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.
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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