How to write reviews

I’ve done quite a bit of reviewing over the last fifteen years or so, mostly for the freebies, but also for the writing and publishing practice. Usually in academic journals, but writing for other sources more recently. I’ve reviewed all sorts of things – books, films, television shows, academic conferences, lindy exchanges, websites, software, CDs, music concerts, dance awards ceremonies (that was a weird one), and at one point a whole series of different circuses.

Writing reviews is a real skill, one I don’t really have. You have about 300 words to write something useful (it has to help punters decide whether to go/read/watch), something honest, something kind, and something entertaining. Yes, all in about 300 words. If it’s for an academic journal you have to prove that you actually know something about the topic. If it’s for more general publications, it’s more important that you’re useful to the reader.

As you’ve probably realised, I have trouble with the succinct. That’s ok when you’re doing long reviews for publications. But it’s not much use for publicists looking for a little something for a blurb, or a punter who just wants to know whether they should drop $20 on a CD. So I’m always looking for tips on how to refine the way I write reviews.

I’m going to try to list some useful review-writing references here:

Terry Teachout’s “TT: Thou shalt”

Kerryn Goldsworthy’s excellently useful ‘…and a bad-bad review…’

[NB That’s a photo of Dorothy Parker up there. She’s who most reviewers like to think they are.]

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