Writing a review ought to come effortlessly to us. After all, the revolutionary age of information has made critics of each one of us. We love to form and, more importantly, express our opinions and judgments on every subject under the sun. Be it on any social media platform, reviews spur endless discussions and are good for business.
Yet when it comes to writing a review for a school assignment or exam, pens stumble and words falter. Precious moments of hesitation are followed by a writing that is too sprawled, that oscillates between a story and a descriptive piece, neither of which a review is.
A review provides valuable information to prospective users. Your critical assessment shapes the choices made by people. Like other genres of writing, reviews follow requisite conventions, structure and style.
Following are the essential ingredients of an A+ review:
1. Striking Opening
Dramatic openings are the fundamental law of writing: a review is no exception to this rule. Your opening words should make your purpose clear (what you are reviewing) and let the audience know that you have something interesting and different to say. Avoid the familiar and drab opening such as "I am going to review" or "This review is on." Beginning straightaway with the description of the product cannot be called eye-catching either.
If you are reviewing a book or a movie, you can begin with a memorable or funny quote from it. You can also startle readers with some interesting trivia or pique their curiosity with a favourite scene. Summarising your experience in a few memorable lines works best for reviews on restaurants, theme parks, tourist places, toys, gadgets etc.
There may be a hundred and one great places to eat in London, but it’s rare that you come across somewhere so fantastic that you begin plotting your return whilst still paying the bill. (Rosie Paterson, Review of 45 Jermyn St)
When the strains of "You've Got a Friend in Me" swell up in "Toy Story 3," Randy Newman's now-classic song speaks for the toys, as always—for Woody, Buzz Lightyear, Mr. Potato Head and all the other treasured playthings who have basked in the love of their owner, Andy, and given the little boy their devotion in return. . . Fifteen years after "Toy Story" burst upon the scene as the first full-length animated feature created completely on computers, the third film of the trilogy turns out to be gorgeously joyous and deeply felt. (Joe Morgenstern, The Wall Street Journal)
2. Personal Tone
A review is a personal point of view on a topic or a product. Generalisations have no place in it. Readers relate with specific personal experiences, not with bot-generated verdicts. The "I" should be pronounced right at the beginning or in the introductory paragraph with confidence and authority. You can tell your audience a small anecdote to explain why you like or don’t like a particular product or service. Be careful that the entire review doesn’t take the shape of a story.
A few weeks ago, I ate the second-best steak of my life. (Toby Keel, Review of The Pointer, Brill)
It took the fourth book in the famous Harry Potter series to turn me into a Potterhead.
“Now, what I want is, Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else.” (Hard Times, Charles Dickens)
Fortunately, not in a review. As a piece of evaluative writing, a review is less concerned with the presentation of facts. What matters is what you think and feel about those facts. Detailed descriptions of the product under review should be restrained to a paragraph or two at most. If you are writing a review of a book, don't reveal the whole plot. If you are reviewing a restaurant, don’t write the entire menu. Instead, write about what makes the book a lively read, a toy your new best friend or the restaurant a place to visit again and again.
I've had many a Nando's during these last 14 years yet I couldn't tell you a stand out nor disappointing dish because this is one of the most consistent restaurant chains you will ever go to. (Lynda Moyo, Nando’s)
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire had me entranced from the very first chapter: the book is dark, complex and mysterious.
4. Descriptive Language
A review is your personal space. Use plenty of precise descriptive words and figurative expressions to paint a vivid picture of your experience and make your writing compelling.
Metaphors, hyperbole and alliteration are powerful persuasive tools that catch readers' attention and evoke interesting comparisons by drawing a parallel between a product and an image or idea.
A carnival of flavours burst into my mouth with the first bite of the perfectly grilled salmon. (Metaphor)
The time spent in the queue at the famous theme park seemed to stretch forever. I could not feel my legs after some time. (Hyperbole)
Remember nothing is perfect. Be fair and reasonable in your writing. Gushing praise should be checked by a few shortcomings as well. Similarly, outright condemnation can seem savage and unrealistic. Give equal emphasis to strengths and weaknesses to sound believable.
Despite the exquisite food, there was one thing amiss: quality service. (Review of a restaurant)
The innovation behind the toy doesn’t match its longevity. The materials used are cheap and flimsy at best. A five-year old will take it apart with great delight. (Review of a toy)
Familiarity with other products often becomes an instrument of judgement. Before you conclude, place the object of your review in a larger context. Compare and contrast your product with others of similar nature to understand how well it fares.
What a shame that the sequel doesn’t live up to its predecessor in cinematography and sound effects. (Review of a movie)