Wednesday, 2 August 2017

5. On Writing Critical Reviews

A skill which should not be underrated for any literature student is the ability to compose a good critical review. Too often reviews can be dismissed as something anyone can do fairly easily, but if you read the content from The Newyorker alone I think you'll find that it is quite a different story. Critical reviews need to be well research, drafted, edited and articulate just as any other piece of successful written work does.

I really struggled with writing critical reviews before I started at university. But once I had sat through a few lectures and seminars addressing directly the necessary content it was much easier to begin putting together the necessary work. It was strange writing an assignment that didn't include Harvard Referencing, but I think that is all the more reason to be a fan of writing this sort of content. For whilst it has to be well researched and planned, it also feels very much like a conversational piece which can ultimately make it a lot easier to approach.

If you're set on being a critic and would like some tips on where to begin with your reviewing, here are some of my go to approaches:

Know where to begin and then take it from there
Goodreads + Reading

I keep up to date with my reviewing skills by writing reviews for the books I read throughout the year for my 100 book challenge. This means that by the end of the year I will have written at least 100 mini reviews, putting into practice each time the skills I use when producing content in class. In this way, it is the perfect ongoing project to use for practice.

In addition to writing your own reviews, be sure to look into others. I mentioned earlier the Newyorker which is one of my go to places for examples of critical reviews. If you read frequently in this style then it will begin to show in your own content. This sort of reading is a practice within itself because it is an active attempt to learn more about your craft. It's also something you can do on the go, even if you don't have somethign to review at the time.


Knowing where to start is the hard part. After that, it can be a bit easier if you start planning things. I tend to go for a colour coded mind map surrounded by words which encapsulate themes, characters and anything else that I would like to comment on in my writing. 

Once you have made some intial notes you can either start writing or go into a further in depth plan - whatever works best for you personally. The whole point of the plan is to allow you to see where you are going. Just as you would with an exam question, you need to refer back in order to make links and connections as you work forward. The more you do this, the clearer your writing will be and the more obvious your statements will become to someone reading your review.

Bias + Analysis 

If there is anything you need to avoid it is bias. The point of a review is not to say that you like or dislike something, but instead to evaluate whether the product in question has been successful in its' aims, if it has reverberated well with the public and how it might have been made better in order to reach its' aim. Whilst there is going to be some personal opinion on your behalf, you have to look beyond this in order to be a pro-active writer.

Your anlaysis will help you achieve that voice that is bias free. By analysis I mean taking certain sections from something like a book and showing how they connect to a point you have made about character development. If you can show that a character has remained static and completely the same throughout the whole novel then that is an acceptable point to make, but if you have only said it with no evidence then you need to be thinking on a more intricate scale.

Show Your Interest + Researching

The way to show your interest and to make it personal without referring to your own opinion directly all of the tie time is to include some research. Not so to speak in the academic style - as I mentioned earlier, there is no Harvard referencing in the average review.

Research could be making connections to other books or films which have achieved similar things in order to compare and contrast how successful it has been. Sometimes it can be useful to reference an article or two directly, but don't feel that you have to do this.

Conclusions + Balanced Judgements

Make sure that you sum everything up with a clear and balanced judgement. This means despite commenting previously on something which could be improved before discussing something which was done very well, now you draw all of that together in one statement.

For instance, you might say 'whilst it was unsuccessful in 'this regard' it was overall successful in how it achieved 'this result''.

Thank-you for all your support and comments. It is a fantastic thing to be able to help answer any of your questions and to share my adventure with all of you. It makes my day every day! 

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