How to Write a Review

cnetreviews-logoReviews are one of the most difficult kinds of posts bloggers commonly write. Where most can tell a story, offer instructions or even voice an opinion pretty well, writing a review that is complete, useful and reasonably short is extremely difficult.

Too often blog reviews come across as biased or simply mean or seem to have no real purpose. Writing a review of a product, service or event is not as simple as saying what you think, one has to be complete, thorough and honest, both about themselves and their opinions.

Fortunately, there is a formula that can help you ensure your review is complete and useful. It’s good not just for blogs, but for reviews you put anywhere, including online stores and auction sites. It’s also a flexible format that can be used for short reviews, less than 200 words, to lengthier ones like what Ars Technica sometimes does for major new products.

Best of all, it only takes a few minutes to learn and, once mastered, is almost impossible to forget.

The Basics

A basic review has five parts which, when used in order, help give a complete picture of the subject of the review.

  1. Introduction: The introduction is more about yourself and how you came review the item, tell a story of you must. This is a place to be upfront with your personal biases and issues. (IE: I’m usually a Mac user but decided to give Windows 7 a try). This not only puts your prejudices out into the open, but establishes where you are coming from and helps like-minded readers connect with you.
  2. Background: Next, talk about the subject itself but only discuss facts. Who makes it, what’s its history, what is it designed to do, etc. This not only gives you a chance to flex your knowledge and research some, but also lets you frame what’s to follow by talking about the expectations the subject creates for itself.
  3. The Good: Next, talk about what is good with the subject. This can be very difficult when dealing with a bad review, but it is important to talk about what you liked. Even if it isn’t much. If you can’t find anything, it’s best to abandon the review format and write a rant or opinion piece instead.
  4. The Bad:After talking about the good, talk about what went wrong. You can, if the review is “bad heavy” flip this with the item above it but these have to be separate and at least somewhat balanced. This can be difficult to do, but can help give a review a balanced feel while still making your opinions clear.
  5. Conclusions: Once you’ve done all of that, you need to bring it all together. This is where you tie everything up, express your opinion in a nutshell, being sure to pull from what came above. This is what you want the reader to leave with and be sure to try and speak to them, listing cases where subject might be better or worse.

In short, the object is to frame the story with information about the reviewer, information about the subject, provide details on both good and bad elements and then tie it together with well supported conclusions.

If you can do that, you should walk away with a review that people will find to be balanced and fair, even if they disagree with the conclusions.

Scoring

Another element many, if not most, reviews have is some form of score. Whether it’s thumbs up/down, out of five stars, out of ten or out of a hundred, most reviews try to tie up their opinion with something that can be understood at a glance.

Doing this is dangerous as it can be very difficult to summarize a complicated opinion in a simple number. To make matters worse, you might not enjoy a product but might think it useful for someone else, thus a weak numeric review might causes others to ignore it unjustly.

If you give a numeric review, it is important that you make your average, well, average. For example, with video games, average review scores, out of ten, tend to be between 6-8, though five is the mathematical average.

When giving a score, start with the average and work forward or backward and try to avoid giving perfect scores, good or bad. It can put you in a real bind if something better or worse comes along later.

There’s nothing wrong with giving a score (or not giving one) but be sure to use them well and do not put too much emphasis on them.

Bottom Line

Writing a good review can be difficult. But if you’re willing to follow the structure above, it becomes much easier to make sure your review is complete, balanced and useful.

Though it isn’t the only formula for a review, it is the easiest one of I’ve found to follow and remember. Best of all, it pretty much forces you to be complete and thorough though you can use it to write much shorter reviews, such as the ones you might post on Amazon.

In fact, you’ll find that many sites that accept user reviews, including Cnet sites, push both their reviewers and the public to use a similar structure (Pros, Cons and Summary).

It’s simple and effective and that’s reason enough to at least give it a try.

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8 Comments

  1. David Walker November 5, 2009
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