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What I believe a public review should and shouldn't contain.
Public Review: Tool or Weapon
by Vivian Gilbert Zabel

         Reading a review that's publicly displayed can be a way to discover interesting writings. The review, however, shouldn't become a one-sided argument or include a complete copy of the story, poem, article, or essay being reviewed. Most people don't want a public review to be a hostile attack on a writer or his material. A public review should be informative, helpful, and topical.

         Being informative means the review contains reasons why someone should or shouldn't read the item. A review which starts with the positive points, the good things about the piece, always grabs a reader's attention. The review should also include any reasons why the reviewer didn't enjoy the material or problems with the writing.

         Rather than being informative, posting the material itself negates the purpose of a public review: No one needs to go to the item to read, rate, or review because it's posted in the review. The opportunity for the writer to gain more insight into his material is greatly reduced because fewer people visit the item in the author's portfolio.

         Secondly, a helpful public review doesn't include copying the material and giving a word-by-word analysis. For a public review, an example or two with each suggestion is sufficient. Many times, readers skip a review containing too much material, which means anyone searching for something interesting to read isn't helped, nor is the author. If a reviewer wants to give an in depth analysis and/or edit, that type of information should be given in a private review.

         Another helpful reason not to copy a complete piece of writing publicly involves honoring the writer's right to choose where he wants his work presented. At best, the reviewer has taken the choice from the writer, who does own the material. There is a reason copyright pages on books state "no parts of the book or any illustrations may be used, except for brief excerpts in a review, without written permission by (publisher or author)."

         Also giving assistance doesn't mean arguing publicly against the item, giving one's rebuttal to what the author wrote. If the reviewer disagrees with something, he can briefly allude to why he doesn't agree; then he can write an opposing viewpoint to post in his own portfolio. This point is important: If the writer doesn't have support for his points, or has incorrect information, the reviewer can mention that problem without having a public debate against the author's stand. Also, agreeing with the writer should not be the whole, or most, of the review. Again, the reviewer can write his own paper in favor of the subject.

         Reviewers aid an author and readers when they publicly address how well the writer supports and writes his material, not whether they agree with him or not.

         A hateful tone or approach to someone else's writing does not assist either, especially public denouncements. Writers are very touchy, very sensitive about their "babies." Heeding someone else's kind critique causes them to tremble. Having to read destructive comments shatters one's ego and often his confidence. Some recipients of deliberately damaging reviews have abandoned their writing aspirations. Negative comments can be voiced in positive ways that won't destroy. Embarrassing a writer accomplishes nothing positive.

         Writing a public review with incorrect grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc. needs to be avoided. A reviewer who has a poor grasp of his own language is not considered credible, and may not seem knowledgeable, by others. Therefore, many times the helpful advice given is lost within the garbled review. Sure, everyone has typos from time to time. Occasionally fingers can't keep up with thoughts, but reviewers need to try, consciously try, to have few, if any, errors in their reviews.

         Public reviewers also need to offer correct advice. If they think something isn't right, but they're really not positive about the reason, they can write that something 'is off' or 'is confusing' or 'isn't clear.' If unknowing reviewers don't give specifics, at least they're not giving incorrect information.

         Finally, a public review should be topical. The reviewer should stay on the topic of the review - the item being reviewed. Yes, sometimes the reviewer's insight helps. Yes, occasional references to the reviewer's thoughts about the subject adds interest. However, the review shouldn't be a way for the reviewer to toot his own horn of importance. Someone reading a public review doesn't care how the reviewer would re-write someone else's work. The reader wants to decide whether or not to read this piece of writing.

         Public reviewing, a form of writing all its own, can be a tool to improve an author's writings and a way to encourage others to read more items. It can also, however, be misused and become a weapon of destruction. Each reviewer decides which use he will employ.

special thanks for the critical editing of
Holly Jahangiri and Janelle
© Copyright 2003 Vivian (vzabel at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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