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Friday, August 10, 2012

Discussion: The Art of Reviews


The Art of Reviews
"Hi, I love these posts! I am kind of a new blogger, been blogging since February 19 and I feel that sometimes I forget what to include in a review. I know plot, writing style, characters, and overall but sometimes the reviews are still short and I feel like I should add something more." -Taylor
I think reviews are something we all struggle with at one point or another in our blogging careers. I know I have a hard time just writing them sometimes. I have to take notes unless I plan on writing my reviews immediately after reading the book, and I have to follow the same format for each review because I'm a horrible writer when I don't structure myself in one way or another. I think that as long as you say what you want in your reviews than that's all that matters.

How do I structure my reviews?
I follow a four paragraph format for every review that goes something like this:

  1. Overview of what I thought - This is where I lead into my review. I give some more details as to what the story was about, whether I liked the book or not, and whether or not I'd recommend it. It's basically my introductory paragraph. Here is where you'll get some quick insight into what I thought without having to read the whole review.
  2. Characters - In the second paragraph I go into detail about the characters. Who was my favorite? Least favorite? Did I connect with the characters? Were they easy to relate to? Was the romance realistic or was it some crappy insta-love? Anything I could possibly want you to know about the characters will be in this paragraph.
  3. Plot lines, world building, and writing style - In the third paragraph I'll move into the actual story line and what I thought about it. I'll let you know about the author's writing style and whether or not they captured me with elegant similes or had me trudging through choppy sentence structures. I'll also give some details about the world building and whether or not I'd like to live there (Hunger Games? Way too realistic for me! I'd hate to live there only because Suzanne Collins did an awesome job of creating Panem). The best books will have you living inside of them for as long as it takes you to read them. 
  4. Overall I thought... - My last paragraph is basically my conclusion. This is where I say, "Hey, here are some bullets of all the things I just talked about and what my overall thoughts are about this book." I'll basically repeat what I've already said with possibly a little more flare. At the end, I'll give some comparisons to other stories, "Fans of Twilight will be sure to love this one!" and then I'll give you my final recommendation. Basically, this paragraph wraps up my whole review.
Honestly, I don't think there's really a right or wrong way to write a review. If you get your point across then that's all that matters. I know some people like to write really long reviews and some people like to keep them short and sweet. You just kind of have to experiment and figure out what works for you. However, I will admit that I have a few pet peeves when it comes to reviews...

What I can't stand about your review:

  1. It's longer than the book - I get that you absolutely loved the book and you want to go on and on and on about how amazing it was, but do you really need to write an entire paragraph about your likes and dislikes of every chapter? Honestly, if a review is over 6 long paragraphs I tend to get bored and impatient. I follow a lot blogs and I don't have time to read a review that long. 
  2. You didn't give any of your own opinions - A three paragraph review that's literally just recap of what happened isn't actually a review. I read the synopsis you provided, I don't need to read what happened in your own words as well. I want to know what you thought. A review should be your personal opinions about the book, not just a summary.
  3. It's called proofreading - I get that most bloggers aren't professional writers. I'm an English major and I still make grammatical errors and spelling mistakes, but is it really that big of an inconvenience for you to to proofread your review a couple times? I usually read through mine at least twice before I post them and I still find errors after they're up. When I start reading a review and the first paragraph has tons of obvious spelling mistakes or grammatical errors I just close the screen. I don't have the patience to sit through anything that poorly written.
Maybe I'm a bit picky, but like I said, I follow hundreds of blogs. I think I actually have close to 500 blogs in my Google reader. In order for me to sit through reading a review I need to be wow'd. I need to know by the first paragraph where you're headed. Sometimes, if the review is just too long, I'll skip to the end and hope you summarized your thoughts in one paragraph. Ratings are nice too... for some people.

Why I both love and loathe rating systems.
I had a rating system for a really long time before I finally nixed it. I found people were skipping what I actually wrote and just assuming my rating said it all. It didn't, of course. For me, three stars is good! It meant I liked the book. Maybe I didn't love it, maybe it had some flaws, maybe it didn't have the best writing or the best characters, but I still liked it. However, people would leave comments that would say things like, "Oh, too bad you didn't enjoy this one!" when I clearly stated in my review that I did like the book and I am now eagerly awaiting the sequel!! So, yes, rating systems didn't work out too well for me. However, I like when other people have rating systems because then I can skim through a review and pair what I read with the rating system in order to understand what the reviewer's opinions are. So, I love them, but I also loathe them. 

What are your opinions about reviews? What are some staples you must put in every review?

*****

26 comments:

  1. GREAT topic post! You make some really good points on what to include in a review and I try to do some of the same things (I sent a link over to my sister who is starting a book blog to help with her reading and writing...she's still in high school).

    I actually really like rating systems, or at least an overall paragraph because I usually only read the full reviews of books I've read. I despise having plots points given away and so avoid it at all costs. I'll skim things just to get general points of opinion, and slow down if the review is particularly good, but mainly I'm just picking up the feel of it until after I've read the book myself.

