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uA's Nice and Concise Reviewing Tutorial


A cat who writes stories
So this morning on Discord, @canisaries asked me this question:

canisaries said:
how do you review story
I felt inspired in that moment, so I decided to answer with a brief guide to reviewing stories. I hope that some people find it helpful! If I get to a critical mass of appreciation, reader contributions, and suchlike, I'll expand the guide into a much fuller one. The current version really is brief by my standards.

Part One - Reviewing Process Methodology:

This is simply the step-by-step method by which I go about reviewing. Part two covers how to actually comment on stories.
  1. If the review was requested and not unsolicited, privately ask the author to specific the kind of feedback they prefer. If unsolicited, the author's notes might have info on this.
  2. Open up a second browser tab to type into as you read, so you don't forget anything.
  3. Read the story, stopping only if something stands out to you. Either write a full comment on what got your attention, or make a brief note to come back to it later.
  4. Once you've finished reading, consider the chapter as a whole and summarise your feelings in a final comment.
  5. Complete any comments you made in short form and edit your final comment to comply with them.

Part Two - The Components of Review Commentary:
  1. Correspondence. I sometimes like to acknowledge the author with a greeting or some background to my review - "I've been meaning to read this, and it happened to be active in the Review Game!" - or talk about my anticipations for the fic. It's just sociable!
  2. Proofreading. Grammar and spelling errors should certainly be caught and pointed out, but formatting issues and such are good to spot too.
  3. Writing style. This is very subjective, but I usually point out any tics I notice, (such as overuse of the word 'smirk', past!Me...) anything that keeps happening that's unnecessary or irritating, or if the narration is particularly florid/dry/basic/descriptive/gripping. You might also comment on tense, POV, authorial voice, sentence complexity, just to give some examples.
  4. Characterisation and plot. Tell the author your reactions to events and characters, point out inconsistencies or frustrating/unbelievable moments, or simply what most interests you. Your biased opinion is most welcome here of all places.
  5. Description. Was there a good sense of place, do you have a clear picture of the characters? Did the narration make use of more senses than just sight, was it pleasant to read, was it smoothly integrated into the story? Was there a turn of phrase you read twice just because it was beautiful?
  6. Check for Usefulness. You should have made at least a few suggestions to improve the prose, and/or comments detailing your reaction to key elements of the story. You can also direct them to helpful resources such as guides/tutorials. If you have nothing to say to improve the fic, and you normally do, then that's some of the highest praise an author could hope for.
  7. Check for Encouragement. Ideally you should praise things you genuinely enjoyed, but in lieu of/addition to that it's acceptable to validate the author's efforts, encourage them to keep at it, and suggest that they can achieve x goal next update. It's also fine and good to straight up gush if you feel like it!
  8. Expectations & Final Comment. You may like to summarise your review, to comment on anything you missed so far, or to speculate on the content of future chapters. It's sometimes acceptable to make suggestions or ask for certain content, in the form "I hope we see more of X" but it's not acceptable to ask for content outside the scope or terms of the story. (I received a review in 2012 simply reading "This... Is just awesome. Can I suggest a mew for the next chapter? :D" and it annoys me to this day.)

Part Three - Other Notes:
  1. "No opinion" is a valid response, you may communicate that you had no strong feelings about something.
  2. It may help to see what kind of reviews the author leaves, they may expect similar treatment in return.
  3. It's acceptable to leave fanfic recs in a review, provided you can justify doing so. (Such as rec'ing other pokémorph fics in a Different Eyes review. Please do, by the way.)
  4. Even if you consider yourself an authority on a subjective topic, try to use more humble language. Phrases like "you may want to do x" or "consider doing y" or "I perceive that z is the case" may be much better received than imperatives.
  5. What you like and dislike are valid to comment on. If you're reviewing a fic outside your tastes, acknowledge that it's not what you normally read.
  6. Short reviews, uncritical reviews, rambling reviews, harsh reviews - all these have a place. Your own style of reviewing is valid. Just try to exceed 50 words, be specific to the story you're reviewing, make suggestions, and don't terrorise your local authors!

Lastly, approach the fic on the author's terms. Usually this is as simple as not denigrating their central ship, setting or genre, but it also means not fighting the author into doing things your way. Fanfiction is a hobby, after all!

My own metric of a good review is that it is useful and encouraging. You can certainly achieve this, even inside 50 words. I'm sure that even without anyone contributing ideas that I have plenty more to say on the matter, but for now that's the nice and concise guide! Enjoy, and good luck!
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Lost but Seeking
This is a cool topic! I like how you laid everything out everything step by step; makes it easy to follow along with if you need some guidance about how to go about things. It's also fun to see how other people put together their reviews.

"No opinion" is a valid response, you may communicate that you had no strong feelings about something.
This is an interesting one. Would this be in response to something specific the author had requested feedback on, either in an author's note or wherever they were requesting a review ("I'm worried about my description in this chapter"), or something else? I guess for me if I don't have strong feelings on something, I usually wouldn't say anything about it unless it was something I knew the author was looking for/expecting a comment on. Maybe if a bunch of other reviewers had talked about an element and I wanted to weigh in, I guess.

The point about checking out what sorts of reviews the author gives themselves is great, though; that's definitely a good way of getting a sense for what the author thinks feedback should look like.

I guess my only question after reading this is who your audience is. I mean, I know you literally put the quote that inspired it at the top there, heh, but to me what this reads most like is kind of "how to write more analytical reviews" for someone who's already familiar with the concept but wants to write longer/more critical reviews. For someone who hadn't reviewed much at all, I would probably emphasize "what you like/dislike" to start out with, and some nice, short example reviews that might give them an idea of some of the things they could talk about. The number of steps and their depth might be a little intimidating to someone just starting out, I think. But for someone who wanted to start writing more in-depth reviews, I think it's a good guide!


A cat who writes stories
Thanks, @Negrek.

Regarding giving a neutral opinion, I included that for two reasons. Firstly, because I know people can get worked up trying to generate a significant opinion on something they've want to comment on in a review, and I think they should rest easier about that. Secondly, because I feel that neutral feedback can be useful feedback in its own right, since if one never receives neutral feedback, that's actually an incomplete representation of the readership's response to key elements. As you say, the most relevant time for neutral feedback is when it's on a topic for which feedback is requested or highlighted. I certainly don't advocate listing everything you thought was 'not great, but alright'!

Honestly, I started this as a quick discord post to basically just summarise the essentials, but like everything I write it seems to have gone long! I appreciate your letting me know it comes off as a little in-depth for new reviewers, I'll take that into consideration when I get around to editing it.