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How to Write a Decent Review

by alliyah

Author's Note: I decided to write this piece because, I’ve read a lot of poorly written reviews recently on YWS. Not calling anyone out, I’ve also read a lot of excellent reviews and have written my share of ‘bad’ reviews. I just think that many could benefit from reflecting on how well they’re writing reviews. I don’t think anyone here writes a wonderful and enlightening review every single time (a great review can be time consuming), but that still is not an excuse for writing a review that isn’t at all helpful for the author. Every work, whether it’s a beginner’s first draft or a veteran writer’s final manuscript, deserves the respect of a good review.

Despite these instructions, that I think are good starting points for writing a review, when it comes right down to it, there is no substitute for genuine effort and a little bit of time. Good reviews should take some brain power, but when you’ve finished writing a good review you can have some pride in your work. Writing a good review will help out the author and will probably enable you to write better in the future after critically analyzing someone else’s work.

The 5 Basic Tips of Reviewing

1. Use proper grammar. We all fumble with spelling and misplaced commas once in a while, but try to give the grammar your best effort. Although this isn’t quite grammar, another good idea is to try not to use too much slang, “text” lingo, and if you use really technical language try to break it down if you’re unsure if the author understands the terms you’re using.

2. Be organized. You don’t necessarily have to put your “critique” and “praise” sections separately as I did in the example, but you should organize your comments in some way, especially if there are a lot of them. Sometimes for poetry I’ll sometimes have a section for “Grammar, Wording/Word Choice, Formatting, and Overall Impressions” for chapters you could do the categories “Characters, Plot Progression, Grammar/Wording, and Overall”. Within these categories or if you don’t have enough content to do categories it can be a good idea to order your comments in order of when they appear in the poem. For instance take care of all the grammar stuff in paragraph/stanza 1, before commenting on paragraph/stanza 2. This helps the author follow what you are saying, and also helps you in your reviewing so you can notice if your review is all grammar tips without any overall impressions.

3. Be specific. Make specific references to what you are reviewing. If they have problems with using past or present tense, give an example and show them how they can correct it. If you think something is random, strange, wrong, excellent, beautiful, or awkward point it out. Giving the line number, paragraph number, or exact quote is a great way to engage the text so that the author can implement specific fixes to their work and understand what you are referring too.

4. Be general. While being specific is great, you should also make some general remarks. Look at the piece as a big picture. I often read reviews, where I have excellent comments on grammar and awkward phrasing, but am left wondering, “But, did they get it?”. Try to make at least one comment about the plot, moral, meaning, or overall impressions you get from the work. Even if the comment is “I’m not sure quite what the meaning was, but felt it was something about why we should write good reviews” is a perfectly fine comment. It gives the author a fuller picture of what is good and bad about their piece.

5. Be respectful. In any type of situation where you are reviewing another’s work (whether on YWS or elsewhere) there is a level of trust that you are given, do not abuse it. By being polite when reviewing (by not making fun of the work, or being excessively critical) you bring respect to the review you are writing. You also might make a friend who could respectfully review your work in the future.

Further Break Down


Example of bad greeting: “Hello my name is alliyah and I will be here to write for a short review today about your newest work called “How to write a decent review”. J J J I hope you enjoy this short review that I will proceed to write after I have written this large greeting to tell you that I will be here for a short review today. How are you? My name is alliyah and I am doing great, I cannot wait to write a short little small review for you today. J I hope you enjoyed this greeting and the review that will proceed after the greeting. So now… I will start writing that review. J”

What not to do: Do not go on and on and on about how, or why, or when, or what you’ll be reviewing. The fact that you are typing text inside the box for reviews and clicking submit indicates that you are in fact reviewing the piece, no need to explain this five times just to increase your word count. The greeting should absolutely not take up half or even a third of your review.

What to do: Keep the greeting succinct. If you are reviewing their piece for a particular reason that is relevant to the author it’s fine to tell them, but do it and get to the review. For instance if they have a great title, or you heard about the piece from a friend, or saw it in the works featured section. It is also nice to be nice… While the author will likely read your review whether or not you are friendly, it gives you more credibility and establishes a good relationship so that they take what you say more seriously if you are polite. A good greeting can be as simple as, “Hi author, I’m alliyah, and I’m going to review your piece.”

