Writing Reviews: Avoiding Bad Habits

→ in
Tools    





What an excellent day for an exorcism
Writing Reviews: Avoiding Bad Habits

IMDB.com is a great resource for movies and I reference it regularly for my website projects. Over the years, I have read numerous detailed synopsis and reviews contributed by members of IMDB. While I don't contribute reviews myself due to my own site projects, I have spent countless hours in research and have picked out signs of bad habits some members default to.

Granted, the IMDB review and synopsis sections are for amateur writers, however, it's a very popular amateur venue where even one movie could have literally over a 1,000 reviews. With this much interest for members to exercise their writing chops, meaning there are literally thousands of members who contributes reviews, a few basic tips to heed can't be a bad thing.

Members post reviews because they want them read. Just because they are generally viewed as amateur, that doesn't necessarily mean they can't put together a cohesive, focused, and interesting review. Here's a list of bad habits to avoid and basic tips for you to consider if you decide to write a review and / or synopsis for IMDB or other websites/forums.


The Endless Sentence

One of the most common mistakes I see that both reviewers and synopsis contributors do: They seem deathly afraid to end a sentence. A 150 word sentence embedded with a dozen commas and a dozen semi-colons is a nightmare to read. This bad habit is more common in the Synopsis sections than the Reviews sections.

Keep your sentences somewhat compact. You're writing a sentence, not a paragraph. A generous supply of "periods" is your friend.

. . . . and speaking of paragraphs...


The Endless Paragraph

Again, these are a nightmare to read when a paragraph never ends. Websites are easier to read when paragraphs are brief. You start with a train of thought that has a message or point. End that point with a paragraph ending. Continuing to a new point in the same paragraph sends a confusing message. Is the author still discussing his first point?

Give the reader a space to absorb your point with a paragraph ending, then continue with your next point with a new paragraph. Sometimes you may need multiple paragraphs to properly desribe a single point. Don't be afraid to do that. When I see a one paragraph "wall of text" in a review, I typically scroll past it to the next review.

The ultimate reader's nightmare: a reviewer who writes the Endless Sentence mentioned above in an Endless Paragraph.


Insulting Review Titles

When you are creating the title for your review, the worst thing you can do is launch your review insulting the readers or infesting your title with absurd claims.

An example of an insulting title I saw at the IMDB reviews section, "People are Getting Dumber." Why start off insulting the reader? As the reader, should I exclude myself from the author's accusation? Does the author realize he or she is insulting his family and friends also? "People" includes them too. Does the author think he is above his own his accusation? When I come across a review with such an insulting title, I scroll right past it without bothering to read what he has to say about the film.

An example of an absurd claim in the title I saw in the IMDB reviews section, "All Ratings are Lies!" Along with his review, he also gave his rating. Thanks for the heads up. Going by the author's logic, his rating and review are a lie. He saved me the time reading his review. Don't discourage viewers reading your review by making absurd claims.


Lengthy Synopsis in Reviews

Another common mistake, lengthy synopsis in a review. Members don't need it, they're just one or two clicks away from a lengthy synopsis if that was what the reader was looking for. I've seen imbd full page movie reviews where over 90% of the review content is simply reciting the story. A total waste of time.

Keep synopsis in your review to a minimum, such as when it's needed to drive a specific point you're discussing on the film. A brief paragraph on the synopsis is plenty of fuel to launch your review of the film. The only time you would want to write a lengthy synopsis is if you're actually submitting it in IMDB's synopsis section.


Irrelevant Rambling On

Reviewers who go on about their quest to go see the movie. Blabbering on about how their theater doesn't have their favorite brand of candy, so they had to stop at the store first so he had the proper condiments to experience the movie as he is accustomed to.

What? . . . . . Don't care. I don't really care if your theater doesn't offer your favorite jelly beans. Talk . . . . about . . . . the movie.


Aggressive or Antagonistic Reviews

Reviews that stray or lose focus on the movie via uncontrolled temper. Here's an example, I'll keep the review contributor's name anonymous:

"Let's begin with the bad sides...I met an old lady on Sunday in the vegetable market. She was smart, friendly, smiling, tastefully dressed, but when she walked by, she smelled a bit like pee, so I smacked her in the face! ...NO. It does not work like that.

So yes, there are flaws in the scripting, and they are perfectly and amusingly laid down in the longer 1-star reviews here. But if you are not suffering from over-infatuation with your own intellect, or from the professional deformations of a self-proclaimed art critic, it's certainly a great sci-fi. Alone the fact that people compare it to so many other movies, or liked so many divergent aspects about it, should tell you that it's not simple, not predictable, and well executed.

