Writing Critical Reviews

The web is chock full of press releases and advertisements. If a person wants to read an ad for a product they can easily find hundreds of pages at the click of a button. The same is true for news about travel spots. Rural towns organize free junkets for the sole purpose of convincing writers to turn into free press release creators for them.

A key to becoming a respected journalist is to build a relationship of trust with your readers. Your fans want to be sure you are writing for THEIR benefit - never for the manufacturer or the farm town mayor. The way to do this is to always write critical reviews. Not ads, not press releases, but fully honest write-ups that a manufacturer would never release.

Sample: Grand Theft Auto video game has amazing graphics, an intense storyline and weeks of gameplay. However, its enthusiastic portrayal of beating up whores, running down pedestrians and selling drugs make it inappropriate for minors and upsetting to some adults.

The word "critical" is not meant in the sense of "nasty". Critical indicates content which is detailed, honest, revealing both the benefits and the problems with the item you are reviewing.

Sample: Knitting Basics provides clear, high quality photos of each step. Experienced knitters might want to skip to book 2 of this series.

No review should ever be Polyanna-this-is-perfect. There are enough press releases out there to fill that niche. Except for a few extreme holy-grail cases, there are always issues to point out. There might be cheaper alternatives. Maybe some of the book's language would be upsetting to certain readers.

Common sense indicates that as you review books, DVDs, products and locations that half of them will be above the average line, the other half will be below it. If you choose to only review the top half, your readers can quickly see that you're writing only "primarily positive" reviews. This often has them believe (sometimes subconsciously) that you are writing ads or press releases, not actual, honest reviews. A journalist who has a body of both top-half and bottom-half reviews amply demonstrates to their readers that they are covering the gamut of items and are "not afraid to tell the truth."

Also, people who read your top-half reviews are in many ways not reading anything new. Undoubtedly there are many positive reviews out there already (ads, press releases) that provide the "good traits list" of what you're reviewing. There are already websites praising Hawaii, praising "The Secret", praising "Silence of the Lambs". However, far fewer writers provide high quality information on items in the lower half. For lower-half items, readers often *only* get the "this is great!" ads and press releases. They rarely get the real story. The readers might hear from three sites that "ZZZ Software for Learning HTML" is superb and well done. It might be only your site which provides the full, critical review, exposing the problems in it and recommending other options. While a review of a top-half item solidifies opinions and makes someone feel good about their purchase, it's the bottom-half reviews which save people from both wasting valuable money and dealing with the grief of a poor purchase or trip.

Sample: 'Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife' is promoted as a sequel to 'Pride & Prejudice'. The faux-period writing is not only incorrect, but often unintelligible. Example 1: "Propitious fortune allowed her to descry whom the crepuscular light yielded." Example 2: "To her dismay, their re-emergence into company bade the Master of Pemberley serve compunction by abandoning that much-appreciated endearment." It unfortunately reads as a parody of period English, and many readers will simply have no idea of what is being said.

An important distinction to make is between a critical review and a trash job. You always want your review to reflect your writing skills and your insightful mind. It takes no effort to bash an item. It takes an attentive evaluation to show why certain aspects of the location, book, movie or product are inappropriate for some people. Maybe a scene in the PG movie exposes bare breasts. Maybe the waterfront area of town has drunks at night and should be avoided. Maybe the set of weights has a lovely balance but the metal edges can be sharp.

It is not only your audience who greatly appreciates fully honest reviews. Interestingly enough, the manufacturers and authors usually find them of value too. Your feedback helps them create the next version, fix problems, tweak their writing style.

To summarize - write reviews of everything in your topic area, both the high quality and low quality products. Write reviews that are fair, detailed, and honest. Avoid anything resembling an ad or press release. Your aim is never to benefit the manufacturer. If anything, half the time you will be "harming" the sales of the item. Your focus is always to inform your readers, to help them make choices to preserve their precious money and time. It is this effort which will best help your career as a writer prosper and grow.

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