Reviews are a special kind of opinion, but they’re still an opinion. People often forget this fact as they read a review and accept as factual anything the reviewer has to say. However, even the best review is the opinion of the reviewer—making reviews extremely hard nuts to crack in determining their value to the reader. The best reviews do contain facts and the best reviewers do try to focus their opinion of the product from several perspectives. A good review takes time to write because the author must overcome biases to an extent and try to provide material that will appeal to a larger audience. Good reviews require critical thinking—a type of thinking that’s in short supply in our politically correct society.
Of course, examples of poor reviews abound. John Dvorak recently wrote a post about the potentially corrupt reviews on Amazon (something I’ve suspected for a long time). Short, single paragraph (or sometimes sentence) reviews aren’t all that helpful. Reviews that gush over a product without saying why the product is so great aren’t helpful either. Equally useless are reviews that decry a product as shoddy without explaining what makes it so terrible. In fact, there are few (if any) perfect or completely useless products out there—reviews often become a question of balance between the two extremes. Unfortunately, some organizations that request reviews try to artificially balance the review by asking for the three best and three worst features (even when a product lacks sufficient good or bad features to fill the blanks).
So, how do you write a helpful review? First, you begin by actually using the product. If you’re reviewing a movie, watch the entire movie before you start writing anything. Likewise, read the entire book you’re reviewing or test other products in a real world environment, rather than in a lab. In some cases, you see reviews based on the beginning of a movie, a chapter of a book, or the reviewer’s impression after opening the package. Such reviews are useless because they don’t consider the product as a whole.
After you’ve examined the product completely, it’s time to start writing the review. Explore what you feel about the product. Does it work as intended? Is it helpful? Write down your impressions as they come to you. Take time to think about the product critically. Could someone other than you have a use for this product? After all, you already know how you feel about the product—a review is meant to help someone else understand the product better, so you’re writing for them, not for yourself.
Verify your impressions by going back to the product. Does the book really contain 101 secrets to making a million dollars by age 10? Is the movie truly presenting a hidden agenda in a candy-coated package? The act of verifying your impressions is important because we all remember things that aren’t actually there. Checking your facts is the mark of a superior reviewer.
Put your impressions into some sort of comprehensible order. Nothing is worse than reading a review composed of seemingly unrelated thoughts. A review should flow in some sort of order. A movie or book often lends itself to a chronological flow—from beginning to end. However, some reviews work best if you can provide an overview, the good parts, the bad parts, any special features, and then a bottom line that answers the question, “Is this a good product?” or “Why should you buy this product.”
Set the review aside for a day. Go back and read it again. Does the review still ring true? Do you still feel the words you’ve written or have things changed now that you’ve had time to think about the product more? A review is an opinion—it’s biased in some respects. However, even with the opinion, even with the bias, a good review still conveys useful information about the product, especially when you back your opinions and biases up with facts.
Not many people want to take the time to write a helpful review. The best reviews require time and skill to write. A helpful review isn’t written in the heat of the moment and it doesn’t lash out at anyone. When you write a good review, it reflects your honest opinion about the product and doesn’t attack the product’s creator. After all, you know about the product, but know nothing about the product’s creator and there is nothing you can tell anyone about the product’s creator, so why go in that direction?
What else would you add to the skills of a good reviewer? Are there any special features you look for in reviews? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.