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Negative Reviews: How to Discuss Things You Don’t Love

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When I started blogging for the first time, it was because I wanted to have a space to gush about all of my favorite books and video games.  Unfortunately, I can’t love everything that I try, so once in a while, I have to write the dreaded bad review.  I’ve had multiple discussions with others about how difficult it can be to give negative critiques because it’s like walking on a tightrope.  If the review sounds too nice, I may unintentionally mislead readers into believing the product is better than it is in reality, but if I’m too mean, I may insult either the creator of the product or fans who actually enjoy it.  Throughout my experience with blogging, I’ve gotten increasingly comfortable with navigating the sweet spot of how to write an effective negative review, but it’s a tough topic that seems worth discussing in more detail.  This post will be detailing how I go about writing my bad reviews, but I hope other reviewers will leave their own advice down in the comments!

Before we get too far into this discussion, I want to be very clear about how I personally view a negative review.  There are many ways to approach writing critically and there’s nothing wrong with any of them.  For me, I don’t want to write rant reviews where I tear a piece of media to shreds.  Other reviewers love to write that sort of content and that’s fine because it can be genuinely fun to read and there are certainly consumers who want that sort of treatment when it comes to determining whether they wish to purchase a product.

Instead, however, I like to create balanced reviews.  I don’t necessarily want readers of my review to automatically skip a product just because I disliked it, as there may be some genuinely good qualities that weren’t for me.  The goal I have in my mind whenever I write a review is to just be completely honest about aspects I believe are objectively bad, parts that weren’t to my personal tastes, and anything that I found to be genuinely good about my experience.  While I believe that reviews are inherently opinions and that consumers should know that I didn’t enjoy a product, I also want to give people the ability to decide for themselves.  When readers see my review, I want them to see the facts laid out and make their own determination about whether they want a given product or not.

When I start writing a review, the first thing I do is make a list of the major points I want to get to, both positive and negative.  That way, I can start structuring how I want to discuss them.  For me, I make an effort to come up with at least one positive thing to say if that’s at all possible, as even the worst products probably have at least one redeeming quality, no matter how small.  For example, The Magicians is one of the worst books I have ever read, but it had decent world-building and lore that kept me engaged, even if I hated everything else.  If someone who saw my review values lore above any other writing element, then he or she may choose to pick it up in spite of how much I hated it.

The Magicians

Once the pros and cons are together, it’s time to assemble the actual review.  Determining the order in which to discuss various points can be difficult, as it can drastically change the tone of the review.  I prefer to get my biggest issues out of the way first and then work my way down from there, ending with any positives that I can discuss before my final thoughts and review score.  The reason for this is that some portion of my readers will not read every word I write.  Therefore, I try to give them the most negative aspects first in order to make sure they are aware of them before they scroll down to the bottom to see what score I ultimately gave the product.

With the final thoughts section of my review and ultimate score, I do my best to summarize my thoughts, both good and bad, and give the number that I believe best reflects my true feelings.  Again, I try to think about my ending paragraph as a “too long, didn’t read” version of my long-form review because I know there are people that will skip to the end.  As for the score, I honestly believe it’s somewhat arbitrary and that there’s never going to be a perfectly quantitative way of proving that one reviewer handing out a seven is the exact same as another giving a five, so just try and find a means of discussing games and stick with it.  It’s not an exact science, so just make sure that the written review accurately reflects the score that has been given.  I haven’t personally done so yet (though I plan to in the future), but I have seen some reviewers have success by creating a post that states exactly what they believe each score means, and they then link to this every time they review something.

Overall, the best advice that I can give anyone writing a bad review is to realize that no matter how respectful reviewers are, there will always be people that feel insulted by the fact that they are at odds with an opinion.  When I first started reviewing, I was terrified of getting people mad at me, so I would constantly qualify even the most objectively bad aspects of a game with, “maybe it’s just me,” or “I’m sorry, but I didn’t like this.”  Over time, I realized that people who get upset with me over an opinion will get just as upset when I drop the qualifiers and just stand by my feelings.  I do still state when I believe something is objectively bad versus not to my tastes, as it is a distinction to make for readers who are determining whether to purchase something, but apologizing and beating around the bush is both unnecessary and not helpful to consumers.

