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Thread: Treats and Tips from the RAC Corner

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  1. #1
    ElectronicQuillster
    Guest

    Treats and Tips from the RAC Corner

    Since better reviews make better writers - and we think it also helps US as reviewers in our monthly examinations of the work of others - the four of us on the RAC agreed it would be a good idea to come back to SPEW with a couple of pointers for how to improve your reviewing skills.

    Just a small bit of information from your friendly neighborhood Review Award Committee to round out the end of January. With the new review period we'll give you our first hearty tip/suggestion, but for this month we'd like to pass around just a little bit of something for you all to think about.

    We started off discussing what made a good review and what we wanted to examine as we evaluated the reviews for the award. As we split up the reviews, we took notes, and then we all came together and shared those and some other general observations after all was said and done. We all agreed that the best kind of SPEW reviews are the reviews that give helpful and notable feedback to the author. The most obvious thing we saw that were holding us back from giving phoenomenal feedback to those that we're reviewing are just some basic house-keeping kinds of things, and so we decided to just give everyone a quick reminder of what a SPEW review should be from the SPEW rules:

    III. Members’ reviews should include some or all of the following:

    -> Grammar and/or spelling corrections.
    -> Comments on writing style, canon accuracy, and character and plot development.
    -> Use specific examples from the story to illustrate a point.
    -> If criticism, be worded in such a way as to be helpful to the author, rather than hurtful.

    Members’ reviews should NEVER include:

    -> Incorrect grammar or spelling.
    -> Personal insults against the author.
    -> Put-downs or criticism that is unlikely to help the author.
    -> Excessive use of exclamation points or a single word repeated many times.
    (bold emphasis added)

    There were a lot of good things in the reviews from December, but we really can improve in this area. Try not to be too fangirly (or fanboyish, as the case may be when we have male members). We all love to receive that kind of fun reaction from our readers, but it's not very helpful to our actual writing.

    We also recommend writing up your reviews in a word processing program so that you can give it a quick spell/grammar check before submitting the review. While having a mistake or two isn't the end of the world, the author you're reviewing will definitely take your feedback more seriously if it's not full of errors, right? That just makes sense. This will also help for the random times that MNFF may log you out while you're reviewing, etc, so that you don't lose the work you've done on writing the review!

    Until next month, we remain lovingly yours,
    The RAC - Mar, Haylee, Britt, and Bine

  2. #2
    ElectronicQuillster
    Guest
    We saw a marked improvement in the quality of reviews from December to January, which was awesome, guys! We really do love serving as your Review Award Committee so much! Now here's what we've got for you for February's review period. (Note for those who are working to improve for the fun recognition of the RA, this is something we'll really be looking at this month.)

    -> Use specific examples from the story to illustrate a point.
    It is common practice for a coach and an athlete to sit down together and watch the film of a competitor's performance or to review the athlete's most recent performance. In these sporting/competitive situations, the coach doesn't watch the film and say, "Oh, I love this part! It's so great! That bit sucks, though..." No, instead, they look at what is both good and bad, and they try to explain WHY it's good or bad to the athlete they're coaching and how to use this information for their next meet/game/competition/whatever.

    This is our aim in SPEW as we provide helpful and constructive criticism, but sometimes it's hard to determine what that exactly means. That's why we're presenting you with this analogy of the coach with the athlete.

    When we write reviews, it's really of no help to pull numerous quotes from the story and say, "Oh, this was such a good part! This line was heartbreaking. I love the characterization here." Pulling quotes from the story shouldn't be something we do as reviewers to try and look like our reviews are substantial. The length of a review hardly matters if it's comprised of meaningless fluff. Some reviews we've seen (and, dude, we're not saying we haven't done them before, too) are just 'quote - one line reaction - quote - one line reaction - quote - one line reaction - in conclusion I liked this story' /review.

    At this point, some of you may be thinking, "But, RAC, why are you telling us not to use quotes when those rules you just reminded us of last time said that using quotes is good?"

    WELL... We just see that one line reactions to quotes aren't helpful.

    Here's the question we want you to think about when you compose your reviews: Is your quote necessary to enhance the feedback you're giving the author? It is helpful for coaches to show their athletes parts of a game film and explain what is going wrong, what is going right, how to improve, how to utilize the good things again, and how to avoid the bad. This is the role that our quotes should be fulfilling in reviews. If we want to generally discuss an aspect of the story, we don't need a quote. If there was a particular line of dialogue or narrative that stood out (for better or worse), that's when a quote is called for.

    If there was a line or two that you DID particularly love and just want to quote those and tell them that, that's not a bad thing. But tell them WHY you love it. Tell them if it's because of the word choice, or how well it characterizes the character, or how surprising it was as you read, or how it really affected your thought process as a reader.

