Here's Everything You Need to Know About Writing Great Reviews

Does a career spent reviewing movies, music, books, TV shows or restaurants seem like Nirvana to you? Then you’re a born critic. But writing great reviews is an art, one that few have mastered.

Here are some tips.

Know Your Subject

Too many beginning critics are eager to write but know little about their topic. If you want to write reviews that carry some authority, then you need to learn everything you can.

Want to be the next Roger Ebert? Take college courses on the history of film, read as many books as you can and of course, watch lots of movies. The same goes for any topic.

Some believe that in order to be a truly good film critic you must have worked as a director, or that in order to review music you must have been a professional musician. That kind of experience wouldn’t hurt, but it’s more important to be a well-informed layman.

Read Other Critics

Just as an aspiring novelist reads the great writers, a good critic should read accomplished reviewers, whether it’s the aforementioned Ebert or Pauline Kael on film, Ruth Reichl on food or Michiko Kakutani on books. Read their reviews, analyze what they do and learn from them.

Don’t Be Afraid to Have Strong Opinions

Great critics all have strong opinions. But newbies who aren’t confident in their views often write wishy-washy reviews with sentences like “I sort of enjoyed this” or “that was okay, though not great.” They’re afraid to take a strong stand for fear of being challenged

But there’s nothing more boring than a hemming-and-hawing review. So decide what you think, and state it in no uncertain terms.

Avoid “I” and “In My Opinion”

Too many critics pepper reviews with phrases like “I think” or “In my opinion.” Again, this is often done by novice critics afraid of writing declarative sentences.

Such phrases are unnecessary; your reader understands that it’s your opinion you’re conveying.

Give Background

The critic’s analysis is the centerpiece of any review, but that’s not much use to readers if he doesn’t provide enough background information.

So if you’re reviewing a movie, outline the plot but also discuss the director and his previous films, the actors and perhaps even the screenwriter. Critiquing a restaurant? When did it open, who owns it and who’s the head chef? An art exhibit? Tell us a little about the artist, her influences and previous works.

Don’t Spoil the Ending

There’s nothing readers hate more than a film critic who gives away the ending to the latest blockbuster. So yes, give plenty of background information, but don't give away the ending.

Know Your Audience

Whether you’re writing for a magazine aimed at intellectuals or a mass-market publication for average folks, keep your target audience in mind. So if you’re reviewing a film for a publication aimed at cineastes, you can wax rhapsodic about the Italian neo-realists or the French New Wave. If you’re writing for a wider audience, such references might not mean much.

That’s not to say you can’t educate your readers in the course of a review.

But remember – even the most knowledgeable critic won’t succeed if he bores his readers to tears.

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