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If You’re Going to Criticize, Be Kind Enough to Offer Reasons

Online product reviews are a blessing and a curse. Gone are the days, at least to some extent, when you would go to a local general store and ask about the quality of the product from the shopkeeper. Instead, many people today rely almost exclusively on online reviews to help them to decide on a purchase.

This online review process has changed the world in many ways. While in days past people would have been afraid to make some critical statements of others, the digital world has made it possible to say whatever you want, whenever you want, and in many cases, in complete anonymity.

The downside, in my opinion, is that in this world full of online reviews, many people have decided the environment invites them to comment on everything and everyone. People, personal photos, and online comments are now reviewed with as much, if not more, fervor than anything else.

Is this a good thing? I’ll let you decide.

Lately, my words have been the direction of just such a review.

Sometimes, negative things have to be said. If you offer reasons and solutions, it can help lessen the blow. | #SpeakingBipolar
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Words That May Have Been Misunderstood

Recently, I shared a story where I talked about a 1-Star book review for a friend’s book. The review upset me because the person writing the review didn’t read the entire book she was reviewing, and she also didn’t offer any reasons for her negative viewpoint.

That post has generated more online buzz and conversation than anything else I have ever written. That said, it seems that many readers have misunderstood the rationale behind the post.

Several individuals have contacted me because, to them, the article meant that you shouldn’t leave negative reviews. That was not my intent in writing the story. Not by any means.

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Let’s face it, some products are bad. This goes for books as well as anything else in the marketplace. If something is of poor quality, you should be warned about it. 

Many times I have chosen not to purchase items because of what I read about its quality. Other times, such as when I purchased a silicone ice cube tray, I disregarded the negative reviews only to find out that the product was even worse than what the reviews described.

As a result, I’ve come to rely on online reviews, whether that’s good or bad.

So, what was the point?

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What Would Make It Better

The book review that inspired that story was not for a book that I’ve written. It probably upset me more because I’m very protective of the people I care about, frequently more so than I am about myself.

Still, a bad review does not bother me. As the post discusses, many best-selling books have 1-star reviews.

The thing that was most discouraging about the review was that it didn’t offer any reasoning. Just saying, “This is the worst book I’ve ever read,” doesn’t help anyone. Not the author and definitely not future readers.

Why is it that you didn’t like the book? What about it didn’t resonate with you? How could it have been better?

Pointing out poor grammar, plot holes, dialogue issues, or anything else would have been helpful. Additionally, thoughts on genre, subject matter, or character development also would have helped.

In the case of the ice cube tray, the reviews plainly stated that the product had a terrible odor that transferred to every ice cube produced in the tray. The reviews were 100% accurate. Nothing I did could get rid of that awful smell, so the item eventually found its way into the donation box.

Those reviews were negative yet helpful. I didn’t listen, but then I’m still very much a work-in-progress.

Negativity In Everyday Life

The life lesson here, though, doesn’t stop with just product reviews. Really, any critical statement should be taken into account.

For instance, most of us have cooked something at least once in our lives. If someone tells you the food is terrible, does that help you? Maybe a little.

What if, instead, they told you that it was too salty? Now you have something you can work with. Now the criticism has value.

How much better the world would be if we approached everything that way. Instead of just being a hater, be a helper. Let others know how they can improve. Be a force for good.

I am thankful that several of you that reached out to me about that last post were willing to give me a chance and offered useful advice. I have revised the post accordingly.

You’re Not Going to Like Everything

Sometimes, the issue has nothing to do with the quality of the product. Take as an example, kidney beans.

Personally, I hate kidney beans. I mean really hate kidney beans. If they are in anything I’m eating, I always pick them out and throw them away or give them to someone else.

Many of you reading this story probably like kidney beans. Some of you may even love kidney beans. To each their own.

The same goes for books. There’s a world-famous author whose books I refuse to read. I’ve started two of his books, but his insistence on taking twenty pages to describe something that could have been detailed in one paragraph drive me half batty. And we all know I’m already more than halfway there.

That’s also my personal preference. For me to write, “This is the worst book ever,” is again not helpful to anyone. Instead, if I wrote, “I didn’t like this book because of the depth of detail surrounding scenes and characters,” well, then, other readers like me would at least understand my point of view.

Please Be Kind

In conclusion, I challenge all of you (and myself) to do better. If something negative needs to be said, then say it, but not just for the purpose of being mean.

Try to be specific in your criticism and offer solutions where possible. Conversely, if it’s just something you don’t like, such as the way I feel about kidney beans, then be sure to say that as well.

Negative reviews have their place. One-star reviews are available for a reason. If my previous post implied anything else, I sincerely apologize.

Until next time, keep fighting.

Sometimes, negative things have to be said. If you offer reasons and solutions, it can help lessen the blow. | #SpeakingBipolar
Please share on Pinterest. Graphic created with Canva.

A quick video before you go.

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  1. Another great post! I completely agree about the negative reviews. We have to replace a few windows, and those negative reviews help Bo and I avoid companies that sound good but have left a path of shitty work behind them. And as a writer, I’ve gotten my share of mixeed reviews, too. We just got to learn to take it; after all, what one reader really likes is disliked by another. You simply cannot please everyone, so at the very least make the story the best YOU want it to be. If others like it, awesome! 🙂 xxxxxxx

  2. Hi Scott,
    I absolutely agree with what you have written here. I taught a creative writing class and a particular student submitted a short story that was in a horror genre. I really, really hate horror, but as a professor I only offered criticism for the effectiveness of dialogue, character development, description, and plot development. His writing style was quite superior in his revisions and he surprisingly drew me into his story-something that would not have necessarily happened had I not suspended my own bias. In writing a review, it is so absolutely necessary to give reasons for the criticism and to give examples of solutions. I especially like what you said “instead of being a hater, be a helper” and “be a force for good.” This is so true.

    1. Thank you for your positive validation. I’ve gotten a lot of negative response on social media this week about saying that reviews should be helpful. I appreciate that you shared your story of why it matters.

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