    In conclusion, we just want to say, don't give the writer a play-by-play of quotes from their story. They wrote it, they know what's there. -wink- Don't use a lot of quotes just to make your review long, use them when they're helpful in providing feedback.


    Love,
    Your RAC - Haylee, Bine, Britt, and Mar

    PS Please also keep in mind that you don't NEED to use quotes from the story in your review. It is possible to write a wonderful review without any quotes at all.

  3. #3
    ElectronicQuillster
    Guest
    Perhaps those of you who read our reviews of Kelly’s reviews noticed that the term ‘waffling’ was mentioned, and that she didn’t waffle. Ironically, that’s what we had kind of talked about presenting this month, so it works nicely.

    The one thing we see very nearly without fail with every SPEWer is the tendency to waffle in a review. When writing a review, it is important to give feedback that is constructive. Sometimes this is done by pointing out better things, and sometimes it is our duty to point out the worse things, as well. It’s important that we remain professional. We don’t want to hurt an author with stinging remark. However, we often see (and are guilty on the RAC ourselves) of saying what the author may have done wrong, and then quickly saying something that backtracks so that we don’t risk hurting the author at all. Saying one thing, and then almost retracting it. Waffling back and forth. /roundabout explanation of the term

    Anonymous example time. I read a review where someone had had to point out quite a few punctuation errors, and then she told the author that it wasn't 'grave or bad.' It was very sweet of her to say that, naturally. And, no, maybe it wasn’t grave, certainly not the end of the world, but if you ever feel you need to comment on punctuation errors because it was that big of a problem as you read, they’re probably at least a LITTLE bad. It’s kind of like saying, “That was really bad…. Only just kidding! It’s not!” Believe in what you’re saying. It’s just like the need to proofread your reviews. If your reviews are riddled with errors or waffling, is it even worth your reviewing efforts?

    And, really, I don't know that I have some magical tip to remedy waffling. I’ve been trying to think of what I’d say in this post all month. Clearly we shouldn't be beastly or mean, but we need to find the most clear, concise, and inoffensive way to give concrit, and then hold our ground. If Snape is out of character, we should say so, and then we shouldn't apologize for stating that if we can give them some feedback that will help them to correct it. And maybe that’s how we do it. If all you do is say, “this is wrong,” and you have no help to offer, then you probably WILL feel compelled to say something to soothe it. But if you can actually offer some help (not in a bossy-know-it-all way, but the clear-concise-inoffensive way), then you won’t have any need to waffle at all. Tread carefully over the authors’ works of literature, but don’t ignore any cuts or bruises that the fic may have. Instead, grab your SPEW first aid kits, and give them those proverbial band-aids and anti-septic sprays, and help them out. Woot woot.

    Um. Yes, I really said woot.

    We’re still loving your reviews each month. Give us some more good reading for April first!

    Heart,
    Your RAC – Bine, Britt, Haylee, and Mar

  4. #4
    ElectronicQuillster
    Guest
    With so many returnees and newbies over the past two months, we thought it would be helpful to review and also clarify what we've already talked about before tossing you another tasty tip for June. So, quick rundown of what we've covered so far:

    +General Content
    Keep the SPEW rules in mind as they have a concise guideline of what should and shouldn't be in the reviews (referred to in the first post in this thread). Refrain from excessive/rambling fangirlism/fanboyism. We all love those kinds of gushing comments, but they're not very helpful as feedback for improving our writing. Also, be sure to proof read the reviews you're leaving. There's nothing worse than receiving a review riddled with mistakes that is trying to tell you to improve your own story. (Am I right?!) An easy way to do this is to at least write your review in a word processing program and run a spell-check before submitting it to MNFF.

    +Quotations in Reviews
    Please, DO use quotations in your reviews if you want to. Just make sure that you're not stuffing your reviews with quotes and then one-line reactions statements about how much you loved it. Use a quote, and then explain WHY you thought that particular part was good or bad. It's all about helpful, constructive feedback.

    +No more Waffling
    Don't give a suggestion and then back peddle about it. If you thought it was worth mentioning, and you feel it is a valid point, IT IS! -grin- Your reviews are your opinions, kind of like a doctor. Yeah, you're a voluntary doctor giving an unsolicited opinion, but they already know they don't HAVE to listen to you. So be polite and courteous, and say what you think in a constructive way. And then stand behind it - back it up with canon support if you think a character is OOC, etc.

    Now, time for our newest tip. Which is kind of ironic because it has been a prominent topic in the babble recently, and we'd been planning on it even before it came up.

