The Art of Writing Constructive Reviews
Writing reviews is nothing new. Many write and many receive reviews, criticism and feedback for their work. However, criticism is not always welcome, where the recipient feels slighted by an inappropriate review, and the reviewer likewise receives a negative response / reply.
Regardless of the recipient having an open mind to reviews and criticism, how does a critic word his review? Just because there is an option to give the writer feedback for written work (in many of our cases, online), it does not mean we write whatever comes to mind. Most often we are not qualified enough to give detailed, critical views of a topic.
This brings us to the fact that a review has to be constructive if we wish to review another’s writing. I would not just put it down to constructive, but would also say that it should have the various attributes: objective, open-minded, positive, and specific. Do not make your review a personal vendetta to ‘get back’ to someone for a negative review.
Here is my take on the art of writing constructive reviews. I hope this will help us each time we decide to review a writer’s work. (I have used the Acronym REVIEW to help explain my points).
Read the article / writing thoroughly. Do not just skim through for the sake of getting an idea of what the writer has written. If you are to review a piece of writing, bear in mind that the writer has taken a great deal of effort to translate thoughts, art and facts into writing. Do not undermine this effort by a rash review and do not insult a person’s effort by your half-hearted review.
Unless extremely obvious, there is always some level of quality in a person’s work. It is either the language that may be very good, or the presentation of the subject matter, or perhaps even the twist in the context. Take the time to comment on the positive quality of the piece.
If it is a factual article, then validate facts. Crosscheck it for accuracies before you decide to comment on it. Remember, as a reviewer, you are presenting yourself as knowledgeable and experienced, enough to comment on a particular piece of writing. Do not let the recipient of the review get the impression that you are talking off the top of your hat.
This is the part that most reviewers jump to (while skipping the first three points): Identifying points to criticize. This identification should be done only after careful analysis of the writing in question. If you have identified typographical or minor grammatical errors, do not highlight them as ‘grave writing sins’. Take note of these, but also bear in mind that the review should not necessarily be about the choice of words, although correction in this regard can make a big difference to the presentation. The review could be about the positive points that make the writing work, or also the opposite. Identify factual errors where edits can bring about a drastic improvement to the work. This identification of points for a review can be as broad as you would like it to be, provided you stick to the point, are not carried away with your personal ideas on the subject and do not expect the writer to write the article the way YOU would like it to be. Each writer has a unique voice.
This means that you put your actual review into writing to let the writer see their work from your perspective. Once you have your review ready in mind, be gentle with your review. Educate with an open mind and with an open attitude. One of the worst reviews that a writer hates receiving is a rude, abrupt criticism of their work. Educate also means to offer suggestions / advice on the points you see fit.
Last but not the least, when you review another’s writing, be ready to receive feedback too. Chances are your points may be valid and yet, the writer is entitled to his /her point of view too. Unless there are obvious factual errors, remember that your review is your feedback and the way you see the writing. The writer is free to accept or reject your suggestions. Moreover, there are also chances that you might have misunderstood the article. When this happens, your feedback takes a different tangent and hence you should welcome the correction too.
It is a touchy issue when one decides to write a review or ignore the urge altogether. However, with the above points, you do not have to fear the thought of writing a review. Stick to the content, be objective, do not make it personal and have an open mind when you follow the above steps. You will realize that while you review someone else’s work, you will also begin to find areas for improvement in your work too. It becomes a two-way process of Teach and Learn.
Image Credit: Judge by John T. McCutcheon at Wikimedia Commons