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.
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.
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.