The Art of Reviewing: Part Three: How to Talk in a Review

Author: Anastasia V. Pergakis // Category:

Each writer and story is different, so they require their own unique review. I usually remain professional in a review, try to stay detached, but some times I don't always pull this off. I am easily excitable and it comes through in my review.

However, the main point above all is to BE POLITE AND COURTEOUS! No matter what! Even if you are reading your best friend's work and you can be a little silly with the review, you still need to be polite!

What exactly do I mean? Well obviously, in a review you should never say "This sucks!" That is rude and not encouraging to the writer at all. But if you explain politely what is wrong or why you didn't like it, you'll get a much better reception. "While you had a good plot, I felt that your characters needed to be improved a bit. Here's some suggestions on how to do that."

You get the idea. Do you see how the second sentence is SO much better than the first? Wouldn't you want to read the second as opposed to the first in a review of your own work? I would.

Now that that is out of the way, let's talk about professional vs personal. When grading things in the Academy, I try to remain professional. I don't always pull it off but I do try. I need to maintain that level of professionallism to the students and to the other professors. Even when I get a bit personal in the review, I still make it professional in some way.

What is the difference exactly? Well in a personal review (like if I was just reading something for a friend and they wanted to know what I thought) I'd probably say something like:

"It's awesome! So and So is my favorite character! She's such a badass!"

However, in a professional review, it would sound like this:

"You have a solid plot here! I truly enjoyed reading it. You portrayed the character so and so very clearly and I enjoyed reading about them the most."

See the difference? I said basically the same thing, but with some differences in tone.

I'm sure some of my students are saying "Well no, you'd still mention the character was a badass!" They are probably right. Like I said, I don't always pull off full professionalism in my reviews - but I think that it works for me that way. My students know I care and that I'm passionate about what I do. I hope it makes them see that I am not "better" than they are by any means. I'm a writer, struggling to make it, just as they are.

Find a balance of professional and personal that works for you when reviewing. I tend to mix it up a bit, obviously - but this might not work for everyone.

No matter how you do it, there are a few points to remember::

1. Be polite (No matter what!)
2. Be encouraging. (Encourage them to continue on and keep writing!)
3. Explain what you mean. (Don't just say the characters are flat - say why.)
4. Give suggestions. (Suggestions can help them improve!)
5. Be polite!!!! (I can't stress this part enough!)

***If you have any questions about how I review, please ask them in a comment this week! I'll be posting the answers up on Saturday!***

6 Responses to "The Art of Reviewing: Part Three: How to Talk in a Review"

Eric W. Trant Says :
April 15, 2010 at 1:24 PM

You're right: be kind and gentle. Critique is a personal thing. Just banging out the words is worth praise, even if all 2500 of them stink!

Because we all know how hard it is to bang out 2500 stinky words, don't we.

- Eric

Kirsten Lesko Says :
April 15, 2010 at 3:26 PM

I'm with you on the polite part. There's enough negativity out there without contributing to it.

Jon Paul Says :
April 15, 2010 at 5:35 PM

Harley--some good points here. I think that your emphasis on politeness is important, because feeling supported can really help creativity bloom--with the opposite being true when criticism is too harsh.

Nice post. Thanks for putting it up.

KarenG Says :
April 15, 2010 at 8:14 PM

Excellent points! If a blogger's going to post a review it needs to be professional. Not gushy, not critical. Say what's good about it and why! No need to say what you didn't like about it either imho.

Anthony J Langford Says :
April 15, 2010 at 11:10 PM

You're totally right of course Harley.. and it is so simple really and much appreciated when done right. Afterall we are sensitive types and putting our work out there is a risk and we can be offended easily. Always pays to be courteous in blogs, in writing and in life.


Eric W. Trant Says :
April 16, 2010 at 8:10 AM

Karen brought up an interesting point: "No need to say what you didn't like about it..."

I have readers who only mention good things. That's great for encouragement, but it doesn't help me improve.

One reader I have is an English Honors teacher. Example comments from her:

"That story is anecdotal. It doesn't belong in you short story anthology."

"The middle part was boring and I'm not sure where it fit into the story. The last part was the most fleshed-out and well-written of your piece. It flowed through to the end."

"This story was unique, witty, with a strong and confident voice! I loved reading it! That's your voice, Eric!" (And I thought it was one of my worst pieces. Go figger.)

Mixing likes and dislikes helps so long as it is done with taste.

Then her positive comments don't sound patronizing!

She's reviewing my latest novel right now. I may not hear back from her until summer, but you can bet it'll be full of both happy faces and red-ink x-marks.

- Eric

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