We have all read bad reviews. Whether it is the biased writer with an axe to grind or an under-the-table commission to earn, the boring writer who uses ten words where one would do, or the deadline writer who is rushed for time and uses a company’s marketing literature to mask lack of knowledge, a bad review wastes our time. Still, there are basic guidelines that can help you write an effective review.
Know your Audience
Just like preparing to give a presentation to your user group, your first step is to identify your audience. What matters to your audience? Are they new to the product or long-time users interested in the latest release? You want to be sure that your review offers value to each segment of your readership.
Research the Product
Before you use the product, do a bit of research. Check out discussion groups and user forums. What features are most popular? Are there claims about lack of functionality, product fails, or areas where the product seems to have strong advocates? These posts will not be part of your review, but can give you background about what the product’s users care about. Marketing kits can be useful in terms of background, but never take a marketing claim as a fact.
Use the Product
Never write a review for a product before you have given it an extensive try out. True, you can often know within 10 – 15 minutes if the product is one that you like, but a rushed review will harm your credibility. Get to know the product well before you offer your thoughts to your readers.
Write your First Draft
In your draft, answer these questions: what is the product supposed to do? What makes it different from its competitors? How is it unique? What works as promised? Where does the product present challenges? Who will be well served by buying the product and which buyers will be a bad fit?
Write your Introduction and Conclusion
Once you have used the product and listed your pros and cons, you will have a good feel for your overall opinion about the product. Write a short introduction and conclusion that summarizes your assessment of the product. Remember, the introduction and conclusion should function as a circle, so that your review should end up close to where it started.
Chop out the Fat
Readers find value in information that is clear, concise, and a quick read. Go through your draft, introduction and conclusion. Where possible, shorten what you have just written. Aim to include everything that is necessary and sufficient and delete everything that feels like fluff.
Edit for Bias
Read what you have so far: does it feel mean spirited? Worse, does it sound like you are a paid member of the product’s marketing team? You want your words to sound as if an interesting, technically proficient, and friendly human is sharing inside information with friends. In time, you will develop an authorial voice. For now, work on offering concision, fairness, and an easy-to-read style.
Create your Final Draft
Once you have the body of your review, and an introduction and conclusion, there are a few more steps to take. Craft a headline that clearly indicates what product you are reviewing and your basic take on that product. Identify any media that might help get your message across: a short video or product shots. Where possible, do not use the marketing shots from the company, but those you have developed that show real-world use. Finally, do a last proof for grammar, punctuation, and spelling.
You are ready to publish your first review.