Reviewing 101

Published by HeinleinFan in the blog HeinleinFan's blog. Views: 97

Many people come to the WritingForums with a great deal of general knowledge, but without the specific skill required to write a useful critique. This is entirely reasonable; school reports tend to ask about plot, or characterization, or about the greater goals of the author, but rarely require students to find ways to improve a piece of writing except at the most basic level.

This is not school. Here, the most basic reviews are not enough. They are useful for practice, and no one will think ill of someone who is trying to improve their critiquing abilities. But for those members who wish to post a piece of their work for review and commentary, these extremely basic reviews generally will not count toward the two review requirement.

The following suggestions are meant to address this problem. If you already know how to review, this is too basic for you. But if you keep writing reviews and the mods still won't let you post your work, keep reading.

Step one: choose a piece that isn't too long for you, and read it thoroughly from beginning to end. If you find yourself skimming, go back and find another piece, one that is at least interesting enough to hold your attention.

Step two: find two things you like about the writer's style. Including examples. Plural: examples.

Step three: write one full paragraph, minimum, about the aspects of the writer's style that you liked.

Maybe they have a different dialogue voice for each character. Maybe they are good at describing the setting. Maybe the piece starts off with action, so the reader is immediately brought into the story. Whatever it is, mention it.

Provide examples of where the writer did it right. Rephrase these passages; do not simply quote the material. This prevents the review from turning into a bland "your writing is awesome!" screed, and focuses the author on the things they're doing well before it looks at the things they aren't doing so well.

Step four: find two errors the author made. They can be technical in nature, related to spelling, grammar and punctuation. Or they can be fuzzier, about characterization and setting, dialogue and vocabulary.

Step five: write a paragraph, minimum, about these errors. Cite the paragraph the error occurred (Example: "Paragraph six spells the name Dianna, but paragraph eight spells it Diana. There's an error here.")

Step six: come up with two questions you have about the story. They could be about the characters' pasts, or about the setting, or maybe the author made another mistake and you're wondering why something doesn't seem right about the story.

Step seven: write one paragraph, minimum, about these questions. Explain why these questions, in particular, came to mind. (Example: "For the first half of the story, John seems really nervous, but then when he shows down the villain he's suddenly calm and in control. Does he have combat experience, or something else that explains this sudden change?)

Step eight: Sum up your points in a conclusion.


That should be enough to get you onto the right track. And a four-paragraph review with actual evidence is more likely to meet the Writing Forums requirements.

However, a few quick things to check before you put your review up:

Delete chaff.
If you said, "This is so good, I could never write like this," fine. But don't include it in the body of the review. (In the conclusion is fine. After you've written the three useful paragraphs as mentioned above.)

If you said, "I'm a new writer, I don't know how to review yet," delete it.

If you said, "This is wordy," provide examples or delete. (Example: "In the ninth paragraph, when you explain how a grappling gun works, it seems like the action just stops. Maybe cut out a sentence or two, make the explanation shorter.")

Other things that need examples to be useful:
"This doesn't flow well."
"The story flows pretty smoothly for the most part, except for a couple places."
"I liked the way you wrote about INSERT NOUN HERE."
"I liked your vocabulary."
"You need more vocabulary."
"Your writing needs to be clearer."
Anything involving the pace or tension also needs to include examples.

And, finally...
If you or someone you know keeps writing one-paragraph or long-but-useless reviews, send them to this blog post. No point in them hitting their head on a wall when there's a ladder ten feet to their left.
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