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    1. I agree with you about reading full reviews. I only read the ones for books I've already read and reviewed since I don't want to accidentally incorporate some similar ideas into my own reviews later on. Typically I just read the first and last paragraphs of reviews to get a general idea of what they thought.

      I actually started my blog to help keep me writing over the summer! Hopefully she'll end up enjoying it as much as we all do :)

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  2. That is such a good point about rating systems, I use one because of Goodreads and I like having a way to remember if I did or didn't like it but I feel the same way about 3 stars, it's a good book yet I have people comment on reviews "Oh guess you didn't like this one"... Funny!

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    1. I actually found I was restricting myself a lot when it came to my rating system. I'd write my full review and then end up thinking what I said really didn't reflect the rating at all so I just got rid of them completely. I still use the Goodreads ratings, but I don't have a system for my blog.

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  3. Great topic and I definitely agree with you hun! I don't like super long reviews and reviews that consist of people telling us the story. I mean... I read the synopsis, then why?

    I follow a similar structure and I also have to make notes unless I sit down and write my review right away :)

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    1. I actually found that I can go months without writing a review as long as I take notes. I also try to write my reviews out by hand first. It helps me proof read and reword a lot of things :)

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  4. I'm still figuring out how to write my own reviews. I struggle more often than not, just trying to get my words out and not repeat myself over and over. I try to keep mine shorter as well because I know I don't like to read long reviews.

    I'm the same way with 3 stars. It still means I liked it!

    I also always worry about my grammar. Sometimes I get nervous to link to a publisher on twitter even because what if my grammar is horrible? Or my reviews just sucks. LOL I always proofread about 5 times, but I am not the best with writing so it's a paranoia of mine. So I try to tell myself that as long as I write it the best I can, it is good enough. It doesn't have to always be perfect in order to get the message of my feelings across. (my own personal pep talk-lol)

    Thanks for the great discussion Anna! I love hearing your thoughts on these topics. :)

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    1. When I say proofread, I don't mean you have to have a perfectly structured essay. Obviously your reviews should have your own voice! But it does get annoying when I find three or more spelling mistakes just in the first paragraph. It looks sloppy and careless. Your blog should reflect you and if you fill your reviews with misspellings it doesn't reflect well. I can always appreciate that people struggle with grammar. I'm a senior in college and I struggle with grammar!

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  5. Great post Anna! I cringe looking at some of my early reviews on my blog. I think the most important thing for me is to just be myself. Sometimes it's hard to put things into words, but I pretty much use the same format as you do. It helps me separate different aspects of the story and think about what I want to say about each thing.

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    1. HAHA me too!! Some of my early reviews are SO BAD! I am just like... HEADDESK. I think everyone improves with practice and I don't unfollow people based on one review or something like that. I'll continue to come back!

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  6. Like Amy, some of my earlier reviews are definitely cringeworthy - to the point where I've debated re-doing them. But you live and learn, right?

    I follow a similar structure, because when I don't I can ramble. For a long time. Most of my editing is removing unnecessary stuff that added length, but not substance, to my reviews.

    I do appreciate a rating system, because I like being able to quickly glance at how someone felt about a review. It also helps me separate the books I really liked from the books I loved - because they sometimes walk a very fine line!

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    1. I like using the rating system on Goodreads, but I don't judge someone's entire review on it. Sometimes people will make really good points that are no way reflected by their rating and it's important for me to comment on things that stick out to me. I would hate to make a fool of myself and be like, "Oh too bad you didn't like anything about this! How sad!" When in fact they liked many things. But, hey, that's just me!

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  7. This post is very helpful! My earlier reviews were really rambly and I am not even sure if you can properly call them "reviews." Whatever you do, never EVER read my earlier reviews.

    One thing I worry about is my grammar. I type really, really fast on my computer and sometimes I miss out some words and this happens all the time. I have to read my reviews 5 times before I post them and I have to re-read my comments/replies. It is such a pain in the behind.

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    1. I've found that hand writing reviews beforehand has really helped me write better. I'm able to proofread as I rewrite the review and then I can go back and proofread what I've typed up. It's become a big help in improving my reviews and helping me get my points across.

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  8. Love this post, Anna! I've been struggling a bit with reviews, trying to find a balance between being professional, yet still being myself. I'm constantly working on it, but I do think I've begun to find the right balance. =)

    Anyways, I don't have a structure per say, because each book has different strengths and weaknesses that I like to point out in my review. But, like you, I always have an introductory and conclusion paragraph that introduce and sum up my review, respectively. And I start every paragraph with a sentence that basically sums up the paragraph, so if people need to skim my review, they can just read the first sentence of my paragraph, to get a gist of what I liked and didn't like without reading my elaboration. I think I learned that tactic in school (probably the one useful thing I've ever learned ;) ).

    I also always proofread my reviews. My spelling is horrendous, and I always have to make sure I spell check everything. And sometimes when I reread a review, I find a way to write a part of it better, which improves my reviews overall. =) I usually proofread twice.

    Fabulous post Anna!

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    1. I learned that tactic in school as well! It's really helped me when it comes to reviewing because I'm able to get my main points across in just one sentence and then I can elaborate later on.

