Have you ever shopped online on Amazon, looked for a good restaurant on a site like Yelp, wanted to know if a movie was any good, or searched for a good recipe for dinner? If you have done any of those things, or even read the MakeUseOf site before, you know how important reviews are.
If you want to write your own reviews of products or services you’ve tried out, this guide will help you craft a review that is truly helpful to the reader. The format is inspired by recipes in the culinary sense to emphasize that there are lots of valid ways to write a review, but adding or leaving out ingredients will change the overall result.
To ascend Amazon’s Top Customer Reviewer list, for example, your reviews must be helpful whether they are positive or negative. A review written with this recipe in mind should pass through any website’s (and reader’s!) ‘spam’ filter without trouble, and will help you build a reputation as a writer and reviewer with a relatively objective voice. You could even use these tips to become an Amazon Vine reviewer or be among the Yelp Elite!
The Recipe for Worthwhile Reviews
- 1 part Things you Liked (if you can’t find any, substitute with Backstory, Reasons Why You Purchased the Product, or What your Hopes Were)
- 1 part Things You Wish Were Different (or What You Didn’t Like)
- 1 part Overall Impression
- Dash of tips/tricks/suggestions for using the product/service (optional)
You may have noticed products out there on the web with really short reviews. They may be vague, only saying, “This _______ sucked,” or “This ______ was great.” without explaining why it sucked or why it was great. If the author didn’t tell you anything else, then you have no way of knowing how they used the service. They may have used it with totally different goals than you have. The product may be designed with a different user group than the one you belong to.
For example, if I purchased a budget laptop and then gave it a poor score because it can’t play the latest games, while you are looking for an inexpensive computer to just get a bit of work done on a book you’re writing, then you know that maybe it’s just perfect for getting work done without getting distracted by games. Giving a product, or even an app, a low score because it doesn’t do what it wasn’t designed to, or can’t do for reasons beyond the designer’s control, is unfair to the creator of the product and to the readers of your review. As Ben Stegner pointed out in a previous article, this is one of the reasons Why You Shouldn’t Trust App Ratings on Google Play.
One of the reasons why including “something you wish were different” adds a lot to your review as it helps the reader get a sense of the product or service’s limitations. The reader knows that no product in the world is perfect for every person in all situations — and the reader wants to know where the limitations are — even if the product was excellent on the whole.
Conversely, if you had a negative experience, only write about the facts and don’t distort the truth or exaggerate the experience. People have previously been sued for publishing libelous reviews, and nobody wants that to happen.
The final ingredient you may want to add to your review, apart from a summary of your overall impression, is a dash of your own ideas for using the product. As in the above review of a lasagna recipe, giving your own advice can be gold for other people – not just those thinking of buying the product, but those who may have it already and are looking to get the most out of it.
Maybe you find the product works best when held a certain way, or in conjunction with another product, or with instructions the manufacturer may not have been clear about. Any of those elements of your own personal experience would be valuable for a reader.
- Images of product (add to taste)
- Images of setting
- Video/images of use
Lots of review systems give you the option to include pictures of the product you review. If you have the means to take a photograph (or video) of the product yourself and include it with the review, it will help show the reader what it’s like in real life, as opposed to in advertising.
Anyone who has eaten a fast-food hamburger can tell you, some products never look quite like what the ads depict. Photos of the product from the customer perspective help highlight problems with the form of a product that would be difficult to describe in words.
On a side note, if we all saw more ‘real life’ photos of products, maybe we would spend a little less money on products that don’t live up to the advertised promise.
- Try product/service.
- Mix written ingredients together.
- Add visuals, if possible.
- Let rest overnight (this step is optional, though recommended if your experience was upsetting).
- Publish review.
- Return to review after a period of use (depending on the product, this may be a week, a month, or several months) to update on how it lasts over time.
Some sites will give you the option to open up past reviews and edit them. If you have the time, it adds great value to any review to get a glimpse into how the product stands up to the test of time.
After the excitement of product-unboxing and initial use is gone, your perspective will be more clear. Plus, after spending weeks or months with the product, issues with day-to-day use will emerge. For most readers, knowing a product broke down in a short period of time, or conversely, that it doesn’t get damaged easily, could make or break a purchase.
That’s all there is to it! If you can follow directions like on a cake mix, reflect about the products and services you use, and type about your experiences, you can write your own reviews that earn “thumbs up” for helpfulness.
There are lots of reasons you may have for reviewing, but remember: at the end of the day, writing reviews is all about making it easier for each other to find products and services that merit a bit more love, and avoid ones that don’t. So give it some care – it will give you good karma! Also, becoming a trusted, helpful reviewer like these notable ones on Amazon, could be quite the feather in your cap that could even earn you free stuff, or access to exclusive parties like those of the Yelp Elite squad.
Why do you review products? What makes you want to contribute to one site or another? Tell us about the sites that you think provide really helpful reviews for all kinds of products in the comments!