    Review Length

    The length of your review is unimportant.

    I cannot stress this enough. In the past, some people have gotten to the point where they've felt that if their review doesn't top out over at least one thousand words that it is crap or something. If you believe this, please stop. It's not true.

    Your review should have constructive feedback, and that's all it needs. There doesn't need to be a novel of constructive feedback on a story, and it doesn't need to be less than three hundred words. It just needs to be good feedback.

    On the RAC, we've even found that some of the long reviews are not as good as the shorter reviews, and we found a couple of trends that went along with that. First, an excessive amount of quotes. Quotes are absolutely wonderful in a review, but keep it within reason. Your review shouldn't be like 75% quotes. We're not going to give you a number of what we think it should be, because you all are smart, but yes. Definitely not 75%. -wink- And the second thing we've found is people filling their reviews with all kinds of... unnecessaries. When you write a review, remember that this is a review, not a story comment on LJ. You certainly don't need to be stuffy and over-professional in a review, but keep in mind that your goal is to help improve an author's writing by giving constructive feedback.

    Phrases like, "Sorry if I ramble too much, it's really late and I'm really hyper/tired," or things that resemble that should not find a way into your review. Also, prefacing your review with, "I don't know if this will make sense, it's really late," etc? Also not the best.

    Basically, before you submit your review, read over it. If there are things you want to say to help the author, say them. Go ahead and praise them. If you're giving suggestions, give them, and don't ramble off into waffling because you feel you might be too mean. Often we review our friends, and of course we heart them, but maybe don't devote half your review to things that aren't even related to the story.

    We're not meaning to sound like we want your reviews to be boring. We want you to be succinct, but it's perfectly acceptable and entirely possible to write a SPEW review that doesn't require someone to scroll down on MNFF's review pages to read it. It's so possible that we wanted to show you! Here are some links to some of the great reviews you guys have written since December that are of a moderate to short length:

    Cassie
    Jen
    Kelly
    Leanne
    Marie
    Shar
    Heart,
    Your Friendly Neighborhood RAC
    Marie, Haylee, Kelly, Chelsea, Bine

  5. #5
    Honigkuchenpferd Hufflepuff
    "Greetings From Egypt..."
    luinrina's Avatar
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    Jun 2008
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    Another month has passed and it’s time for another tip from your RAC. First, we would like to say that we were really impressed with your May reviews, and even more so that all of you have improved so much. It was a joy to read through everyone’s reviews and evaluate them.

    We did have one concern with the reviews last month, and that was the issue of tone. Some of us receive negative feedback much better than others, and it’s important to keep in mind that not all authors have a sufficiently tough skin to take blunt remarks about their writing. While we shouldn’t sugar-coat or waffle about our critique, we still need to be polite. Brevity is okay, but make sure you’re simply being succinct rather than rude.

    Also, in no circumstance should a reviewer come across as superior to the author. We’re here to make authors feel good, to help them out, not to make them feel inferior or anything.

    Since most of us are taking advantage of writing reviews in a word processing programme before submitting them to MNFF (and if you’re not, this is a great way to avoid typos!), this is perfect for saving a review and coming back to reread it again in a couple of hours if you are even slightly worried that you may be too blunt and derogatory with your tone. Read it as if you are the author who will receive it, and keep in mind that they may be a very delicate individual.

    Overall, though, like we said at the beginning, the reviews have improved greatly, and we’re looking forward to evaluating the June reviews.

    With greetings from the RAC
    ~Mar, Haylee, Kelly, the dearly departed Chelsea, the new recruit Leanne, and Bine
    No longer a mod and no longer in charge of any forums.

    author ~*~ BA banner ~*~ giggler
    Banners by Tiffany and Samarie ^

  6. #6
    Indigoenigma
    Guest
    Yet another month has come and gone, which means (of course) that we have another tip from the RAC. The reviews from last month were quite wonderful; the overall quality of reviews has improved quite a lot in these past few months. Go SPEW!

    We would, however, like to call your attention to something that we’re seeing in a lot of reviews: nit-picking.

    Nit-picking, to define this, is when the reviewer goes through the story and finds minor errors with things like spelling, grammar, and/or punctuation. Nit-picking is unhelpful to the author unless these errors prevented you from understanding the story. If there is a repeating problem within the story (they consistently confuse tenses or have major grammar errors), only then is it constructive to point out these errors. Simply finding (and listing) the errors is the job of the beta, not the reviewer. Our job as reviewers is to explain what they did well and why and then how to improve on things that were not quite up to par.

