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A Rundown on Reviewing



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Tue Feb 09, 2016 9:40 pm
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Kyllorac says...



Want to learn how to write better reviews? Have some questions about reviewing in general? Just want a quick refresher on reviewing? Well, here's the article for you.

So, what makes a good review?

Spoiler! :
Simply put, constructive criticism.

What is constructive criticism?

Spoiler! :
Essentially, it's when someone points out what works or doesn't, why it works or doesn't, and how it could be improved. The last point in particular is what separates constructive criticism from plain old criticism and destructive criticism.

Destructive criticism should be avoided at all costs as the end result of destructive criticism is to destroy rather than help improve.

What should I keep in mind when writing a review?

Spoiler! :
First, and most importantly, that the person you are reviewing is human, just like you. Honesty is one thing; cruelty is something else entirely. If you can't be polite and respectful, don't review.

Second, that you are trying to help the person improve. Pointing out what you liked/disliked/thought could be improved is only half the task. Explain why you liked or disliked something, and how you think the writing could be improved.

Third, that not everyone you review may be familiar with technical writing terms. Try to use the simplest language possible and explain the terms you do use. After all, a review is useless if the person who receives it cannot understand it.

Some questions that are good to ask yourself as you review:

- What did I like?
- Why did I like it?
- What did I dislike?
- Why did I dislike it?
- What do I think could be improved?
- How could it be improved?

Keep in mind that "needs improvement" does not always apply to things you disliked; you can really like something but still see a way to improve it. For example, you might really like a plot twist even as you feel that it could have been set up better.

What is the difference between honesty and cruelty?

Spoiler! :
Honesty is your personal opinion, and you should always be honest in your reviews. However, how you present your opinion determines how kind or cruel your review is. For example, your honest opinion of a work can be that it sucked. Majorly. You can either tear the work apart completely and point out every single point of suckage, or you can try to be encouraging, mentioning what the writer did well and what you liked, even as you point out what needs working on.

Now, cruelty vs. niceness shouldn't be confused with harshness vs. gentleness. While cruel reviews tend to be harsh and kind ones gentle, it is possible to have harsh-but-kind and gentle-but-cruel reviews. The main difference between harsh and gentle reviews is that harshness tends to be bluntly concise while gentle reviews tend to be more wordily subtle when pointing out flaws.

In general, gentle reviews are more likely to be well-received and considered, especially by newer writers.

You have to be careful not to go too far in either direction, though. Being too gentle leads to coddling. Being too harsh leads to cruelty.

How do I write a kind review?

Spoiler! :
The keys to a kind review are balance and consideration. Always remember that it's another person you are reviewing and take their feelings into consideration. With that in mind, it shouldn't be hard to remember to balance out the criticism with praise or to empathize with and mention that you make a particular mistake yourself.

It's easy to forget there's another person on the other end of the internet because we can't see them. Don't.

What should I do if I can't be nice?

Spoiler! :
Very simply, don't review.

If for some reason you have to review (like it was a request you accepted, or a contest entry you need to give your reasoning on why it didn't win), then at the very least preface the review with a warning of some sort. Give the person the option to not read your review and have their feelings hurt.

For the same reason, it's a also good idea to put a warning at the start of harsh reviews.

Should I am for (shorter/general) vs. (longer/thorough) reviews?

Spoiler! :
It depends. What motivates your reviewing?

Ideally, all the reviews on YWS would be thorough and tailored specifically to each and every work's and writer's needs. Sadly, we do not live in an ideal world, so we have to settle for the best reviewers can offer. Most reviewers fall somewhere, and often switch, between emphasizing quantity and quality, so the key is finding the balance of both that works best for you.

Generally, if you're aiming to help as many people as possible or write as many reviews as you can, you will want to aim for shorter and more general reviews, if only to help protect you from burnout and frustration; not everyone takes criticism well, and it can be really disheartening to spend a long time on a review only for it to be rejected.

There's a lot to be said for sheer quantity, though if you do go this route, it's always a good idea to offer more in-depth reviews to the writers. It can be pretty frustrating to receive a generic review, and having the offer there can be the difference between complaints about your reviews lacking quality and a polite request for closer attention.

Reviewers who emphasize quantity more than quality will find things like reviewing templates and guidelines to be particularly helpful.

If, on the other hand, your main goal in reviewing is to be as helpful as possible, your energies will be more usefully inclined towards longer, more thorough reviews. The most common cause of burnout in your case will be trying to review too many things in too short a time and running into unappreciative writers. Pacing yourself will be particularly important, as will finding writers who appreciate the time and energy you invest into reviewing.

Reviewers who emphasize quality more than quantity will be particularly appreciated on long projects where the perspective of long-term insight is often invaluable, though if you dislike novels, you can dedicate yourself to reviewing works posted by particular members and/or offer your reviewing services in the Will Review for Food forum.

Quality-focused reviewers may also find that setting small reviewing goals, such as remaining a member of Team Tortoise, can help them pace themselves and thus avoid burnout.

Is following a reviewing template/set of guidelines a good idea?

Spoiler! :
You don't have to use templates or guidelines to write good reviews, though many people find them helpful as they make the reviewing process a lot simpler.

Templates, such as the Critique Sandwich, are great for when you first begin reviewing. They give you a baseline to start with, but that's the thing: review templates are baselines. They give you an idea of what some of the important things to cover in a review might be while leaving plenty of room for you to add your own points.

However, adhering to a template too closely can stifle your growth, not only as a reviewer, but as a writer as well. If you follow a template too closely, you run the risk of never pushing yourself to read more critically, which means missing out on one of the biggest benefits of reviewing.

