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Thread: The RAC's Guide to Good Reviewing

  1. #1
    jenny b
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    The RAC's Guide to Good Reviewing

    The RAC's Guide to Good Reviewing
    Tips from the RAC

    Please note that this post was not written by me, it was largely by the various members of the RAC over the past few years and I have simply compiled everything into one post. The old thread with the original tips can be found here in the archives if anyone wants to read everything (and find the adorable icons Anna made for the RAC), this is simply a condensed version.

    It has some very helpful tips for ALL members, whether you’ve been here three months or three years. I hope you find it useful as you go about your reviews!

    First of all, a quick reminder of what a SPEW review should be from the SPEW rules:

    II. 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.
    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!

    Constructive Criticism

    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-

    Waffling in Reviews

    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.

    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.

    Using Quotations

    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.

    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? Our use of quotes should be used to 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. 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.

    Tone in Reviews

    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. Read over your review as if you are the author who will receive it, and keep in mind that they may be a very delicate individual.

    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.

    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.

    And the most important thing to remember,

    BE YOURSELF.

    These tips are 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!

    So 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!

  2. #2
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    SQUEE-viewing vs RE-viewing, by Soraya/babewithbrains and Jess

    Why, hello there, SPEWers!

    The RAC team — Jess, Hannah, honorary member Spire and I — evaluate your reviews each month. You are aware of how we score you out of six on your tone, reasoning and organisation already. This is one of the 'how's of one in specific one — Tone. We at the RAC believe that there is always room for improvement. Lately, tone of our reviews has been singled out as something that everyone could stand to give a second look.


    SQUEE-viewing instead of RE-viewing

    Honestly? We would love to have a squee-y review that didn't come from one of our friends. In fact, we’d be flattered if a complete stranger starting fangirling/fanboying us as authors. Who wouldn't? But that’s not what SPEW is about. There is a time and place for squee, and no one’s stopping you from fangirling your f-listers or any other author. By all means, do so, to your heart’s content. But when it comes to SPEW reviews, this is when our Serious Hats come out.

    There is no doubt that a SPEW review should contain praise. Most definitely. In fact, it's usually prudent practice to review things that you like and enjoy. But one aspect of our reviews which hasn't always been top notch lately is professionalism. There is a line between telling an author how amazing something is and overusing exclamation marks and using made-up words like “kablooey” (I’ll get to that later XD). This line seems to have blurred recently, but because your RACers love you all and want you all to succeed, we've decided that we would give you some pointers in the form of a to-do and a not-to-do list.

    Here are a few examples of 'squee' comments taken from your RAC's own reviews, just so you are solidly aware of the type of comments and practices of which we're trying to get you to take notice .

    Examples of made up words/semi netspeak:

    I don’t think so, because my mind = kablooey!

    Oh. Em. Gee!

    I would hereby like to formally squee over this fic. Yayayayay, I can finally say, "HA! I knew it was you." XD

    Me likey.

    LOL.


    Then my favourite:

    Oh em squeeeeee!!


    Overuse of punctuation, letters and adjectives:

    This parallel is just...ahhhhhhh!

    Awesome, fantastic, and gorgeous sonnet

    Oh. My. ROWENA!!!

    DUN DUN DUN!!!!!!!

    Ha ha! They were really good lyrics, hilariously written. And, don't worry, they sound very Celestina-ish if you ask me! The mix of melodrama and humour and romance and fluffiness was fabulous. You're a very talented poet!


    Things like this tend to fall into the lower spectrum in terms of SPEW reviewing, and often, good, solid, constructive points are muddied and sometimes lost underneath all the squee, slang, netspeak, eleventy-ones (!!!11!!!1!!), and similar comments that don't truly add anything of substance to a review.

    So, SPEWers, how do we avoid these naughty things? Well, wording your praise in a more practised tone is well and truly the key. You don't have to be stiff and formal, but just that little bit of professionalism in your tone, avoiding squeeing, fangirling, made up words, and exclamation point attacks, will polish your review up greatly. If you find it difficult to use a slightly less informal voice with your friends on the site, it might be an indicator that you would be better suited to reviewing people you don't know very well/at all. Actually, this is not only beneficial to you as a reviewer because it broadens your reading horizons, but it spreads the love of SPEW review to a larger base of authors. And, when it comes down to it, our goal is to review with the focus of praising work well done and helping others improve their work.



    ***Disclaimer: No SPEWers' egos were injured in the making of this tutorial.
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  3. #3
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    Constructive Criticism and You

    Why, hello there again, SPEWers! Yep, it’s Soraya again, with another tutorial cooked up for you!

    This month, we at the RAC have pinpointed specific areas for improvement in all SPEWers — noobs and oldies-but-goldies — and the one I’ll be covering today is how to phrase constructive criticism in reviews.

    While criticism is in no way a mandatory part of a SPEW review, sometimes, we as reviewers may want to make suggestions to the author about how to make their story even better. And that’s fine, as long as you know how to phrase your criticism sensitively.

    Dos and Don’ts of Constructive Criticism in Reviews

    • Well, for starters, do review something you like and that you can say good things about. I’m not saying you have to be in love with the story and worship at the author’s feet, but try and be more complimentary than critical. There is nothing more disparaging than a review that is chockfull of criticism and not a word of praise.


    • Don’t review something you don't like. Yes, there can be things in the story that you were unsure about, and yes, you can comment on them, but the way to test it is this: weigh up your likes and dislikes of a story. If you dislike more things than you like, it’s probably best for you not to review the story.


    • Do try and make suggestions to the author as to what to do next time — it helps the author in the long run which is even better than just improving the story you’re reviewing. Try to place your crit in an appropriate place in your review, i.e. not right at the beginning or right at the end, but somewhere in the middle. Launching into the crit straightaway, again, is disparaging to the author. Start off with praise, then ease into the crit, and then go back to praise before rounding the review off with something nice to finish. It’s a small thing but it makes all the difference.