    So, should there ever be a major error that necessitates mentioning in a review, it should never be pointed out just for the sake of pointing it out. Our job as SPEWers is to help authors improve. Thus, these large problems should never just be listed, but should be mentioned within a few lines explaining how to fix them.

    Here is an example of what we’re talking about:

    What Should Never Be in a SPEW Review:

    Dear Author –

    This was a great story! However, I just wanted to tell you about a few problems that I noticed within your story. I’m just going to point out a few nit-picks before I start the review.

    There was a loud noise, however, Ron didn’t jump because he had been expecting it.

    The first comma should have been a semi-colon.

    Ron could only stare at Hermione. Even though he had always considered her attractive, tonight she was truely beautiful.

    Misspelling! “Truely” should actually be “truly”.

    And now, back to the review!

    A better way to say this would have been:

    I noticed that there were a few grammatical and spelling errors throughout the story. If you haven’t already, try getting a beta reader to catch these little things (which are devilishly easy to overlook).
    See the difference? The first “review” is unhelpful to the author because it just points out tiny little problems, instead of actually reviewing the story. Letting an author know that they misspelled a word once really won’t help them to improve their writing because it was an isolated incidence and, most likely, just a mistake.

    So, SPEW, if in a story you see that the author misplaced a comma, let it go. They misspelled a word? Let it be. They used a comma instead of a semi-colon? Mistakes happen. Isolated incidents like that shouldn’t be mentioned in the review. Those should only be mentioned if, say, many commas were misplaced and actually made what the author was trying to say confusing.

    Overall, SPEWers, you all have improved so much! It’s been quite fun reading all of your reviews and we can’t wait to see the lovely ones that you have for July.

    Until next month,

    Your RAC: Mar, Haylee, Kelly, Leanne, and Bine

  7. #7
    ElectronicQuillster
    Guest
    Hello SPEW,

    I wanted to drop in and prepare you for the rest of the month. The RAC has cooked up a series of tips for you, the first of which was Kelly's, and there will be two more following very quickly.

    And, just to clear up some questions and concerns over the last tip, we don't want you to think that we never ever want you to point out a mistake. We just want to see SPEW move away from this trend we've seen all year of what seems like including nit-picks JUST so that the review gives the author something to 'improve'. But we'll explain more what we mean in the rest of our series.

    Also, I wanted to drop you all this note to let you know that we have something up our sleeves for you this month aside from just more awesome tips. We will finally be fulfilling that 'treats' part in the thread's name, but I won't say any more just now...

    Heart,
    Your RAC

  8. #8
    XhayleeXblackX
    Guest
    The Beta vs. the Reviewer

    As SPEWers, our job is first and foremost to better ourselves as both writers and reviewers. Much of SPEW’s purpose is to give out reviews to the authors of MNFF, and as reviewers, that is our purpose – to give out constructive and helpful feedback in the form of a review.

    Something that has come up a good bit over the past few months within the RAC is the job of a beta versus the role of the reviewer.

    A beta reader is a person who reads a written work, generally fiction, with what has been described as "a critical eye, with the aim of improving grammar, spelling, characterization, and general style of a story prior to its release to the general public."

    A beta reader can serve as proofreader of spelling and grammar errors, or as a traditional editor, working on the "flow" of prose. *
    The most notable difference between a reviewer and a beta is that a beta’s job is to get the story ready for submission, to be read by the reviewers. Beta’s jobs are to correct spelling and grammar mistakes while helping the author to improve their style, characterization, plot and so on.

    Whereas the reviewer’s job is to comment on the story and provide helpful feedback on the effectiveness of the author’s devices, characterization, plot, etc. Reviewers help to give feedback and constructive criticism on the author’s work, not to fix their mistakes.

    Therefore, following along with Kelly’s tip on nitpicking, it is not a reviewer’s job to point out a spelling mistake, a missing comma, or a forgotten period – that would be the job of a beta. Conversely, it is not necessarily required of a beta to go into detail on the ways in which the author’s characterization was spot on, but that would be something that a reviewer could certainly touch upon in a review.

    We all have certain preferences in writing styles. It’s acceptable for a beta to suggest that a certain aspect of the writing be revised, but it isn’t really necessary of a reviewer to do the same, as it comes off as personal preference more so than helpfulness.

    So when it comes to acting as a reviewer rather than a beta, we can basically use this rule of thumb to decide if our feedback is more appropriate for a review or for a beta’s comment:

    Does the comment only pertain to improving the story at hand or will it be something that will help the writer in their future writing as well? If it only does the first, consider whether or not it's really going to be constructive to include it in your review. If you feel it is more a personal preference, then it is probably more appropriate for a beta. Reviewer’s comments should have a foundation of support from the story, and not be based purely on opinion.