Guidelines are a little different from templates. Guidelines are not intended to be followed to-the-letter, and their main purpose is to guide and better organize your thoughts as you're critiquing. Guidelines can really help you focus your criticisms and suggestions in ways that are constructive and easily-digested, though if taken too far and followed too closely, they can result in unhelpfully generic reviews.

Ultimately, whether or not you use templates or guidelines is up to you.

What are the merits of reviewing?

Spoiler! :
There are multiple benefits to reviewing regularly. While improving your critical reading skills is perhaps the most important, reviewing is also one of the easiest ways to boost your visibility on the site (which means more Likes and reviews on your works), as well as provide you with more opportunities to connect with and befriend other members on the site.

All of my most lasting friendships on YWS were begun through reviews, either because the person responded to a review I had written, or because I responded to a review they had written. These responses in turn lead to discussions about writing, and those discussions about writing lead to discussions about other topics, and by the point we started debating the relative merits of cutlery (spoons are the best, by the way), we'd been friends for quite some time. The formation of such friendships is perhaps the most rewarding aspect of focusing on review quality over quantity, especially since it typically removes "will they appreciate the review?" from the reviewing equation.

It's also worth noting that these responses don't have to be to reviews you've written on that particular person's work. Those who frequent the Literary Works sections tend to take notice of reviewers, especially those who review extensively and/or regularly, and will sometimes contact reviewers to request reviews.

This ties into the benefit of visibility, because if you review frequently, people take notice. There are various site features like the various Leaderboards, Featured Member slot, review announcements in the People feed, special badges awarded to Knights of the Green Room, and Review Days that further highlight reviewers to the site at large, and the more reviews you do, the more likely you are to be highlighted in each of those venues. In turn, with greater visibility comes greater attention to the works you post, which translates to more Likes and reviews for you: one of the main rewards for focusing on quantity more than quality.

This greater visibility in turn leads to greater opportunities to interact with members you might never have encountered otherwise.

With all that said, I cannot emphasize enough that critiquing others' works teaches you to read actively and critically: skills essential to writing and editing your own work. These skills are also important when it comes to handling critiques of your own work as not all criticisms are equally valid; being able to pick out the applicable advice and suggestions from the well-meaning-but-misguided ones makes the revision process a lot easier on you. Such skills also aid in the writing process by increasing your awareness of certain issues so that you can avoid writing them into your works to begin with, saving you (and your reviewers) a lot of work during the revisions and rewriting processes.

So how do I make friends through reviews?

Spoiler! :
As I mentioned in the section about reviewing's merits, reviews are a great way to make friends on YWS. However, you can't just toss reviews out like candy and expect lasting friendships to form. Friendships take work, and reviews happen to make an excellent icebreaker when it comes to making writing friends, with the more effort you spend in reviewing and engaging with reviews, the more likely you are to form lasting friendships.

So, rather than the reviews themselves being a good way to make friends, it's more accurate to say that the engagement arising from reviews is what really gets the friendship ball rolling.

On the reviewer's end, you can encourage engagement by inviting the writer to ask you questions or explain aspects of their work. Some of my favorite methods involve analyzing one aspect of the piece, speculating the possible intentions behind the execution, and then asking if I was right or way off. Questions don't have to be limited to just critical aspects, either; if a chapter ends on a cliffhanger and you're left wondering what's going to happen, you can share your speculations and ask if you're close or not. Not only are such speculations a nice ego boost for the writer, they also give the writer a better idea of what their audience is looking forward to or expecting, which they can then apply to future installments/works.

On the writers' end, you can encourage engagement by discussing the review with the reviewer. If it helps, you can think of it as reviewing the review, and by letting the reviewer know about which parts of the review you found most/least helpful, you are helping them become a better reviewer in return for their time in helping you becoming a better writer. You may even be pleasantly surprised at how your opinion of a review (or reviewer) changes after discussing the points more in-depth. As an added bonus, the best reviewers tend to focus their efforts on those who show appreciation for their reviews, and engaging with their reviews is a great way to get bumped up the list of "people to review again".

When in doubt, though, it never hurts to ask about something you wish other reviewers/writers would give you feedback on. One of the best things about making friends with fellow writers is that they understand your struggles and can offer advice, and engaging with reviews is a great way to show that you are open to giving and receiving said advice.


I have a question/issue that wasn't addressed.

Then post a reply or send a PM, and I will be happy to address and add it to this guide.
Screwing with gender since 1995.
#TNT



Murtle
There are no chickens in Hyrule.
  





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1148 Reviews



Gender: Other
Points: 83585
Reviews: 1148
Wed Feb 10, 2016 5:36 am
Kyllorac says...



Added two more issues: shorter/general vs. longer/thorough reviews, and reviewing templates/guidelines.
Screwing with gender since 1995.
#TNT



Murtle
There are no chickens in Hyrule.
  





User avatar
1148 Reviews



Gender: Other
Points: 83585
Reviews: 1148
Tue Mar 22, 2016 4:43 pm
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Kyllorac says...



Spoilered the answers to make it easier to scroll down to a specific question. Also expanded a little on the honesty vs. cruelty section.

Now working on a benefits of reviewing section.
Screwing with gender since 1995.
#TNT



Murtle
There are no chickens in Hyrule.
  





User avatar
1148 Reviews



Gender: Other
Points: 83585
Reviews: 1148
Sat Feb 11, 2017 5:44 am
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Kyllorac says...



Expanded on the benefits of reviewing section. By a lot.

Also added a new section on how to make friends through reviewing.
Screwing with gender since 1995.
#TNT



Murtle
There are no chickens in Hyrule.
  








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