So if you crave for one of those, oh so rare, good sci-fi's with a bit of everything, you certainly want to watch it. And if you start watching it, you may want to enjoy it. So do yourself a favor switch off a few neural connections, if you suspect you own many, let the fear go, lay back and enjoy it. (!The plot summaries for this movie on IMDb are a failure)
"

What a mess. The bulk of this review is him insulting other reviewers, insulting the readers, and even insulting the synopsis contributor. Check out his gunshot accusation..... some readers might be "over-infatuated with their own intellect?" What does that have to do with his perceptions on the movie? Sorry, but that antagonistic approach does not inspire me whatsoever to watch the movie.

The review contributor also lost focus by attacking what's been said in other reviews. Again, this tells us absolutely nothing about his perception on the film. Once you remove all of his insults, all he basically says is "yea go see it because I said so."

When you're contributing an IMDB review, stay focused on the movie. It's not your duty to try to negate what's been said in other reviews and it's not your judgment call to conclude some readers / reviewers might be "professional deformations of a self-proclaimed art critic." Leave your gunshot insults on your personal Notepad, and just express publicly your analysis of the film.


Rookie One Liner Jabs

Overused and lame remarks such as "I joined IMDB just to write this review to warn people," and "If I could rate it less than 1, I would." Again, it serves no purpose but to be antagonistic. You can certainly be very critical without stooping to playground spitting. If you have a strong disdain for a given movie, express it intelligently.


Phony Endorsements

Members making up phony endorsements to stengthen their point when it's obvious to anyone with common sense they are making it up. A few examples:

"When that cheesy scene came up on screen, the entire crowd in my theater just rolled their eyes!"

R-i-i-ight! This member expects us to believe, at that moment, he turned his head and studied every audience face behind him for their reaction to that scene? And if the member wasn't in the front row, he would then have to get up and run to the front row and study the faces of all the people that were in front of him?

The second example, "When that cheesy scene came up on screen, several people walked out of the theater!"

Translation: It was either imagined by the member or he saw one person get up and neglected to mention that person returned moments later....perhaps from the bathroom. This one is used so often that if it were indeed true, you could hardly go to a theater and not see people walk out in "protest."

Third example, casting yourself as the brainiac of your given theater crowd. "Very few in my theater understood the symbolism in that scene. When we see the red reflection in his eyes, I was the only one in my theater 'who got it.' "

How does he know that? At the end of the movie, did he race to the exit and interview every audience member making their way out and asked them if they "got that scene?"

Don't make up phony endorsements to strengthen your point. Have confidence in your ability to explain the reasoning for your criticism or praise, whichever applies, sans the eyes-rolling-stomping-out-of-the-theater imaginary crowd.


An Ounce of Preparation Saves you a Pound of Embarrassment

Nothing more embarrassing than expressing inaccurate information in a review. Take notes while watching the film, is one option. This collection of your thoughts makes for a great template to develop your review and reduces the chance of recalling a scene inaccurately. Also consider watching the film one more time if you can, before writing your review. First impressions or recollections can sometimes go awry.

Perfect example from an IMDB reviewer, "How does Kurt's R.J. MacReady [The Thing 1982], who is the station's helicopter pilot, know everything and always has the right answer?" All this tells me is the reviewer's attention strayed from the film. Otherwise he would have known the character Mac was very much wrong with his suspicions more than once. Mac thought Clarke was an alien . . . Mac was wrong. Mac thought Garry was an alien . . . Mac was wrong.

Perhaps if this reviewer watched the film again, he would have caught that the second time around. Or at the very least, kept his attention focused on the film the first time around. Instead, he now has inaccurate scene info existing in his review. . . Embarrassing . . . very embarrassing.


The Hook

The hook, your beginning sentence. What you say from the very beginning could possibly determine whether a reader will continue reading your review. An excellent example from an IMDB reviewer who began with . . .

"A low-budget independent film that is nevertheless handsomely and confidently shot, Blue Ruin is a consistently unpredictable, twisty, and excellent thriller."

In his first sentence, he gives a condensed description of the film type and I know immediately his view on the film . . . . all in one brief sentence. I'm compelled to read further for his explanation and / or elaborate on his introduction claim.

I've seen some reviews where you don't even know the author's view on the film until late in the review. Don't keep the reader guessing, make a stance early on or in your introduction. This makes for a great segue to your more detailed opinion of the film and gives the reader a clear message of your review agenda.
__________________
SciFiMovieZone.com



"Money won is twice as sweet as money earned."



Mistress of Sick Gore
Nice that you created this but people will write how they want.

I, myself, don't do reviews because I will give the whole film out.
__________________
Never talk smack about Star-Lord!!!
It is not his fault and he's not an idiot!


After all, horror is usually concerned in some way with death, and romance is concerned with love, but love and death and how one is bound up in the other is the very essence of gothic.



Writing Reviews: Avoiding Bad Habits
...
I've seen some reviews where you don't even know the author's view on the film until late in the review. Don't keep the reader guessing, make a stance early on or in your introduction. This makes for a great segue to your more detailed opinion of the film and gives the reader a clear message of your review agenda.

