Posted in What I Do

What I Do: Reading Reviews

Last week I shared some tips for writing reviews. But, most people are more likely to read a review than to write one. Reviews helps us discover new products that might be useful to us. They help us make a decision on major purchases. And they help us discover whether or not a product lives up to its claims.

Unfortunately, not all reviews are reliable or useful. Here are some tips for finding the best and most reliable reviews.

Avoid the extremes.

Although there are honest one and five star reviews, those are also the most likely places for scam reviews. Someone paid to write a review will almost always give a five-star ranking. Someone determined to undermine a product or brand (yes, those people exist!) will go with the one-star. Most truly thoughtful reviewers will fall somewhere in between.
Seek details. If a review is rated low and begins with a comment about slow shipping or a damaged product, it is probably not going to be helpful or relevant. Also, if a reviewer either raves about or bashes a product without giving true context, it might be hard for you to apply those pros and cons to your own situation.

A caveat to this would be the reviewer who says that the product arrived damaged, but an assessment of the product was still possible. In fact, a review like that could be incredibly useful!

Look for experience.

How many ways was the product used? For how long? Is there information that is not in the product description? Does the review candidly respond to the product description? Or does every detail seem to simply mirror the description?

Consider the relevance of the review.

An example will actually work best to explain what I mean. A few months ago, I took to the Internet to search for a shoulder rest for my daughter’s violin. I found one with solid reviews, but there was one primary complaint: there were no instructions for mounting the shoulder rest. The shoulder rest received several one-star ratings for that one reason.

In all honesty, lack of instructions is not a bad reason for a product to receive a low rating in some cases. Users need to know how to use a product. In this case, however, other reviewers offered slightly more helpful input than those who just gave the product a low rating. These reviewers stated that, although a newbie might have issues, someone who had mounted a shoulder rest before would have no problems. Our conclusion? YouTube and knowledgeable friends were close at hand, so the negative was not relevant for us.

Bottom Line: Before you accept the reviewer conclusion, whether positive or negative, make sure his arguments are relevant to your unique needs.

Compare reviews.

The more reviews a product has, the easier it is to make a genuine assessment. Compare pros and cons. Consider voices and credibility. Often, good reviewers will evaluate other reviews and directly respond to common negatives and positives.

As a side note here, a low number of reviews doesn’t automatically mean a product is bad. If you are familiar with a product that has few reviews, consider that an invitation to write one! Other customers will be grateful. And, if your review is positive, so will the manufacturer. (This is especially true of authors. They will love you for your help!)

The ultimate advice for reading reviews is this: pay attention! With a little discernment and practice, it becomes quite easy to sort out the bad reviews from the good.

Posted in What I Do

What I Do: Writing a Review

According to my blog, I wrote my first review seven years ago this month. Wow. It’s quite incredible to think of all the doors that have opened because I started writing book reviews. Something I’ve learned along the way is that not all reviews are created equal. So what does it take to write a solid review?

Nuts and Bolts

The first thing to keep in mind is that a review is not an excuse to gush over or bash a product. Instead, it is to inform. With that in mind, there are a few practicals to consider before even looking at the content of your review.

Word Count

The ideal review length is 300-500 words. Setting a minimum goal of 300 words (or, if you are reviewing on a site like Amazon rather than on your blog, 150-200 is sufficient) makes you stop and truly think about a product that you might be tempted to review in two sentences.

On the other hand, a limit of 500 words keeps you from rambling and gushing. The review I intend to publish tomorrow currently stands at 835 words. So, part of the editing process will be to cut out the unnecessary wordiness and make it more manageable.

Note: There are some reviews that require more words. Be as concise as possible, but don’t be limited by self-imposed word counts in those situations.


Use visual stimulation in your presentation. Bullet points, numbered lists, and headings are very useful!

Order is Everything

Whether this is a negative or positive review, try to both start and finish with a positive comment about the product. “This didn’t work for us, but ______ would find it useful,” makes for a great closing statement to a negative review.

Credit to Product Source

If you received a product in exchange for review, remember to include a statement such as this at the end of your review: “This product was sent to me by COMPANY NAME in exchange for my honest review.”


Now you’re ready to start building content! Here are some tips (in no certain order – you can build your review your way!).

My Story

Set the stage by sharing in just a few sentences how this product fits into your family. That is relevant to the reader, as it shows readers how your family differs from theirs. But they don’t need all the fine details. Keep it brief!

Pros & Cons

Find at least one con about a product you love. Putting this thought into the review builds your credibility and indicates that you’re not a paid reviewer. Of course, you also should find at least one positive about a product you greatly dislike, in addition to the “this would be useful for” statement mentioned earlier.

In fact, whether this is a positive or negative review, ending with a recommendation statement makes closing comments a cinch!

Just the Facts

When it’s all said and done, however, the facts are what people are looking for. Be helpful. What would you want to know about this product that you can’t find through other sources? Does the product actually live up to the company’s claims? Are there additional pieces of information a customer would like to have before buying? This is the meat of your review around which the rest is built.

Clean-Up Time

Finally, don’t forget the edit! Walk away for five minutes, or even a day, and then come back to reread. Does it make sense? Are there spelling or grammar errors? You don’t have to be a grammar Nazi or an editor to make sure your review is well-written. Just pay attention. It makes all the difference!