How to Write a Review (That's Actually Useful)

Are you “review-ed” out? 

I am.

You can’t even pop to the shops without the cashier scribbling their name at the bottom of your receipt, which they’ll then hand to you with woefully misplaced optimism.

“If you complete this quick feedback survey and mention my name…” they’ll plead, as you haul that unbelievably heavy bag of cat litter into your trolley, “you could win a pair of socks”.

Alas, you won’t get out of the Dreaded Review Request even if you’ve bypassed the cashier altogether and gone straight for the self-checkout.  If you’ve ever interacted with that shop before, even if only in passing, then within minutes of returning home, they’ll pop a message into your inbox

“Tell us how we did!” it’ll say, in a cheery trill that also has an undertone of menace – because it’s not a question, it’s a demand

(I’ve come to the conclusion that retailers who constantly hassle you for feedback are like crazed drug addicts; never completely satisfied, and always in search of their next hollow fix).

Anyway.

There are times when writing a review is a genuine, honest-to-goodness must-do, for good or for bad.  You’ve read a book you just couldn’t put down, you’ve visited somewhere intriguing, you’ve worked with someone who surprised you greatly, or you’ve seen a film that didn’t live up to its stellar reputation.

Whatever it is, you want to tell the world all about it.

Now, the much-underestimated thing about reviews is that they will often count amongst your most-read pieces of writing.  This is because a review is potentially going to contain useful information.

Your review, therefore, is going to say as much about you as it does about the person or thing you’re talking about.

That’s why my first review-rule is this: only write one if you absolutely loved or absolutely hated whatever it is you’re going to describe.  If you’re indifferent (or worse, just trying to be nice), your words will sound dull and uninspiring.

Which means you’ll sound dull and uninspiring.

Instead, try to approach your review as a persuasive and entertaining piece of writing.  One that’s going to include:

Why you’re writing the review

If you’re reviewing a book or a film, have a clear opening argument that you’ll back up constantly and consistently throughout. 

(One of my pet-hates is the “Hey! I’m reading a really great book at the moment!” social media post, along with a photo of said book…and that’s it.  Maybe it’s just me, but I want more!  What’s so great about that book, and should I be reading it too?)

If you’re reviewing a thing, a person, or a business, start by sharing how you came across them.  What were your initial expectations, and how were they spectacularly met (or not)?

Personal detail that illustrates your opinions

Use the old “show, don’t tell” adage from creative writing.  Don’t just say something was “terrifyingly amazing”, show how it really was.  Colour your thoughts and opinions with real experiences.

In other words, use your review to give readers a peek into your world, as you used that product, read that book, saw that film, or had a session with that crazed chiropodist.

Oh – and never assume that readers will understand popular jargon, or any “you have to have seen it” references used in books and films.  Explain anything that isn’t obvious, but don’t give away any plot twists or endings.

A snappy summary

Round up those thoughts and opinions in a closing summary…one that leaves readers with an appetite for more (or less, depending on the review subject).

In the mood for some practice?  Then why not actually answer that next “Tell us how we did!” message from the supermarket. 

Go on.  Really let ‘em have it.