You make some good points, SFMZ. Sometimes I shake my head at some of the IMDB reviews..

But here on Movie Forums the opposite is often true: folks don't say enough about the films they're either recommending or panning. So often we read something like, "This is a really good movie. I really recommend it." WHY do you recommend it, and WHY is it a good movie? WHAT did you like about it?

I suspect some members don't believe they can write a "good review", but really all that's necessary for our purposes is for them to share their thoughts on what it is that forms their opinions about any given movie.

Another puzzler is the popcorn box rating system. So often people leave a rating without any indication of why they liked a film or didn't like it. So often I'm looking for recommendations for movies or series to watch. It saves me time mooching around on the web to get an inkling of whether or not I might want to spend time looking at a movie. So I'm always happy when people give some indication of what they thought about a movie in some detail.

~Doc



Ami-Scythe's Avatar
A bucket of anxiety
I know this is about writing reviews not video reviews, but my videos do start out as written essays so I thought this would be good advice, and it is! I'm intensely negative in my reviews and my sentences are incredibly long. The hyperbolic negativity is for the sake of entertainment but shortening my sentences should be a useful improvement. Thank you for this thread
__________________
|>
|
Ami-Scythe



What an excellent day for an exorcism
But here on Movie Forums the opposite is often true
Fully agree. I've seen little to none of the bad habits listed above, here in Mofo. That said, any new Mofo member who happens to see this thread and considering posting their first review here, no harm in doing a sanity check whether they are lugging along any of those bad habits with them.

So often people leave a rating without any indication of why they liked a film or didn't like it.
I don't know if you were directing that at me personally and/or other members here, but the only thread I place a 'rating only' is the Rate the Last Movie You Saw thread.



Fully agree. I've seen little to none of the bad habits listed above, here in Mofo. That said, any new Mofo member who happens to see this thread and considering posting their first review here, no harm in doing a sanity check whether they are lugging along any of those bad habits with them.

I don't know if you were directing that at me personally and/or other members here, but the only thread I place a 'rating only' is the Rate the Last Movie You Saw thread.
Not at all, my friend. It was just a general observation in the hope that some of our folks might make the effort to support their rating opinions with some explanation. I enjoy pouring over reviews to see if: either I might want to watch the movie they're rating, or if I agree with their opinions of a movie that I have already seen..

My hunch is that because the general mood of touchiness and resentment prevail in modern times, that some people are reluctant to share their opinions for fear of offending, or of getting backlash. I could be wrong.

~Doc



What an excellent day for an exorcism
Understood. I kind of envy those who've grown a passion for writing reviews. That bug just never bit me. As you can see, my list touches various bad habits. It's what I picked up over the years doing research. However, tips on writing good reviews is a whole different animal. I would never attempt to tackle that.

And perhaps one of the seasoned reviewers here might be inspired to post a list of tips on writing good reviews for members who want to take it the next level beyond just avoiding bad habits.



Good advice. I like that it's particularly aimed at Internet Reviewers, or perhaps casual reviewers, which is good because that makes up the bulk of reviews we see, and there's plenty of advice focused on more serious reviewers, anyway, even though they need it less (well, depending on their ultimate goals). Good stuff.
__________________



It's not your duty to try to negate what's been said in other reviews and it's not your judgment call to conclude some readers / reviewers might be "professional deformations of a self-proclaimed art critic." Leave your gunshot insults on your personal Notepad, and just express publicly your analysis of the film.
Wanted to highlight this part, in particular. That first bit, about people trying to negate other opinions, is very applicable and (sadly) very common. Seems like most reviews are less one person engaging with one thing, and more one person adding their pull to one side of whatever tug-of-war inspired them to write about it in the first place.

Kinda reminds me of the inevitable pushback when a semi-thoughtful mainstream films get a lot of praise, especially if it's vaguely philosophical, which is clearly less about the film and more about disabusing its fans of whatever trailblazing they think it might be doing. There's a desire to "counterbalance" this stuff by saying something is bad or not good because some people think it's better than it is, which seems misguided even if you're right about that.



My advice for reviewers:

Learn brevity. It doesn't take a novella to review a film. Gather your thoughts and stay focused. Don't give into OC writing, not every single point needs to be made in a review.

Skip the long synopsis. I want to read what someone's personal take on the movie is. I don't need a total recounting of the entire plot. A short paragraph that sums up what the film is about is good, more synopsis is not.

Don't be a robotic reviewer. This might be the hardest for reviewers to do, but avoid always writing the same thing, in the same predictable way. Shake it up. Find something new to write about and then create the review in a different style. At least on occasion.

Don't hold back
. Did you love the movie? Then let that love ring out so others can see the joy the movie gave you. Or did you hate the movie? Then dump your venom on the film like your a long lost brother of Rex Reed. If the film was crap say so, but make sure and say why it was crap...or why it's wonderful.

These are the general review philosophies that I try to follow when I write a review.