An explanation of why I rate and review the way I do.
Earlier in my tenure here at WDC, I used to give flattering ratings to avoid upsetting authors. My philosophy at the time was that every item started out at 5.0 stars (perfect) and I would take away stars or half-stars when I read things that didn't work for me. The problem was, I didn't want to come off as being overly critical, so the result became a whole lot of 5.0-star ratings, and many more 4.5-star and 4.0-star ratings, even when my reviews indicated that I thought the content failed to excite or needed revision. It was rare that I ever gave out a rating below 3.0 stars and both 3.0-star and 3.5-star ratings became symbols of substandard work. I even started to buy into the inflated ratings myself, wondering what was wrong with an item of mine that "only" received 3.0 or 3.5 stars.
This imbalanced use of "The Star Rating System" is a disservice to both authors and the ratings system as a whole. We should use the entire range of rating options offered to give authors a more accurate assessment of the quality of their individual works. If everything receives a generous 4.0-star to 5.0-star rating, it becomes much more difficult to truly differentiate between the content that's just fine and the content that's truly exceptional. I want to afford authors I review the courtesy of knowing when they've truly accomplished something great, so I am applying the following criteria to my ratings, based on an academic "grading" model.
5.0 Stars ()
A+ content. This content is truly exceptional: perfect execution, zero suggestions for improvement, and the content moved me or made me feel something in a significant way. Most importantly, the content clearly stands out as a paragon of that type of content. This is the content that I rave about, want to bestow Awardicons upon, and recommend others check out.
4.0 Stars () to 4.5 Stars ()
A-level content. This content is excellent: virtually no technical errors, suggestions for improvement are relatively minor or incremental, and there's a certain quality that raises it above and beyond established expectations. The content, IMHO, is worthy of placing in contests, being published just as it is, etc.
3.0 Stars () to 3.5 Stars ()
B-level content. This content is perfectly acceptable: very few technical errors, very few suggestions for improvement, no major glaring issues, etc. It's important to note that the vast majority of items are, by definition, average in nature. Average does not mean bad. An average rating from me most likely means that I found the item generally solid without standing out as being either extraordinarily good or bad.
2.0 Stars () to 2.5 Stars ()
C-level content. This is content which is passable, but need significant work. There are likely one or more critical problems that affect the overall quality of the content, and requires a significant amount of reworking. Content in this category may have certain elements that work well, but are usually significantly lacking in one or more areas.
1.0 Stars (} to 1.5 Stars ()
D-level content. This is content which is significantly below average in one or more key areas. There are likely many critical problems that affect the overall quality of the content, and likely require a near-complete reworking. Content in this category most likely has few (if any) elements that work well, and many that do not.
In summary, please be assured than receiving a 3.0 or 3.5 rating from me does not mean that I didn't like the content, or that I thought it was somehow inherently flawed. On the contrary, it means that I found the content to be perfectly fine with no areas of deep concern. And, because of that, it will mean that in receiving a 4.0+ rating from me, you can be likewise assured that I found that content to be exceptionally good.
I try to balance my reviews by commenting both on what worked and suggestions for improvement. I evaluate content as honestly and objectively as possible, while still being positive and supportive. I don't believe in reviewers pushing their own opinions, agenda, or preferences onto an author, and that all content should be assessed and discussed on its own merits.
Depending on my inclination at the time, my reviews will either be broken out into very specific categories, or presented as a general review with overall impressions. Regardless of the form of the review, I always use the following criteria for my reviews, regardless of whether any specific element is specifically mentioned in any given review:
Prose (Fiction): premise, story, characterization, dialogue, structure, technical elements, overall impression
Prose (Nonfiction): premise, purpose, structure, technical elements, overall impression
Poetry: premise, imagery, structure, technical elements, overall impression
All of my reviews express my personal opinions only and, as such, are merely offered as the perspective of one person. It's important to consider feedback from a variety of sources and, ultimately, it's the author's prerogative to decide which feedback to accept and implement, and which to ignore. Everything presented in my reviews is freely offered without any expectation of credit, compensation, or implementation. The author is entitled to, in their sole discretion, use or discard the contents of my reviews in part or in whole as they see fit.
The content I choose to review is done solely at my own discretion and without any implied consent to review subsequent revisions to the content, or additional content by the same author.