I’m hardly the world expert at writing negative reviews, as I know I still have a lot of work to do.  At the same time, however, I thought that opening up about my own thoughts and process might convince others to do so, as well.  Getting rid of the mystery around how to be both respectful and critical will make all gaming and book reviewers better off for it.  Please join me in the comments for some discussions about how to best put a negative review together.

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20 replies »

  1. Maybe I’m just cold-blooded, but I have no qualms with writing negative reviews for games or products I don’t like, regardless of what the general consensus is. The reality is that I’m not going to like everything, and my audience wants to know how I feel about a thing, good or bad. Where I draw the line is that I try to keep all of my criticisms towards the product itself and not towards the people that made it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I just know that writing negative reviews is something I struggled with at first, and I’ve had conversations with others that expressed the same concerns. Everyone’s process is different, but I thought sharing my own means of doing this and hopefully getting some opinions in the comments will help others in the future.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a very mature take on the issue. It’s very true that something may not be for you but could be well rated and popular with other types of people. Dark Souls is like that for me, for example. Great game just not my style.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I feel like everyone probably looks at whether the game is bad or simply not for them when they review, but they probably use this concept to different degrees when writing the review. I just want to make sure I’m transparent about how I personally rate games and books so people know what to expect from my opinions.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Fantastic post!

    I agree with how you feel about writing negative reviews and most of the time try my best to at least find some points that would redeem the book.
    Most of the time when I am writing a negative or even a mixed review, I divide it into paragraphs starting with good things first and then on the negative aspects. And what was lacking and how it could have been done better.
    I almost always try to wrap up my review by mentioning why you should pick up even if I didn’t like the book.
    ( This is me most of the time.)

    Sometimes if the book is really bad and I don’t have anything good to point out, I don’t write a review because I already wasted my time reading it now, why should I even waste more of my time talking about it.
    That’s more or less my approach!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s interesting how your reviews differ from mine, so thanks for sharing! I also hate reviewing books I can’t find any redeeming qualities in and often won’t bother to do it or will end up dragging my feet on writing the review.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Great post! I write as many negative reviews as positive ones, I think, and I always try to find something redeeming in the product even if I really disliked it. If not, I try to see why others would like it.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I never write a negative review without giving reason behind parts of it. The last time I ever did one was for Halo 5 Guardians and unfortunately a lot of people got pissed over it.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I am definitely the ranting type when it comes to negative reviews. Those are fun to write for me because I like being an over the top cynic 😁
    Carefully worded reviews are fantastic to get an unbiased overview of a product and definitely something I’d want to read if I really wanted to know what this product is all about. Rants, I think, are more there for entertainment, for people who already have an opinion on it.
    Having said that, I don’t think we should pull our punches when we talk about big industry triple A games. These aren’t just two dudes working on their passion project, these are multi-million dollar industries that only exist to make money. If we don’t tell them straight up, loud, and unapologetically what’s wrong with their product or service, they won’t listen.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I love rant reviews, but I agree that I feel like they’re more based in entertainment, as they’re the review someone gravitates towards when their mind is already made up. They’re really cathartic, though.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. My method is not unlike your own. Make a list of the points I want to make and usually start with the bad so the tone is set properly for the remainder for the review.

    I still struggle with trying not to completely obliterate a game when I do negative reviews though. In my mind a lot of what I would say was fine, but after working with someone else for over a year I realized that far too often my negative written works comes across a lot stronger than I think it does.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The hard part I have is actually not sounding overly negative on things I felt “meh” about. When I write middle-of-the-road reviews, I tend to focus a bit too heavily on the negatives, so people expect I’m going to give a bad score and it turns out to be a perfectly mediocre title. I can really only get better with practice, though.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Practice makes better.

        I think I’ve gotten better with that, but I still periodically ask friends for a “how does this read” check. Helps give an outside opinion so I know if I hit the mark for what I was trying to convey.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. For me, writing a review of a book that I know a lot of people loved but wasn’t my cup of tea is the most daunting! I’m writing one right now where I appreciate the crafting that went into overall story, and I can see why certain people love the book, but the characters just did not connect with me on an emotional level at all. Trying to put that sentiment into a coherent review has been plaguing me all week!

    Liked by 1 person

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