My ideas on how to write good reviews

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Oct 10, 2010 (Updated Dec 24, 2010)


The Bottom Line Here are my approaches to reviewing and what I look for in others' reviews.

These ideas come from writing reviews on several different sites since 1998, and from the feedback I get on my reviews, as well as the feedback comments I see others getting on their reviews.

First of all, any review in any category needs to be written well. I do not like to make and then publish mistakes, although sites like Epinions give the writer a chance to correct errors before too many people see them. To me, “written well” means the following things: good word choices, nice phrasing, and correct spelling, grammar, capitalization, and punctuation. I think that reviews should have an extra line between paragraphs, as this makes for easier reading.

Second, while it probably should not have a separate paragraph but, embedded in your review should be information on why you did or did not like the product, regardless of the type of product. Epinions is not a place to simply describe a product, but to give potential buyers an idea of what the product is, and why, or why not, you liked it.

While the description below is in list-like format, a good review can also be more narrative, in a few paragraphs, that hit the important points, embedded in commentary.

Books

Here are the things I look for in book reviews, that help me decide how helpful that review was to me, and these items are what I try to include in my own reviews.

A brief plot summary, that mentions the genre of the book, but with no spoilers (this is most important for mysteries and suspense stories, but less critical in other genres). Here is the easiest place to go awry and create an overlong review. I know I struggle with conciseness, and I see it in others too. One device I have used at times is to launch the summary by stating the premise, setting, time-period, and basic challenge to the protagonist, then listing some questions that are revealed in the story, but not in my review.

There is mention of things like pace, character and setting development, the author’s word usage and phrasing, and editing. Are there slow spots? Does the author display a wide vocabulary without appearing to be pretentious. Are the settings and the characters described well? Do the characters develop or evolve through the book?

While not a must, I sometimes like a review to include comparisons to a few similar books. “If you liked Riders of the Purple Sage, you’ll like this.” “This is a good book for those who enjoyed Harry Potter.”

Movies

For movie reviews, I try to include the following points in my reviews, and look for the same things in others’ reviews, when rating:
 
A plot summary that tells enough, without spoiling it (this is most important for mysteries and suspense stories, but less critical in other genres), and includes some mention of genre. A critique of character description and development. Some mention of pacing (Did the film drag? Did it have slow spots? Did it fly by?). I think a good movie review mentions the level of action, which is somewhat different from pacing. I think that John Wayne’s final movie, is nearly perfect, without a single unnecessary scene, sequence, or line. But, it is not an action movie, as there are but two action scenes.

A critique of story quality. In other words, did it make sense? For example, Event Horizon did many things correctly but, in my view, was a mess logically and consistency-wise.

A critique of the movie’s musical score. Did it enhance the movie and fit the scenes well? Was it distracting? Could the score stand alone as something to enjoy, without the movie? I also look for some mention of cinematography, lighting, and, if it fits, the animation quality.

Finally, who would, and would not, likely enjoy this movie? Is it for children only? Is it definitely not for children? Can it appeal to a wide age-range? Are men or women more likely to appreciate it? A comparison to other, known movies can help with this.

Music

I write far fewer Music reviews that I do in Books or Movies, but here are the things I look for in music reviews, that help me decide how helpful that review is:

An identification of the music genre, as in “a new reggae band from Florida.” A description of the performer(s), as in “this is a five-person group with vocals by [insert name(s)] and the following instruments: . . .” A statement about what this music is good for, as in “excellent upbeat music to accompany a work-out session.”

I like a play-list and a brief statement about each piece on the album, with emphasis on the quality, as in “the quality ranges from excellent for [insert song title(s)] to disappointing for [insert title(s)”. I like it when a reviewer indicates the highlights and the lowlights of the album.

Finally, I like to see a comparison to a few similar music pieces or albums, as in, “if you like [insert well-known example], you’ll probably like this music”.

On-line stores and services

I have done but one review of a website or online store, but here are the things I look for in online store reviews, that help me decide how helpful that review is:

What does the website sell? Many new reviewers mention only what they bought, and I think that the site’s name is self-explanatory, but I want to know what they sell.

Is the site, including the search function, easy to navigate? Are the products described well? Are there good images of the products? I have visited sites that were nightmarish as far as finding things goes, others that have given me nothing but product names. Others are a piece of cake to navigate, and are very informative about the products.

How are the prices? What are the shipping costs like? Does this site compare favorably with other sites?

After the purchase, do they deliver promptly? Do they package items well? Do you get the quality and quantity you ordered? What is customer service like?

Some reviewers, especially new-comers, tend to focus on one experience, good or bad, or review the product purchased instead of the online store. The reviewer, I think, needs to keep in mind that the review is of the site.

Some might recognize the above as an expansion and paraphrasing of the comments I leave when I rate others’ reviews. I am always trying to refine my reviewing skills, and one of the strengths of Epinions is the opportunity to provide feedback to each other and help one another write reviews that are more helpful to customers who visit the site, looking for information and resources to make purchases that are really what they want.

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About the Author

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dolphinboy is a Top Reviewer on Epinions in Books
Member: Chris McCallister
Location: The Great Lakes of Michigan
Reviews written: 1015
Trusted by: 378 members
About Me: I am a psychologist, author of two books, and a reviewer on two sites.