Reviews are critical appraisals published either online or in a newspaper or magazine. Traditionally, a review was of a book, concert, film or perhaps television show.However, now they are increasingly used online for far more purposes, including rating and assessing purchases, tradespeople, restaurants, venues, and events.
This page describes how to write a good review: that is, one that other people find helpful in considering whether to purchase, view, read or visit. It explains what you should include, the tone you should aim to achieve, and also what you should leave out.
What is a Review?
The term ‘review’ can be used in several different ways.
For the purposes of this page, we mean a critical appraisal of something, whether a book, television programme, online purchase, or holiday.
Review vs. Literature Review
The term ‘review’ is also used in writing for a literature review. This is a scan through the existing literature on a topic, to identify the current state of knowledge, and find a gap to research.
There is more about that in our page Researching and Writing a Literature Review.
The purpose of a review is to advise others whether to visit/buy/watch/read/otherwise engage with the subject of your review. It can also be used by businesses to see how they can improve.
It follows that a good review is one that other people find helpful in making their decision, or that helps the business to improve.
In writing a review, you should therefore consider what information people need to make that decision.
There is more about this in our page on Know Your Audience.
Tips for Writing a Good Review
1. Describe the experience
Don’t be tempted to just say ‘This was fine’. Describe the experience.
More helpful reviews provide more information, so that readers know what they might experience—and can judge for themselves.
One-word reviews: don’t
A review that simply says ‘great’, ‘no problems’ or ‘avoid’ is not helpful, because it does not give any context. Was it busy? Was it quiet? How can readers judge whether their experience will be similar?
Take time to provide a bit of context and a bit more information, to help your readers.
2. Make your recommendation clear
Readers look at reviews to help them decide whether to visit, buy, read, watch, attend or even date! This is the main takeaway from any review.
A good review therefore makes the writer’s recommendation very clear.
Some review sites allow you to leave a star rating—but even with that, make sure that you sum up by giving a recommendation at the start or end of what you write.
3. Give the reasons for your recommendation
A recommendation is useful—but it is not enough on its own. People want to make their own decisions, drawing on other people’s experience.
Explain the thinking and reasons behind your recommendation to support that process.
I don’t recommend this top. I often buy from here, and the sizing usually works well for me, but this one was a very strange shape, and really didn’t fit well.
This tells readers that:
- You have experience of this shop, and you have bought from there before.
- That even if they have also shopped there before, and the fit is usually good, this may not be suitable.
4. Offer an alternative if possible
If you are not recommending something, it can be helpful to readers to offer an alternative that might work better.
I didn’t like this film for [reasons]. I wanted to see it because other reviewers said it was like [second film]. However, if you like [second film], I recommend watching [third film] or [fourth film] instead, as I think they are more [amusing/family-friendly/scary/other reason].
This gives readers somewhere else to look—and also tells them whether their taste is likely to chime with yours.
“Not his/her best”
Some of the most useful reviews are those from people who are very familiar with a particular writer/film-maker. They can offer a comparison with other books or films by the same person—and therefore point readers/viewers towards something they may prefer.
5. Don’t be relentlessly negative—aim for constructive feedback
Almost nothing is completely negative, or irredeemable.
If you are leaving a customer review, especially if it is mostly negative, try to be constructive in your feedback. Suggest what could have been better, and how things could have been improved.
If it just wasn’t to your taste, then make that clear—and recognise that this is not the fault of the venue/writer/anyone else.
This book is well-written, but it’s not really my taste. I have a bit of an on-off relationship with this genre, and this one was definitely ‘off’ for me. If you love the genre, you’ll probably love the book, because it’s fairly typical. However, if you’re looking for something a bit different, then maybe look elsewhere.
The approach you should be aiming towards is respectful, especially if you can’t be nice.
Even if you didn’t like it, other people might—and you are often talking about someone’s livelihood here. Assume they were doing their best, and give them the option to improve.
Should reviews be funny?
Is a good review funny?
Some of the best-known reviews—the ones that go viral—are wildly funny. Google sugar-free gummi bears review for some samples.
Many such reviews have been viewed thousands of times, and upvoted thousands of times. They get attention—which is good—and they are helpful to potential buyers—also good.
Can you write a good review that is also funny? Clearly the answer is yes.
Is funniness essential to a good review? No.
All that is necessary for a good review is that it provides the right information to help people make their decision.
6. Be specific and honest
Many reviews that go viral do so because of the response from the subject of the review. At this point, it becomes clear that the review writer was either lying, or feeling extremely entitled when they visited and/or wrote the review.
Always be specific about what you experienced—and always be truthful.
For example, it is unhelpful to say “That was the worst customer service I have ever experienced! Don’t go!
Instead, you might say:
“We were kept waiting for 30 minutes for a table, despite having made a reservation some days ago. The waiting staff then took ages to take our order. The restaurant was extremely busy, but I don’t think that’s an excuse – you shouldn’t have that many covers if you can’t serve them all, and you certainly shouldn’t allow people in if you don’t have a table free.”
Being truthful also means not exaggerating. If you say you were waiting for 30 minutes, make sure that you really were waiting for that long!
7. Don’t include personal information—either yours or theirs
It is a very bad idea to include your own personal information in a review, or anything about individuals at the business—and you also shouldn’t include any information about any other business either.
This means no plugs for a neighbouring restaurant, or your own catering business, or anything like that. It also means not mentioning any employees by name—even if you say something very positive about them.
It is also a very bad idea to leave reviews about somewhere you have worked on any site except something like Glassdoor.
8. Proofread your review to check it makes sense
You should always proofread something that is intended for publication. This includes reviews.
Check your review over before you hit ‘post’ or ‘send’. Look for spelling and grammar errors, and make sure that the sentences are kept fairly short.
If you are leaving a review on a website, copy your text into a word processing package, and use the spellcheck and grammar check tools before posting.
Better still, write it in a word processing tool first, so you can read it over more easily.
There is more about this in our page on Proofreading and Editing.
Reviews are for two purposes: to help other people decide whether to read, visit, watch, attend or buy, based on your experience, and to provide businesses with feedback that will help them to improve.
If what you are saying will not achieve either of those, then DON’T SAY IT.