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"the audience is only safe when the story isn't about them."

they/them - probably listening to sufjan stevens

Message to Readers


The Reviewing Pro-Tips That They Don't Want You to Know (kidding, just some regular tips)

January 4, 2019


    I think all of us get annoyed by bad reviews. You log on or refresh your dashboard, and low and behold! A notification! And not just a comment or a like, but someone has taken the time to write you a review! Eagerly, you click on it and begin reading, ready to hear feedback on your piece.
    But your excitement fizzles out as you see that the review is about three lines. No highlights, and the answers to the questions are the bare minimum. "What about this piece delighted you?" "Everything." "What could the writer add?" "Nothing." "Additional comments?" "It was good."
    This is the absolute worst kind of review in my opinion. I would take an overly harsh review over this kind any day, because at least the former will help you improve the piece, whereas the latter serves absolutely no function.
    Of course, there are many reviews that aren't this, but aren't exactly an improvement over this. I'm talking about reviews that are extremely positive or tell you how much they like it without actually telling you why. I almost feel bad saying this because these people take the time to write reviews, and they're actually trying to help by being supportive. But in the end, they don't actually do much.
    If you've written a review that is similar to the ones I described above, don't feel bad, because that's what I used to do too. I like to think that I've improved since then; my reviews have gotten much longer and more detailed. So here I'm going to share what I do and my tips as to how to write a good review.

Criticism Isn't a Bad Thing
    I'm the co-runner of the Corner Writing Club (go check it out if you haven't already) and part of that is reading the forms that people fill out when they first join. There's one question that asks what your reviewing style is, and I'd say that half, if not more, of the people say that they mostly focus on the positive aspects of the piece or don't give criticism because they don't want to hurt anyone's feelings.
    And I die a little inside every time that I read that. Because criticism, most of the time, is not going to hurt their feelings. Put yourself in the writer's shoes. When you publish a piece and ask for reviews, you want to hear not just positive feedback, but how you can improve the piece, right? You want to know if anything was off or if there was anything that could be better. You want to become a better writer. And, most of the time, criticism is not hurtful if it's phrased in a constructive way. If you say "you suck at dialogue lmao" then of course that'll be offensive, but if you say "I feel like this dialogue was a bit stiff, here's how you could fix that" then it'll just be helpful.

The Fundamentals
I probably should've put this first, but it's too late now. First of all, we have to understand what a review is. I read once when browsing the internet that a review is meant to help the writer achieve what they want to achieve in the piece (actually, that might have been in the FAQ section of WtW, I forget). So, relating to what I said above, only pointing out what worked in a piece is only completing half of the job. It's encouraging them, but it's not giving them any advice as to how to achieve their vision. 
    Another thing: you're trying to help them achieve what THEY want, not what YOU want. It's completely unhelpful to say "this piece was cool but I would like it if you made it so that the villain was actually an alien in disguise" or "it'd be neat if these characters fell in love." If you want to write a piece like that, go for it, but reviews should be about them and their piece, not your ideas or preferences.
    That being said, the first step is to understand what the writer wants to achieve. If you don't understand the piece, you probably shouldn't review it.

Be Detailed!
    When writing a review, there should always be a "because." Yes, you could say "this piece was good," but that's not helpful at all. More helpful: "this piece was good because..."
    By the way, saying that "this piece was good because I liked the imagery," while being a step up, still isn't the best. Try "I liked the imagery because it evoked vivid emotion and allowed me to really see what you wanted the readers to see." And then maybe you could add some lines that you particularly liked. 
    This goes for criticism, too! Don't say, "the characters don't feel realistic." In addition to being a bit harsh, it doesn't actually help the writer. Instead, you could say "I feel like you could expand on the main character. While he is intriguing, we don't know much about him and that makes it hard to empathize with him. I suggest defining his personality traits and letting them shine, in addition to showing the reader his hobbies and opinions, what he likes and doesn't like, so he seems more real." The latter is much, much more helpful, don't you think?    
    Don't just tell the writer what worked, tell them why it worked. And don't just tell them what could be improved, tell them why and how they could improve it.

Use. The. Highlighter.
I think the highlighting tool is one of my favorite parts of WtW. That seems like an exaggeration, and it kinda is, but seriously, the highlighter is amazing. It's far too often that I get not-so-great or even perfectly fine reviews that just don't use the highlighter, and it always irks me. Use it to your advantage!
    Things it can be used for:
    - showing a line that you particularly liked
    - showing a line that was stiff or awkward
    - informing the writer of a typo/error/grammar mistake
    - showing a place where more could be added
    -showing parts that could be removed
    -showing unnecessary words
    - showing parts that intrigued you or that you liked
    See what I mean? And that's not even a full list, I'm sure I could think of many more uses. The highlighting tool is. So. Helpful.
Take Your Time
Don't write a review just to get a badge. Don't write a review just for the sake of writing a review. These are all recipes for reviews that aren't very helpful. Write a review because you want to help the writer. 
    Reviews aren't meant to be written in two minutes. Put thought into them, take your time, read through the piece in question carefully. In Corner Writing Club, there's a reason we give you a whole week to review your pieces.

