical errors, formatting errors, mistakes in poetry format, and many more. Since those comments are about errors found, how can the story/poem possibly get a five star rating? Conversely, if you read something and it hits you emotionally, leaves you gasping, unable to really believe what you just read, tell the author that. I’ve done that on a few occasions; but in doing so, I’ll tell them my reactions (tears in some cases), and also state that I got so involved in the read, that I failed to look for possible errors. There’s nothing wrong with this kind of review, IF the story/poem really hits you that hard. However, the one thing you should never do, is rate a story/poem, but provide no feedback at all. We’ve all gotten them, and we all know how it makes us feel, especially for those mysterious one star ratings for an item that won a contest or has consistently received grades of four stars or more. Rating is fine, but that means you read the story/poem. If you read it and want to rate it, please take time to comment. As mentioned earlier, try to avoid the ‘non-commital’ wordings, but at least let the author know you read their item and appreciated it.
Okay, I’ve rambled enough. If you read this, I hope you take something away that will help you in doing future reviews. Either way, I’ve said how I feel about reviews, I’d appreciate any feedback you have on my thoughts, or just your thoughts on this same subject. One final thought: The best benefit of providing review to others? You’re writing! In doing so, you’re learning to be a better writer just by reading and providing simple feedback (review) to authors.