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!