Content: Every single review (despite how ‘bad’ or ‘flawless’ the work is) needs to have both praise and criticism in the review. If you cannot find any criticism you might as well leave the review as a comment. If you can’t find anything praiseworthy to mention, the author will likely to get discouraged or not seriously consider your comments.

1. Critiques

Example of bad critiques: “You should capitalize your username because it is a proper noun. I don’t like that this piece is all about reviews because I only like reading about spiders. I disagree with the title because it doesn’t make sense to me. Capitalize sentences.”

What not to do: In critiques make sure that you aren’t inserting your opinion into what is fact. For example, just because you prefer poems that rhyme does not mean that every poem needs to rhyme, and the fact that the author didn’t rhyme could very well not be an error but completely intentional. It’s still a fine idea to include these opinions, but make a note like, “It is my opinion that poems should rhyme”. Don’t be overly critical in critiques and when relevant explain why something is wrong. Don’t go overboard in using different colored fonts, italics, bold, etc. to make your critiques. Sometimes these things can just be time consuming and confusing, so make sure it’s clear if you use these tools.

What to do: Stay on topic and if at all possible stay organized. Good critiques include both specific and general critiques. They include more than just grammar mistakes, but will analyze the overall content as well. State your general opinions, but also acknowledge that some choices are for the author to make. It’s still good to question why they make these author choices though. For example, ask why they chose to introduce a new character halfway through their novel, or why they capitalized the word ‘watermelon’ every time it appeared, if it is not obvious already.

2. Praise

Example of bad praise: “This was the best poem that I’ve ever read. J J J You did a great job on that piece! It was really awesome and I felt awesome to finish reading it.”

What not to do: For praise, please do not be vague. Also do not lie. Saying that something was the “best poem you’ve ever read” when it was mediocre or not very good, does not help anyone and often does not sound genuine. Smileys are great once in a while, but do not use them in excess, or just to boost your word count.

What to do: You can say that overall you liked the piece, but it is most helpful if you also include why you like the piece. Did the characters stand out, was the piece very realistic, were you able to relate emotionally to it, and was the imagery or word choice outstanding? Try to comment more on what made the piece itself good/bad. If you need to include your personal experiences that aren’t relevant to the poem, go ahead but make sure that if your “review” is more about you than the piece that you mark it as a comment rather than a review.


Example of bad closing: “This was a good and bad piece to read. I enjoyed very much to write this short little review today for this short piece. It was a fun thing that I could do and so I did it. And I want you to be happy today so that you smile, so here are some smileys: J J J J J J :D :D :D you may have noticed a few of the smileys are laughing ones and a few are normal smileys. Tomorrow I’m visiting my sister so I hope she smiles too. Anyways, lol lol, #awesome, have an excellent day!”

What not to do: Do not just post a bunch of words to increase your word count. Also, try to stay on topic.

What to do: The same rule about smileys and the suggestions from the greeting also apply. Leaving a genuine and encouraging remark is always a good route to take. For example, “Good luck in your future writing! I hope that this review helped you.” It’s also a nice idea, if you are willing, to offer to take the time to answer any questions about the review. You could write, “If you have any questions about my review, feel free to send me a PM”.

I hope this piece was helpful, good luck reviewing and feel free to leave comments or suggestions about other ways to write a great review. 

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Is this a review?



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324 Reviews

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Reviews: 324

Mon Feb 08, 2016 3:27 am
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Evander wrote a review...

Hey, alliyah! Adrian here for a review.

This is actually a pretty good article. It's clear, it gets to the point, it's organized, and it gets to the point rather quickly. My main critique here is that there is a lot more that could have been explored in this. Such as the utilization of internet resources, sourcing, and the validness of the reviewer's personal opinion.

In the 'critiques' section of this work, that's where this gets a bit confusing to read. The 'not to do's all mesh together. It would probably read a bit clearer if that paragraph was split up to focus on each thing and the points were expanded a bit. What makes a critique overly critical? What appears to be 'overboard' in italics, bolds, and colored fonts in reviews? More often than not, it would be useful to have something to base the points off of. (The examples of bad critiques are excellent in proving the point.)

In critiques make sure that you aren’t inserting your opinion into what is fact.

Yes! I totally agree with that. It's also good to insert your personal opinion as a reviewer in order to expand the world view of the author. For example, an author might be writing about the death of a parent having never experienced it, and the reviewer could come in having gone through that and inserting their experiences to give the author a larger perspective.