    Well, those are all the tips I have as of right now. I hope they were helpful! And I don't mean to offend or call out anyone, I just want to help everyone, even good reviewers, to be even better, because I think it'll make Write the World a much better place. If you have any techniques you use, or anything to add, feel free to put that in a comment! And if you have any questions or anything, feel free to ask! I hope this was helpful!   


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  • Ursa

    Yes!! This is so true. Compliments are nice, but not when there are only compliments. . .I am a pretty critical reviewer, but I don't review a lot of pieces. Kahasai reviews a lot and I know for a fact she has to turn down her critiques so that WtW won't withhold the review. . . which is another reason why I have to even out my critiques with compliments, because the reviews have to pass inspection.

    over 2 years ago
  • AbigailSauble

    I write reviews somewhat how you're describing them here, and while if I see/correct something that needs to be fixed on a piece, I don't often see how the entire piece itself can be changed to be something greater. Usually I love it just the way it is, and add little pieces and bits to change and whatnot. ;)

    Thank you for writing this, though!

    over 2 years ago
  • nevaredhp

    Thank you SO much for this piece! Honestly, when I read your review of my #rwisdomcontest story, I almost cried because you were so detailed and always explained why you liked it. Hopefully I can utilize these tips when the January Reviewing Assignments come out :)

    over 2 years ago
  • Silver Pen

    Those tiny reviews are such disappointments! Not that I'm much better -- sometimes my reviews need a lot more scope. I'll try to remember the highlighter and because rules. I'll also find out what happens to a review when I save it but don't publish it, log out, and then come back. This should be...a learning curve. Your tip for looking at criticism from the author's point of view was extremely helpful! I'm one of the people who has trouble giving criticism. I'm critical enough in real life; do I need to leave more disappointment and bruised self-esteem in my wake? NO! As long as I'm civil, I won't hurt anyone's feelings In fact, since I've been glad to receive critism, they may also be glad to receive it! This literally changed how I view criticism. Thanks so much!

    over 2 years ago
  • pieridae!

    Thank you so much for bringing attention to this. I can't stand when someone reviews something and there isn't anything highlighted, just a sentence or two in the questions area. It's almost as if they are being forced to write the review, ya know? Anyway, I've tried to improve the details of my reviews over the three-and-a-half-ish months I've been here, and they're still nowhere near perfect, and probably not what the writers hopes and expectations were, so thank you for posting this, for while I believe it will help people who are new to reviewing, it will also help people who have been reviewing for a little longer make sure that they are doing what they should be. (wow that was a really long run-on sentence. I am so sorry!)

    over 2 years ago
  • _________

    Complete Newbie here! And proud of it. I know most of you by name though :D
    As said before, this is a fantastic piece providing great tips to reviewers :)
    Look forward to @Hanan Adi's also :D

    over 2 years ago
  • Hanan Adi

    RainAndSonder, you beat me to this. These past two weeks I myself have been working on an article about peer review! I am still working on it, so you will not see it for a while yet. I agree with all of your points, but my approach to the topic is different, so our articles will probably balance each other out nicely. At any rate, I have bookmarked yours so that I can tag it when I publish mine. Thank you so much for taking the time to write this and for sharing it. It means so much to me to find someone else who truly cherishes peer review for the essential and beautiful function that it is. May your ink flow forever!

    P.S., I have been around since this community was so small I could identify every writer by name. Everyone here is small fry to me. If you are "elderly," I am a dinosaur.

    over 2 years ago
  • Araw

    Oh my Lord if I get another five word review I will cry myself to sleep. Guys please follow these tips.

    over 2 years ago
  • Anha


    over 2 years ago
  • paperbird


    over 2 years ago
  • Kahasai

    Yes! That's why I'm always a bit concerned when I see one of the user-hosted contest prizes (e.g., first place will receive 10 reviews). Those three line reviews say things that could really be said in a comment.

    Thank you so much for sharing this.

    over 2 years ago
  • _________

    This is definitely a good piece with awesome tips for reviewers. While I can pretty honestly say that I've never written a review that just said 'this is a nice poem', I received one very like that today and it didn't make me very happy although I appreciated the peer who took the time to review it very much. I have written over 40 reviews now and really hope that each one has been helpful. I remember taking the Corner Writing Club form a while ago and I think I wrote that I mostly picked up on grammar/spelling errors. I have desperately been trying to improve my reviews since then and have forced myself to give people honest criticism :))
    Taking your time is extremely important. Sometimes I take as long as a week to write one review, not because I'm lazy and don't care about getting it done, but because I want to be sure that I write the best review I can and get all the details in for that piece.
    I just realized that this is an extremely long comment, so I'll try to shorten the following :)
    What you said about the highlighter is also a good thing to point out. I like to use it for grammar/spelling and annotations about how the highlighted part affects me. I might also add something like 'oh no!' or even just a smiley face to let the writer know how that part made me feel.
    Thank you for writing this piece and I hope it helps everybody here make there reviews more meaningful :) I will definitely keep your 'because' rule in mind because I sometimes overlook it :))

    over 2 years ago
  • Mangolover

    Great tips :D

    over 2 years ago