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Avoiding Review Spam

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Sat Jun 29, 2019 1:55 am
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alliyah says...

Avoiding Review Spam

cowritten with the wonderful @Shady

YWS has many Review Tips centering around writing good critiques, and for the most part everyone's trying their best to help out authors. But occasionally we'll see a review that provides no real help to the author, which is a serious problem -- not only because it is unfairly getting points, but also because the very purpose of reviewing is to help the author and these "reviews" fail to do just that. This is called Review Spam.

There are several different types of Review Spam, and according to the Official YWS Rules & Guides , every type of "Review Spam" is not allowed on the site. This article will address some of the most common types, to help you avoid them and know when to contact a moderator if you see one on the site. The list is not exhaustive but will help you know what to avoid.

Common Types of Review Spam

Copying and Pasting Your Own Reviews

Copying and Pasting your own reviews is one form of Review Spam. Whether it's done for the whole review or just specific sections, it is always considered Spam, with the exception being review-signatures or short review-introductions (which should not make up the bulk of the review.)

Reviews are meant to be helpful to the author, so when a reviewer is just leaving vague, generic advice on every piece they read it's not very helpful. If you can copy what you wrote about a piece and paste it on a different work, or even a different chapter of the same work, then it is not detailed enough for the review.

Reviews should be specific to the piece you are reading in that moment. How is the pacing? The characterization? The plot? The description? If you've been following a novel, is it moving in a direction that makes sense? What specific things did you like from this piece? What specific things didn't you like?

In situations where the same general thing could be said to multiple authors, always try to make it as specific as possible to the work in question. For example, I frequently find myself explaining how to use paragraphs appropriately and also how to punctuate dialogue tags. It's fine to leave feedback on those topics if it is a problem in the piece you're reading. What is not fine is copying verbatim what you've said about it in the past.

So when I give feedback on the dialogue tags, for example, I will use the author's writing in my example of how things should be done. In the example with paragraphing issues, I'll point out an example or two of how the author could have paragraphed better, using their own work as an example.

Copying and Pasting, or Paraphrasing Others' Reviews

Copy and pasting someone else's review is also unacceptable, whether it's just a section or the whole review. Not only is this unfairly gaining points, but it is considered plagiarism if you are representing it as your own feedback. That is just as much plagiarizing as it would be if you copied and pasted someone else's story and claimed it as your own. As a writing website, YWS takes plagiarism very seriously and it is never allowed in any form.

Paraphrasing (or summarizing another person's review in your own words) is also Review Spam if it takes up the majority of your Review. Often people do this, in order to avoid actually reading the work, but even if the feedback is in your own words, it's taking credit for someone else's work without giving unique feedback so is considered Review Spam.

It is disrespectful to the reviewer whom you copied, and it isn't helpful to the author of the piece to get the exact same feedback twice, or to receive a review unintended for their work. It also hurts the author if it knocks a work out of the Green Room with only one unique review rather than getting the two critiques that every piece is supposed to get before moving from the Green Room.

Copy and Pasting Material from Other Sources

For the same reasons as the last version of spam, Copy and Pasting material from other literary or reference sites to use in your review, even if the content might be relevant, is not allowed. The reason is that copy-pasting text from other writing sites, even if it's relevant to the work, is a form of plagiarism and is not helpful to the reviewer without context. If you know of an outside source that may help the author, please explain why you think the source would be helpful and link to said source. Remember, the intent of a review is for the author to receive your feedback, not someone else's.

Note that this also extends to using AI tools. While these can be useful starting points to gain ideas, representing something that an AI wrote as your own is plagiarism and is not appropriate for a review in which the author is seeking human feedback.

Another version of this type of spam is copy and pasting the author's own piece and using that as the bulk of your review. While it's fine to quote sections or give a breakdown of your reactions, copy and pasting large sections of their work without giving any specific comments, or just adding in a comma or period to meet the word-limit for your review, is a form of review padding, and is also largely unhelpful to the author.

Irrelevant Material

Another type of review spam is to leave irrelevant comments and mark them as "reviews". Even if there are other parts of the review that are relevant, if the bulk of the review is not about the work, then this is Review Padding -- which unfairly gets points for minimal feedback and is considered Review Spam. An example is when you leave a quote from a famous author or lyrics from a favorite song.

If you quote anyone (other than the author you're currently reviewing) then it should be a short, relevant quote that you then go on to expound upon.

For example, I really love this quote:

“Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.”
― William Strunk Jr., The Elements of Style

It is a bit too long to use in a review, but I might reference it with a "Strunk advised in 'The Elements of Style' that authors make sure that every word 'tell' in strong writing" and then go on to explain what that means in terms of that author's piece being a bit too verbose or flowery for my liking and how I think they could strengthen their writing. Sometimes a quote says what we wish to convey perfectly, but reviews are not intended to share other people's feedback on a work, but your own unique feedback. If there is a Knowledge Base article or website you'd like to link to, that can be very helpful to mention, but padding your review with feedback that is not your own is not what a review is intended for.


Another example of Review Spam is giving nonsensical reviews. Sometimes nonsense reviews are left as a "joke" or a "compliment" to a friend - if this is the case, mark it as a comment rather than a review to avoid leaving spam.

For example, excessive repetition of words or emojis to bulk up the review or linking/quoting other material unrelated to the piece is not acceptable.

Consider the following example: "This is really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really great. And I hope you have a super super super super awesome day! Okay that's all I wanted to say. Adios, goodbye, toodles, so long for now, farewell darling!"

While this feedback is enthusiastic, it is in no way helpful to the author, and cheats the system for points, possibly bumping a work out of the Green Room without real feedback. Reviews are meant to provide thoughtful critiques -- and this doesn't discuss the story at all, nor does it provide feedback on what was so good about the piece in question. So while it might be left in a desire to be complimentary, it is best left as a comment, not a review.

What should you do if you see Review Spam?

The majority of users do not engage in "Review Spam," and the few that do often do so unintentionally because they are not aware of the rules yet or didn't realize that it was harmful to the author. It can be tempting to respond, calling them out in a comment or reply, but the best thing you can do is send a link to a moderator (those with green usernames).

What are the consequences of Review Spam?

Review Spam is rare, though when there are cases, it is taken seriously because it is unhelpful to the author and hurts the system of giving feedback. There are generally consequences enforced by the moderator team depending on the severity and repetition of the spam. The user will receive a contact so they know how to avoid spam in the future, spam reviews and points may be removed, and in serious cases it can result in a ban from the site, so it is best to avoid!

If you suspect a review is spam, please report it to a moderator and we will decide what action, if any, is necessary.

In Summary

YWS is an awesome platform to share your writing and get feedback on it. It's a great place to practice improving your writing as well as to learn how to critique others. However, we do have a standard for the quality of reviews left on pieces, to ensure that YWS remains a place where people can grow and improve in their writing. Review spam ultimately doesn't help authors improve their writing or promote good critiquing skills, so it's not allowed.

But just like good writing comes with practice, so does good reviewing! Don't be afraid to get out there and practice your review skills. As long as you attempt to give helpful and piece-specific feedback, you will very likely always avoid the risk of leaving review spam. And if you're ever unsure, please do not hesitate to simply ask someone on the mod team!
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Wed Apr 17, 2024 9:09 am
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Animist1 says...

Thanks for the feedback.

I have writer's block. I can't write. It is the will of the gods. Now, I must alphabetize my spice rack.
— Neil Gaiman