By the end of this section, you will be able to:
- Identify and define common characteristics, mediums, key terms, and features of the review genre.
- Identify criteria and evidence to support reviews of different primary sources.
- Focused subject: The subject of the review is specific and focuses on one item or idea. For example, a review of all Marvel Cinematic Universe movies could not be contained in the scope of a single essay or published review not only because of length but also because of the differences among them. Choosing one specific item to review—a single film or single topic across films, for instance—will allow you to provide a thorough evaluation of the subject.
- Judgment or evaluation: Reviewers need to deliver a clear judgment or evaluation to share with readers their thoughts on the subject and why they would or would not recommend it. An evaluation can be direct and explicit, or it can be indirect and subtle.
- Specific evidence: All reviews need specific evidence to support the evaluation. Typically, this evidence comes in the form of quotations and vivid descriptions from the primary source, or subject of the review. Reviewers often use secondary sources—works about the primary source— to support their claims or provide context.
- Context: Reviewers provide context, such as relevant historical or cultural background, current events, or short biographical sketches, that help readers understand both the primary source and the review.
- Tone: Writers of effective reviews tend to maintain a professional, unbiased tone—attitude toward the subject. Although many reviewers try to avoid sarcasm and dismissiveness, you will find these elements present in professional reviews, especially those in which critics pan the primary source.
These are some key terms to know and use when writing a review:
- Analysis: detailed examination of the parts of a whole or of the whole itself.
- Connotation: implied feelings or thoughts associated with a word. Connotations can be positive or negative. Reviewers often use words with strong positive or negative connotations that support their praise or criticism. For example, a writer may refer to a small space positively as “cozy” instead of negatively as “cramped.”
- Criteria: standards by which something is judged. Reviewers generally make their evaluation criteria clear by listing and explaining what they are basing their review on. Each type of primary source has its set of standards, some or all of which reviewers address.
- Critics: professional reviewer who typically publishes reviews in well-known publications.
- Denotation: the literal or dictionary definition of a word.
- Evaluation: judgment based on analysis.
- Fandom: community of admirers who follow their favorite works and discuss them online as a group.
- Genre: broad category of artistic compositions that share similar characteristics such as form, subject matter, or style. For example, horror, suspense, and drama are common film and literary genres. Hip hop and reggae are common music genres.
- Medium: way in which a work is created or delivered (DVD, streaming, book, vinyl, etc.). Works can appear in more than one medium.
- Mode: sensory method through which a person interacts with a work. Modes include linguistic, visual, audio, spatial, and gestural.
- Primary Sources: in the context of reviewing, the original work or item being reviewed, whether a film, book, performance, business, or product. In the context of research, primary sources are items of firsthand, or original, evidence, such as interviews, court records, diaries, letters, surveys, or photographs.
- Recap: summary of an individual episode of a television series.
- Review: genre that evaluates performances, exhibitions, works of art (books, movies, visual arts), services, and products
- Secondary source: source that contains the analysis or synthesis of someone else, such as opinion pieces, newspaper and magazine articles, and academic journal articles.
- Subgenre: category within a genre. For example, subgenres of drama include various types of drama: courtroom drama, historical/costume drama, and family drama.
All reviewers and readers alike rely on evidence to support an evaluation. When you review a primary source, the evidence you use depends on the subject of your evaluation, your audience, and how your audience will use your evaluation. You will need to determine the criteria on which to base your evaluation. In some cases, you will also need to consider the genre and subgenre of your subject to determine evaluation criteria. In your review, you will need to clarify your evaluation criteria and the way in which specific evidence related to those criteria have led you to your judgment. Table 7.1 illustrates evaluation criteria in four different primary source types.
|Camera quality||Author’s credentials||Writing/script||Punctuality|
|Battery life||Publication’s reputation||Acting||Ability to meet goals|
|Screen resolution||Sources cited||Special effects||Ability to work on a team|
|Screen size||Timeliness of research (up to date)||Sound/music||Communication skills|
|Durability||Relevance to subject||Directing||Professional development|
|Phone reception||Quality of writing||Subject||Competence in subject area|
|Type of horror depicted (jump scares, gore, etc.)||Pace of story||Chemistry between main characters||Accuracy/believability of plot|
|Music||Relatability of “hero”||Satisfaction/happy ending||Scenery/setting/costumes|
Providing Objective Evidence
You will use your established evaluation criteria to gather specific evidence to support your judgment. Remember, too, that criteria are fluid; no reviewer will always use the same criteria for all works, even those in the same genre or subgenre.
Whether or not the criteria are unique to the particular task, a reviewer must look closely at the subject and note specific details from the primary source or sources. If you are evaluating a product, look at the product specifications and evaluate product performance according to them, noting details as evidence. When evaluating a film, select either quotations from the dialogue or detailed, vivid descriptions of scenes. If you are evaluating an employee’s performance, observe the employee performing their job and take notes. These are examples of primary source evidence: raw information you have gathered and will analyze to make a judgment.
Gathering evidence is a process that requires you to look closely at your subject. If you are reviewing a film, you certainly will have to view the film several times, focusing on only one or two elements of the evaluation criteria at a time. If you are evaluating an employee, you might have to observe that employee on several occasions and in a variety of situations to gather enough evidence to complete your evaluation. If you are evaluating a written argument, you might have to reread the text several times and annotate or highlight key evidence. It is better to gather more evidence than you think you need and choose the best examples rather than try to base your evaluation on insufficient or irrelevant evidence.
Modes of Reviews
Take reviewer Doug DeMuro’s popular YouTube channel. DeMuro reviews cars—everything from sports cars to sedans to vintage cars. Car buyers need to interact with a car to want to buy it, and YouTube provides the next best thing by giving viewers an up-close look.
Technology is another popular type of review on YouTube. YouTube creators like Marques Brownlee discuss rumors about the next Apple iPhone or Samsung Galaxy and provide unboxing videos to record their reactions to the latest phones and laptops. Like DeMuro’s viewers, Brownlee’s audience can get up close to the product. Seeing a phone in Brownlee’s hands helps audience members imagine it in their hands.
On the other hand, reviews don’t always need to be about products you can touch, as Paul Lucas demonstrates on his YouTube channel “Wingin’ It!” Lucas reviews travel experiences (mainly airlines and sometimes trains), evaluating the service of airlines around the world and in various ticket classes.
What do these reviews have in common? First, they are all in the video medium. YouTube’s medium is video; a podcast’s medium is audio. They also share a mode. YouTube’s mode is viewing or watching; a podcast’s mode is listening.
These examples all use the genre conventions of reviews discussed in this chapter. The reviewers present a clear evaluation: should you buy this car, phone, or airline ticket? They base their evaluation on evidence that fits a set of evaluation criteria. Doug DeMuro might evaluate a family sedan on the basis of seating, trunk storage, and ride comfort. Marques Brownlee might judge a phone on the basis of battery life, design, and camera quality. Paul Lucas might grade an airline on service, schedules, and seat comfort. While the product or service being reviewed might be different, all three reviewers use similar frameworks.