Tuesday, April 3, 2012

On Writing Reviews

With the growth of online zines, blogs, and consumer sites like Amazon, Yelp, and Goodreads, everyone with an opinion and the time to share it has an opportunity to become a reviewer.

So knowing how to write a review is important. What's more, a review should be well written and carefully edited to the best of one's ability. It doesn't matter if you're reviewing the latest book in The Twilight series, a new BMW sports sedan, or a hammer you've purchased from Home Depot. The old adage, "If it's worth doing, it's worth doing well," rings true. Chances are you aren't being highly paid for your review, so the reward should come from a job well done, and the opportunity to sway the opinions and earn the respect of readers who are interested in what you're reviewing.

The one thing to always remember is that you are writing the review not for yourself but for others. It's not enough to say the movie was "bad" or the book was "good," people want to know why. This can be challenging depending upon the subject you're reviewing. When I reviewed rock music albums for OnlineRock (you can read some here and here or here) I discovered how difficult it was to describe the songs and sounds of a new album, particularly by bands theretofore unknown, without comparing them to other bands or shelving them into certain genres. But eventually I gave in, not (necessarily) because it made my job as a music reviewer much easier, but because I knew OnlineRock readers would find the review more helpful if I could relate something they'd never heard to something with which they were familiar. While it makes the actual writing easier it does require a fairly broad knowledge of bands and genres, more so, say, than a thorough understanding of movie history and films for a film reviewer or a thorough grasp of the literary canon for a book reviewer.

Speaking of books, there was a time when I reviewed books for the San Francisco Chronicle (way back in the "Old Days," pre-Obama, when daily newspapers still had book review sections). You can find some here and here and here. It was a good way to showcase my writing chops while also displaying critical thinking ability--a resume or CV padder, if you will. While there are far fewer opportunities to review books for print publications, there are ample opportunities to review books for many reputable online publications. The first thing you'll need to do is query the publication to make sure they'll be willing to publish your review. Once they say yes, be sure to follow any guidelines they provide.

While music, film and book reviews are most common, writers can find great opportunities to review all kinds of things they're interested in. I once worked with someone who loved cars, and got to test drive and review hundreds of fancy and high-performance new cars for years on end. The one common denominator, again, is that the review you write is tailored to those you expect to find interest in your review. You must be honest in your critique and fair in your criticism. When reviewing something, I try never to mislead people. I want to be as clear as possible in why I like or dislike something so someone with a different taste will realize their view may be quite different than mine.

It's also important to stick to the subject at hand, and not go astray. And you'll be doing lots of editing and revising. This is particularly true if you've been assigned to review something as publications have strict word counts. But have fun while you're at it, and if you're diligent enough and have a passion for it, you'll likely become a trusted reviewer.


Anne LaBrie said...

My favorite part of this article was the idea to write why I like or dislike something so someone with a different taste will realize their view may be quite different - I love knowing "why"!

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