Also, I felt like this could have gone and explored different styles of reviewing and how valid they are. Some reviewers tend to copy and paste snippets of the work and comment on that, some tend to just paraphrase everything and go from that, some take actual sections of the story and paste their numerous comments in between the areas because there's such more to just talk about within the boundaries of the actual text, and then some tend to combine craft all of these together into their own style. The article probably could have been much broader if it talked about the pros and cons about those different styles.

On YWS, we also have a large collection of articles that I find useful when going to review. So instead of rambling on for paragraphs and paragraphs on why the scene would have been better suited paraphrased in a few sentences rather than drawn out, I could just link a an article from the Knowledge Base that presents my thoughts more effectively.

The best piece of reviewing advice that I've ever heard is: "write the type of review that you would want to receive" and I feel like that can apply to this a lot. You, as the author, might like to get these types of reviews, while someone else may not. But that's pretty much what matters.

Anyway, I hope that you keep on writing!

~Adrian, Knight of RED

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Wed Jan 13, 2016 3:01 am
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Carlito says...

Well now I want to go review something ;)

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493 Reviews

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Mon Jan 04, 2016 1:04 am
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Holysocks wrote a review...

Hello there! I hope you don't mind me dropping a review on your reviewing article. ;)

I have to say, this was a brave piece to write. I like to think that many, if not most, reviewers take a lot of pride in their reviews, or at least... generally don't like being told what to do! But I can see why you'd write this; there certainly is a lot of things that could be improved by the way we write reviews.

A lot of your advice in here is just a matter of opinion, for example you say:

Don’t go overboard in using different colored fonts, italics, bold, etc. to make your critiques.

You say that this can be confusing, and it can, I suppose... but that's actually some peoples way of organizing, and you state that organization is a good thing to have. Everyone's different, and that's probably the biggest thing I see with this piece: a lot of this is general opinions and advice that probably won't work for everyone. It's still good advice, but saying "everyone needs to do this" is never going to go over well. Everyone has their style, and opinions on what makes a good review (or most people that review do).

Personally, I don't care what people do when they review my piece, as long as they give me their honest opinion. Sure, it's nice to get praise. Sure, it's nice when it's organized and the grammar is pristine and they explain everything so clearly that you can see your own brain working in the reflection of their review (don't worry, I didn't understand that simile either), but the truth is... it's not always going to be pretty. I mean, half the time I ramble to authors just to get out the thought that I was trying to convey- so I'm not a reviewer that's very organized, let's say.

Another thing: There's almost a... 'level' of reviewer, if that doesn't sound too odd. there's some that just seem to be coming to get points, and really not putting as much effort as they could in (maybe no one's showed them how, I'm not trying to judge- obviously no one's showed them, actually)... I'd say these are often new members and possibly younger users, although it can be anyone. And then there's people that put effort in, etc, and then there's people that enjoy reviewing. And then there's people that REALLY enjoy reviewing and do it religiously! And there's other levels and types, and such. The REASON for my rambling: You cover all of these. You'd think that'd be a good thing- and it's not bad, but when someone that already realizes not to have your greeting as half of your review reads that... it's like you're trying to pick out what's relevant to you, ya know? And than telling someone that does ten billion smileys to be cheery or something. Maybe this doesn't make sense, but I just feel like it would almost be best to aim at one type of 'level' and then another, perhaps...

5. Be respectful.

I felt that this was probably the best advice you give. When it comes down to it, we're all looking for opinions on our works, and no one wants to be insulted. Not after putting that trust out there, as you say. I fully agree with this bit of advice, that everyone should aim to be respectful- in anything and everything, never mind reviews.

Anyway, keep it up! I hope to see your writing around~


alliyah says...

Thanks for this review Socks! You make some good points. I agree with the point that I may have written to too large of an audience ie.people who are novice & experienced reviewers & everywhere in between. I think I'll edit this piece to give more clarity to that issue. It also has a lot of plain ranting at this point ( which as you point out has a lot of opinion worked in). You demonstrate really well how someone can write a ' less organized' review & still deliver good content. Thanks again!

Holysocks says...

Ah, I never saw this comment! No problem; glad it made sense. c:

I have lived through much, and now I think I have found what is needed for happiness. A quiet secluded life in the country, with the possibility of being useful to people to whom it is easy to do good... then rest, nature, books, music, love for one's neighbor - such is my idea of happiness.
— Leo Tolstoy