How to Write a Review
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In order to learn how to write a review effectively, you must learn to deliver your opinion in essay form. Like any essay a good review should have these four elements:
• An Introduction – A “hook” to grab the reader’s attention and make them want to read the review.
• A Thesis Statement – A statement (preferably one sentence, sometimes more) near the beginning of the review that expresses your opinion about whatever you’re reviewing.
• A Body – The main part of the review where you provide specific evidence to support your thesis.
• A Conclusion – The final paragraph where you synthesize all the points you’ve mentioned throughout your review and restate your thesis in a unique way.
Oftentimes a reader will decide whether or not to read a review after the first three to five sentences, so you better make them good. An introduction serves to pull the reader in. It’s a sales pitch that says: “I have something interesting to say about X and here’s why.”
Just like any article or essay there are many ways to write an introduction for a review. Here are some of the most common:
Start with your opinion
Begin with a bold statement of opinion. If you disliked Saw XVII, for example, you could start with something like: “I’m not sure who experienced the most pain, the characters in the film or the people in the theater.” When you start with your opinion, a reader will be interested in knowing why you have the opinion you do, even if they disagree with you.
Use a relevant anecdote
If you’re reviewing a French café, you might describe the atmosphere of a café you had visited on your last trip to Paris. Then, you can write about how the café you’re reviewing does or doesn’t succeed in recreating that kind of atmosphere.
If you’re reviewing a book, quote Falkner. If you’re reviewing a movie, quote Hitchcock. Or, if you can dig up something the director of the movie or author of the book had said in the past, use that.
Be sure to keep your introduction short, preferably five sentences or less. Don’t get derailed on tangents. Remember that the main purpose of the introduction is to draw the reader in and lead them smoothly to your thesis statement.
The Thesis Statement
For a critical review, a thesis statement is essentially a statement of your opinion. It’s the argument that your entire review centers around. A thesis statement can be a simple, bold assertion: “This has got to be the worst movie of the decade.” Or, be longer and more colorful, like in Roger Ebert’s review of Freddy got Fingered: “This movie doesn’t scrape the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn’t the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn’t below the bottom of the barrel. This movie doesn’t deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence with barrels.”
After you’ve made your thesis statement, which in this case can be boiled down to: “the movie sucked,” you can then provide several details and descriptions of scenes in the body of your review to show just how sucky the movie was.
Here’s another example: Let’s say that you’re reviewing the new French café downtown. A possible thesis statement might be: “The Restaurant’s owner has succeeded in recreating the atmosphere of an authentic French café right here in downtown Seattle.”
This statement does two things. First, it shows that you like the café. Second, it provides the main reason why you liked it. If you can effectively convince your reader that the restaurant does indeed recreate the atmosphere of an authentic French café with enough detail, then you’ve done your job as a reviewer.
If you’re ever lost looking for a good thesis statement for your review, just hop over to the website metacritic. Metacritic takes all the reviews of popular magazines and newspapers and puts them all in one place. For each review they’ll quote one or two sentences which effectively summarizes a critic’s opinion of a movie, music album, TV Show, Book, or Video Game. These quotes are often very good examples of thesis statements. If you’re going to make it a habit of writing regular reviews on popular media, it’d be a good idea to visit metacritic often and learn from the pros.
After you’ve made your thesis statement, you must provide as many specific details as you can to support it. If you praise a French café as “authentic,” you must define exactly what an “authentic French café” is and then provide details as to how this particular café meets that standard. If you think a particular comedy film isn’t funny, describe scenes where the film attempts to be funny and explain how they just don’t work.
When writing reviews, make sure you have a list of points to cover. It’s quite possible to get so enamored by a restaurant’s dishes that you forget to talk about the atmosphere. Have a checklist handy to remind you of all the important points that you may need to cover when writing. For a restaurant it may be the service, food, decor, other patrons, and the cleanliness of the restrooms. For a movie it might be the acting, directing, pacing and film score. For a website it might be the capability to increase traffic, readability of the copy and the quality of the content. You don’t have to mention every item on your checklist in the review itself, but it’s a good idea to look it over to see if you’ve forgotten any important details.
The purpose of the conclusion is to remind your reader why they were reading in the first place. It sums up most of the main ideas expressed in the body of the review and will often end by reinforcing the idea behind your original thesis statement in a clear and poignant way.
A good concluding statement can…
• “Madagascar 3 is a manic, but ultimately soulless carbon copy of the first two films. Wait for it to come out on DVD.”
• “Finnegan’s wake: the movie, is a brilliant and surprisingly loyal adaptation of James Joyce’s classic novel. Watching it while sober is not recommended.”
Make a Strong Endorsement or Rejection:
• “This book should be read by everyone.”
• “This book shouldn’t be read by anyone.”
Get us to see the bigger picture:
• “The success and brilliance of Limozeen’s new album will forever change how we think about glam metal bands.”
• “Gigli 2 may go down in history as the only film to cause clinical blindness.”
Use a personal perspective or experience:
• “After two hours of playing the game, I felt like my brain had been microwaved–In a good way.”
• “Now I don’t have to book a ticket to Paris to go to my favorite French café, all I need is bus fare.”
Your conclusion should often be the strongest part of your review. Save your funniest jokes, your most brilliant observations and your boldest arguments for last. You don’t just want your review to be liked, you want it to be remembered. The best way to do that is to end strong.
Kenji Crosland is a creative writing major who, scared of becoming a starving artist, became a corporate headhunter in Tokyo. Since then he’s regained his sanity, quit his job, and now blogs about creating an ideal career at unreadyandwilling.com. He is also developing a web application that just might change the internet. Follow him on Twitter: @KenjiCrosland.