    • Don't use disclaimers. Examples include "I'm sorry for rambling" or "I'm writing this whilst revising the Cuban Missile Crisis so sorry if this is a bit rushed" or "I'm sorry for gushing". The RAC is of the opinion that by using disclaimers, or apologies to the author, you essentially dismiss your own critique, or its merit is lessened somewhat. The trick for this is that if you feel, for any reason whatsoever, that you have to apologise to the author for anything -- be it the lack of crit, too much crit, not writing a thorough enough review -- then you shouldn't say sorry, but ensure that you fix those problems as best as you can, so that apology isn't necessary.


    • Do say, if it is the case, that you thought something didn't work — but only if you explain fully why you think this. For example, if you think a certain character is OOC, explain why it’s OOC. Perhaps give an example from canon. See more below.


    • Do say things like “I noticed”, “I wasn’t entirely sure”, “I paused at”, “Perhaps it might be better”, “I thought”, etc. You don't necessarily have to use any of the aforementioned words at all, but if you want to word your criticism correctly, here a few sentence starters for you if you’re unsure. Don’t ever tell the author they’re doing something wrong. Explain it to them instead. There’s a difference between the two — for example:



    Quote Originally Posted by not so nice made-up reviewer
    Remus swears too much, Soraya. It’s soooo OOC. >.>
    Quote Originally Posted by nice made-up reviewer
    I noticed that Remus swore once, and I wasn’t entirely sure it was in character because he just didn't seem like that kind of guy in canon — in the books, he’s quite mild in that respect.
    See? The first one was just the reviewer telling the author something, without explaining it or backing it up with evidence of some sort. It makes the reviewer sound rather abrupt, and that can come across as rude, which should never be your intention as a SPEWer. The second one, on the other hand, made exactly the same point, about Remus’s characterisation, but it was phrased completely differently. I know that if I received crit phrased like that, rather than the first one, I would definitely be more willing to take it on board because it was said politely rather than belligerently.

    • Don’t ever say that you didn't like something, or that something is terrible, or horrible, or strange, or odd. Unless you know the author, you don't know how well they handle crit, and some authors have thicker skins than others. The last thing a SPEWer would want to do is hurt the author’s feelings, and you yourself would not want to receive a rude review, I am sure.


    • Don’t criticise an aspect of the story based on your personal preferences. For example, if you read a story and it has a pairing you don't like, or is written in a style you don't like, don't use your own opinions to justify why you don't approve of the choice in style/characters/pairing/whatever.


    • Don't ever make out, in any way, shape or form, that you are better than the author you’re reviewing. We’re all equals here, and again, this could potentially upset the author.


    • Don’t reiterate your criticism. You said it once. Don’t say it a million times, okay?


    So there you are. Now you know. Building that rapport with the author makes all the difference in your RAC score, so next time you criticise something in a review, think carefully. Are you phrasing it right? Will the author be offended if you write that? Because, my dear SPEWers, tone is the key to a good review.

    SPEW hugs to everyone, and happy reviewing!
    Last edited by babewithbrains; 10-07-2012 at 06:16 PM.
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  4. #4
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    Let's Talk Poetry!

    Let's talk poetry!

    Poetry reviewing isn’t so bad you know. When you break it down, a poem is the equivalent of a lyrical one-shot. A one-shot can easily capture a character, or a moment, or a relationship: it doesn’t necessarily require much plotting (hence why I never broke out of one-shots when I wrote fanfic). If you can review a one-shot, you can review a poem. After you’ve reviewed a few poems, you might even find that you prefer providing feedback for poems.

    Good things to include:

    - Comments on characterisation. Many poems focus on particular characters, and you’re all capable of discussing why you think a character is written well/not well. A lot of reviews are about specific characters, and you can say why they captured Harry so well.

    - Comments on plot/theme. Not all poems have a plot exactly, rather they capture a moment, or tackle a theme. Honestly, though, a lot of one-shots don’t have much plotting involved, either. You can tell a poet why you felt they captured the moment they’ve written about so well.

    - Comments on style. I think this is why a lot of people shy away from poems -- they don’t feel qualified to talk about a poem without writing poetry themselves. Don’t feel like you need to analyse every metaphor going: if something strikes you about some imagery, or it flows well just say so, and try to say why it's effective if you can. As for style: did it flow well, did the author use of specific imagery? However, if you think you need to comment on style -- well, you don’t. At the end of the day, an author will appreciate any and all feedback you can give them. You don’t need to know poetry to review poetry. A quality review of any piece needs to talk about more than characterisation, but if you don’t feel comfortable commenting on a poem’s style, then don’t.

    - One thing about poetry, is that we all interpret it in different ways. Don’t worry about giving a different view to how the author perhaps meant you to read it: one of the most interesting things about writing poems is seeing how others interpret your work.

    These are all things you talk about when reviewing prose, so draw on the same things when reviewing poetry. I encourage you to try and find one or two points about each of the above if you can, but a review isn’t going to be as good as it can be if you’re just telling the author what you like/making half-baked comments. Poetry can be difficult to review, and for that reason it’s better to make a few developed comments about what you feel comfortable talking about as opposed to what you feel you should be talking about.

    You might also question how to lay out a poetry review. If it’s a character-focused poem, look at how the style and the word choice evoke that character. If it’s more moment-focused, look at how the style and word choice evoke that moment. This is how I review poetry, though -- there isn’t a right answer. Organise your review in the way that feels best to you.

    Hoping this helps you, SPEWers! Please get reviewing some of MNFF's poetry: it's just not appreciated enough. -hugs-
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