    We should also remember that authors go to beta’s looking for major critique of their stories. By the time the author is ready to have their stories reviewed, they aren’t looking for someone to fix their story anymore. So while we may want to note and include things for the ‘greater good’ of an author or story in our reviews, isn’t always what the author needs, as they have already asked this of a beta.

    Really, this is not as difficult as this tip made it sound. It’s just a matter of realizing what is helpful and relevant to the review, and what isn’t, which will lead us into the upcoming tip – constructive criticism.

    Thank you for your continued hard work!

    Sincerely,
    Your RAC – Mar, Haylee, Bine, Kelly, and Leanne.

    *Quote comes courtesy of Wikipedia.

  9. #9
    dory_the_fishie
    Guest
    Constructive Criticism

    Constructive criticism is one of those terms that we throw around a lot in SPEW, but we here in the RAC would like to clarify what we believe constructive criticism is, so that all of us have a better understanding when it comes to reviewing.

    Let’s just start with the basics. From Dictionary.com (especially relevant points are bolded):

    con⋅struc⋅tive [kuhn-struhk-tiv]
    –adjective
    1. constructing or tending to construct; helping to improve; promoting further development or advancement (opposed to destructive ): constructive criticism.

    Synonyms:
    1. productive, helpful, handy, useful.

    crit⋅i⋅cism [krit-uh-siz-uhm]
    –noun
    1. the act of passing judgment as to the merits of anything.
    2. the act of passing severe judgment; censure; faultfinding.
    3. the act or art of analyzing and evaluating or judging the quality of a literary or artistic work, musical performance, art exhibit, dramatic production, etc.
    4. a critical comment, article, or essay; critique.
    5. any of various methods of studying texts or documents for the purpose of dating or reconstructing them, evaluating their authenticity, analyzing their content or style, etc.: historical criticism; literary criticism.
    6. investigation of the text, origin, etc., of literary documents, esp. Biblical ones: textual criticism.
    It’s interesting to note that the definition for ‘criticism’ does not encompass strictly negative things. In fact, most of the definitions merely say that ‘criticism’ means to analyze a text, in our case fan fiction. We could even say that ‘to criticize’ means ‘to review.’ And that is, after all, what we’re here to do.

    Our reviews do not necessarily have to include advice or suggestions for improvement. Now, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t bother making suggestions because you’re tired, or the thread is closing soon, or anything like that. It simply means that if a fic is really great as it is, don’t feel pressured to try and find some sort of problem. It’s all right to say what you loved about a fic, as long as you explain why. Telling an author what they did well, and why, is just as much constructive criticism as explaining why something didn’t work very well. We don’t want to be excessively fangirly (or fanboyish) and only react with smiley faces and netspeak, but some good ol’ “Wow, I really loved this fic and here’s why…” is totally fine.

    The key to any feedback is support. We should be supporting all of our points in our reviews, and it’s completely okay if most, or even all, of those points are positive remarks. Don’t ever think that your review isn’t good enough if it doesn’t give the author advice on how to improve. Recently we’ve discussed tone, and nit-picking vs. appropriate explanations of spelling/grammar rules; we’ve been over how to provide negative feedback, but we want to remind everyone about positive feedback, too. Most of us tend to think that constructive criticism only means some form of faultfinding, but this isn’t true at all. Feel free to squee constructively over those awesome fics that you come across. -wink-

    There is a difference between something that can be improved, and something that needs to be improved. MNFF is home to many fics that are pretty fantastic as they are, and you are completely allowed to review what makes those fics so amazing. We in the RAC won’t mark it against you. We just want to see that you’re really looking at fics and seeing what makes them good or not-so-good.

    So, what the RAC would like to stress for everyone is that constructive criticism means providing both negative and positive feedback.

    Constructively,
    Your RAC – Mar, Haylee, Bine, Kelly, and Leanne.

  10. #10
    ElectronicQuillster
    Guest
    It's about time for tips and treats, yeah?

    Well. Our tip this month is quite simple:

    Be yourself!


    We've given a lot of suggestions in this thread, and they're largely things that we notice that we all could do better. However, we all got in to SPEW because we're making an effort to give that awesome SPEWly feedback in our reviews for authors on MNFF. None of us write bad reviews!

    But what is the best thing about any SPEW review?

    The personality that shines through when the author reads it! The key to a SPEW review is the mind of the SPEWer who writes it. So we just wanted to say, hey, we're all awesome. Don't worry about trying to write a 'perfect' review. The best part of being on the RAC is reading your reviews, of course!

    And that leads us into the treat that we planned last month and which Anna so wonderfully helped us out with:




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