Monday, November 27, 2006

What's in a review?

A review is an evaluation of something, a look at something critically, something you give your opinion on. If you evaluate something, you what? You're talking about it from your viewpoint, whether it be a baseball game or the newest digital camera on the market. It's these features that distinguish a review from other literary formats, but interestingly, you can find reviews within those other literary formats.

It's important to realize the difference between facts and opinions when you want to give a genuine review, or when writing any kind of literary work that you want to be accepted by your peers or audience.

I'll try not to get too far into semantics here. A fact is a truth, a reality of something, a verifiable observation, and not simply limited to the definitions I gave. An opinion is a personal view, it's your thoughts towards something, and like fact is not simply limited to the definition I gave.

When giving a review about a product, it is coming from you. It's your opinions your giving about the product. If you leave out everything, every part of yourself and are only giving verifiable truths about the product then it is not a review. It becomes a description, like a technical or operating manual.

Reviews are reviews because of your opinion(s), which is not fact. Reviews can contain facts concerning the product they're reviewing, but the review itself cannot be factual.

Evaluating a review, or giving a review about a review, is simply the same as reviewing a product. If this is the case, then how do we determine what makes a review legitimate, what makes one review better than the other? We get into a case of opinion becoming fact. An opinion can become a fact simply by everyone agreeing on it. We have scholars who have, over the years, studied and agreed upon how one should write scientific journals, all genre of books, and so forth. Today we have agreed upon standards as to what you or I can do to improve our writings.

It's difficult to start quantifying reviews into categories of either bad or good. Because they are based off opinion. We could go to extremes and make up a fictional scenario saying Mr. A and Mr. B both wrote reviews of a digital camera. Mr. A listed all the different functions of the camera and included his opinions. Mr. B wrote a much shorter review, didn't list all of it's functions, and spent much of his review ranting about one aspect of the camera. You or I could probably get away with labeling Mr. B's review as bad, because chances are everyone or at least the majority would agree with us.

The problem, even with this extreme example, is that some people may like it based off different criteria. Maybe it's so funny that people like it based off it's humorous outbursts. Does that make it bad? or good?. You can see how it can be difficult to just have a bad and good category to put reviews in?

What's the criteria for writing the review? What's a person's criteria for reading a review. Even if a person has a set criteria they like to follow when reading, that still may change based on other factors like the specific product or public opinion on how a feature on the product will effect the economy, or the reader simply is wanting to see the latest version of a product because he just likes it, and yet still maybe what's going on around him/her in the world at any given time may change how one reads a review. We could go into a lot of detail about this. It could easily fill a book, and many people have written books on this, but we don't need to go into semantics to understand

It's of course easier to compare reviews when they are both written about the same subject or product, and both are written with the same criteria in mind. It's creating a set of rules to follow. One site may review all of there products based on a system of criteria that they developed. That way there reviews are more consistent from product to product.

You start breaking away from simply trying to place factual labels of good or bad on reviews. You are of course entitled to your opinion whether you think the review is good or bad, but you cannot scientifically, or factually label them, and rightly you shouldn't because everyone is entitled to their opinions.

When I write a review I ask myself who am I writing it for?, why am I writing it-is my goal to tell you how I think a product is bad, or is it to inform the uninformed that a new service is available to them? Am I wanting my audience to be aware of how different products function? I also, personally, like to be lighthearted with my reviews. I like to add a touch of humor-based off my knowledge of the intended audience.

I wrote an informational review about a new service. When I wrote it I tried to cover all the features they offered, and inputed my opinions throughout(based off what I like in that type of service and what I thought others might like). I also wrote a review of Final Fantasy 12. But when I wrote it, I didn't include all the features. I wrote it for an audience that plays games and who have played previous FF games, so it contained more of my opinions than facts about the game. I also don't get paid for my reviews-not yet anyways, so I'm sure that effects how I write a review.

Some may argue that my review of FF sucked, and maybe it did. Do I care? No. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Maybe I would have cared if my intentions were to better inform my audience of how the game worked. But I felt I may bore people who just wanted to know if it is fun compared to describing it in, what I thought would be, nauseating detail. However, they couldn't label my review as bad, unless everyone who matters(my audience) thought my review was bad. But it's a safe bet to say that probably everyone didn't find it bad. Some people, within my target audience, may not have even cared that much. That is to say that if I had a poll and asked if they liked it or not, some might not answer good or bad.

You are not going to be able to please everyone. Someone will always disagree with you. If you want to write a "good" review, or become a "good" writer I would stop and say "hey, I am not a bad writer, but I would like to improve my writing...make it better than what it is right now." If you are a new writer, maybe it'd help you to look up some academic sources on the basics of writing.

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