I’ve talked before (see Links, below) about how I write a critique, but I’ve never written about how I do a general review. Time to change that!
Essentially, I see a review as a persuasive argument. Your review of the product gives, first, your opinion of the product and then why you feel/think the way you do.
So far so good. But a great review goes beyond this and uses the writer’s own experiences to shape a persuasive argument: “I think this product is lousy/great … and so should you!” The stronger the reasons for your opinion, the stronger your argument.
For instance, let’s say that the Kitchen-Gadgetinator 2000 is, hands down, the best apple corer I’ve ever used. That would become my thesis, my claim. I’d back up this claim by listing its positive features. (For example, “The Kitchen Gadgetinator 2000 is fast! Most gadgets take two full minutes to core an apple but this dohickey takes under a minute.”)
Like any good argument, though, if there are negatives about the product they need to be discussed. If you love the product, why do you love it despite these defects? Conversely, if the product has many positive points, but you hate it anyway, why do you?
Talk about your experiences with the product. After all, your experiences are the reason you’re writing the review!
Even though the number one reason anyone reads a review is that they want to know the answer to the question, Would I like this, if you can get the customer to smile, if you can reach beyond the page and change your reader's emotion, then—no matter what kind of writing you’re doing—it’s good writing.
Who Is Your Audience?
Taylor your review to your intended audience.
If you love the product you’re reviewing, then chances are you won’t have to do much audience research. I love role-playing games. I watch game trailers as they come out and have more-or-less strong ideas about what makes a game great. And, of course, I have my own list of “the greatest games ever made,” a list which is pretty much guaranteed to be different from everyone else’s list!
But no matter how I feel about the product I try to talk to as many people as I can who have used it. It could be that my reactions to the product are idiosyncratic, or I just don’t ‘get’ it. If this is the case still write the review, but mention that you realize your opinion is in the minority.
Compare The Product To Similar Products
Say you’re reviewing a camera. You might think the camera is terrific, but talking about, say, two close runner ups will give your readers perspective. This is where a comparison chart of key features might come in useful.
You probably can’t—and wouldn’t want to—talk equally about all the product’s features.
- Does the product have a killer feature? If it’s a camera, is it smaller than all other cameras? Lighter? Etc.
- What are, in your opinion, the product’s most important features?
- Do these features work as advertized?
- What did you like about each feature? Dislike?
- What was your first impression of the product?
- What things are easier to do if you use the product?
- Was there anything you had a bit of trouble figuring out?
- Is there something you thought the product or service would do for you, but it didn’t? Or, alternatively, anything that came as a pleasant surprise?
- Did the product meet your expectations?
- Is there anything that surprised you about the product? Was the surprise good? Bad?
Generally, the only credentials one needs to write a review is your experience with the product. That said, readers would appreciate knowing a bit about you if the details are relevant to the product under review. For instance, if you’re reviewing a RPG game, your readers might be interested in which other RPG games you’ve played, which RPG game was your favorite, and so on. This information helps the reader understand your likes and dislikes and, I think, can help them get more out of your review.
Also, I think it’s much more fun to read a review that’s a bit personal and chatty. Don’t misunderstand, I want the facts, but I like it when they’re delivered in an entertaining and memorable way.
I try to (“try” being the operative word!) make the first line snappy, something to grab the reader's attention and showcase my writing style. I want to let the reader know this will be an informal, breesy, post—perhaps even a humorous post—and that they’ll learn something about the product in question that could be valuable to them.
Somewhere in the remainder of the first paragraph I’ll give the name of the product, I’ll also describe the product, what it does, how it can make a person’s life better, and so on.
At the end of the first paragraph I’ll inform my readers if I received a complimentary copy of the product for the purposes of review. Some folks do this at the beginning, in the first sentence, and that’s absolutely fine. Myself, since often the first sentence is what tells someone whether they want to read the review, I try and make my first sentence stand out from the crowd. I think as long as a writer is up front early in the review on about how they came by the product or service, that’s fine.
Ultimately, There Are No Rules
The only rule for writing well is that there are no rules. One hears this in connection with narrative fiction, but I think it’s just as true for review pieces. Which isn’t to say that certain ways of organizing your content don’t lend themselves more to being read and positively commented on.
How do you write a review? Please share your tips and tricks!
The Dark Art Of Critiquing, Part 1
Writing A Critique: Reading Critically
How To Write A Critique: The Sandwich Method