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  9. I agree that ratings sometimes can be annoying. And people probably didn't read your review when they commented on it lol. I like how some people use buttons that say things like "must read" instead of star ratings. I kind of want to do that now lol.

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  10. Great topic idea ! I always try and put a line or two in my reviews that puts the book into a context of something greater, after all media isn't in a vacuum. I'll discuss the significance of the genre or how it relates to something current in the book world.

    I like a rating system to help me put my thoughts into context. I get the same thing about people thinking 3 stars means you hated it. For me a 5 star book should be rare and exceptional, a rating that is only brought out when something really wows you, so I hardly use that rating.

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  11. I think you pretty much said it all. I don't follow a set structure, I just sort of go with it, but I try to be as concise as possible and hit all the important parts. I don't want to write a review that's too long (aka usually boring) but I also don't like reviews that are basically 'this book was kinda cool, I liked it because the main character was funny and the writing was good'. You know? There's a happy medium and even after over a year of doing this, I still struggle with it sometimes and find myself paring down reviews once they're written. I HATE it when people basically regurgitate the synopsis in their own words - tell us what you THOUGHT, not what the book was ABOUT.

    As for rating systems, I have a love/hate thing with them, too. Some people absolutely gush about a book but then give it three stars and that can be confusing. I know that for some people three stars is pretty good (like you said yourself, three stars for you isn't bad), but when someone doesn't say anything they disliked about the book, how are we supposed to know why they gave it three stars rather than four or five? It can be misleading. Same as if someone gave a book five stars but didn't really say why they loved it enough to give it that rating. That's something else I still personally struggle - how to rate a book. I usually know what to say about why I did or didn't like it, but the rating can be kind of fuzzy and hard to settle on.

    Anyway, before I get into ramblings territory (too late maybe? lol)...great topic, Anna! :-)

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  12. I agree 100% with all you said about the rating systems. Since I don't use one anymore, I try really hard not to give too much away. And I think that's what I struggle with the most. What is too much? So I still haven't found the happy medium ground of giving just enough.

    Oh, and I HAVE to keep notes!

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  13. Yay another great discussion post! I get so excited when I see you post one :)

    I agree there is no right or wrong way to write a review. I'm constantly changing up how I write my reviews. It's important for me though to show how I really feel about a book. If I really completely love this book then I want the person whose reading my review to see that and to also understand why. I keep going back and forth on the rating system. I use one but I have been debating whether or not I should just get rid of it since December. I'm leaning more towards getting rid of it for so many reasons.

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  14. omg I totally agree about the long review thing! if it's like an essay, the chances are that I will skip it if I don't know you and only read them if I like the writing style. It's SO EASY to spellcheck yet some people totally skip this step, it's annoying! I'm not the best with grammar either but I'd like basic grammar rules followed in reviews. Review ratings are haaard. I still feel like I struggle a bit but overall, I'm happy with the system I have now.

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  15. Fantastic discussion! I struggled with this when I first started blogging, but I think I've figured out what suits me best. I don't have a strict outline I go by; I mostly just jot notes of what I want to say while I'm reading the book, then incorporate those notes into my review. I find that note-taking has really helped me remember and write what I truly want to say about the book. Thanks for sharing- this was really helpful!
    ~Shelby @ Gobs and Gobs of Books

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  16. Awesome duiscussion post! Thank you for the guidelines. This is a great help as i don't know what to write on most of my reviews. I ALWAYS have to proof-read my work as i miss out letters in words and my grammar sucks. I'm also thinking of dropping my ratings because half of the time i struggle rating the book.

    Thanks for the big help! :)

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  17. Very cool and helpful. I am the QUEEN of rambling reviews! If I like a book I want to talk about it forever and a day! Which is OK in other forums, but for reviews on the blog, less is more!
    I am guilty of grammar misuse, lack of use, etc.
    I am learning albeit slowly whats goes where and when and how. I have gotten tons better.
    Spelling I have been OK with. I still run the spell check and before I hit the the final POST IT I ALWAYS go over everything again. I have found so many things right before I posted. I am glad I check! One time I wrote "at it" and it came out "a t..t" lolz.. I know that's not so bad, but still..
    Thanks again!

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  18. Very nice post! I wish I were a better writer or at least a little more disciplined writer. I tend to ramble and even when I go back it's hard for me to really distill down what I want to say. In the end I figure I want others to enjoy my reviews but the main reason I started my blog was to write down my thoughts and feelings about a book so if I go back to my review I can remember if I read it before & my general feelings toward it.

    My pet peeves are the extremely long and the extremely short reviews. I've read some reviews that are even shorter than the synopsis and don't really tell me much about why they felt that way. The long essay like reviews bore me.

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According to FTC guidelines I must point out that all of the books that I review on my blog were either purchased by me or were given to me by the author/publisher. All words and opinions expressed are my own and I do not receive any monetary goods for writing reviews. I will state in my review which books I have received for review and which books I have purchased/borrowed. All images and synopsis are taken from Goodreads.com unless otherwise stated.
 
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