How to Write a Better Online Review

When you’re booking a hotel, making a restaurant reservation or considering which book to read next, do you check out the online reviews? My own unscientific research suggests people who write those reviews do it for one of four reasons:

1. They’re bored.

2. They want attention.

3. They have a gripe (legitimate or not) and need to vent.

4. They truly want to be helpful and let other consumers know and learn from their experiences.

Unfortunately, the majority of online reviewers seem to fall into the first three categories, and they usually contain little useful information. “Was not what I thought it … would be like so did not like it” or “Great food and great vibe” are not reviews. They’re not even statements anybody cares about and therefore qualify as horribly written online reviews. A well-written review should not include:

• A backstory.

• Details about your relationship with the people who joined you for dinner.

• A litany of personal accomplishments stated to somehow qualify your opinion as better than everyone else’s.

Instead, follow the five steps below to write an online review that is succinct, helpful and worth reading.


Photo by Gratisography

1. Don’t look stupid.

Think about what you want to say before typing and posting. In other words, be insightful. Don’t just key in the first sentences that pop into your head, and don’t post while you’re still feeling the burn of poor customer service or of wasting your money. You might regret the hostile tone later. And remember to proofread before posting. You don’t want your review riddled with punctuation and spelling errors if you’re criticizing an eBook for excessive typos.


2. Be concise.

Think about how you read user reviews. Do you look at the first few sentences and then last few sentences to get a feel for the writer’s opinion, skipping all the copy in the middle? That’s probably how other people will read your reviews, too — especially if you write more than 100 words. In fact, keep it shorter, if you can. Why write all those extra words if readers are just going to jump ahead to the end? In addition to having a point, you need to make that point — quickly.


3. Write what you would want to know.

Name one or two things you liked (or disliked, as the case may be) about the hotel, the food, the book or whatever you’re reviewing. Be descriptive enough so readers will get a sense for why you didn’t like the beds or what made the burger you ate the best ever. An example here will help readers relate to your experience. Then consider providing a counterpoint, to add balance and establish that you’re an open-minded reviewer who can find the good and the bad in things.


4. Write something memorable.

Sometimes, you can skip the step above if you’ve got something really clever to say that makes your point even more emphatically. Here’s a Yelp review of a taco place in Chicago written by someone named Audrey T., and it’s still one of my favorites: “Just kneeling on the sidewalk outside and licking it will give you the same experience as eating there. Well, OK, to be fair, the sidewalk will probably make you less sick.”


5. Become an authority.

Once you post enough quality reviews, you’ll begin to establish a reputation as a respected reviewer in certain circles. Amazon has a list of “Hall of Fame Reviewers” and a “top reviewers” ranking, with a brief explanation that these people “have helped millions of their fellow customers make informed purchase decisions on with their consistently helpful, high-quality reviews.” Mike W. has posted more than 1,000 reviews of everything from the best-selling novel The Nix to a solar-powered mosquito-killer lamp. Other sites have similar designations. You also could create your own niche website, providing reviews of, say, mainstream indie music. That’s what Jim Appio has done with his CoolDad Music blog.

There’s nothing wrong with aiming high and ignoring poorly written online reviews. Writing reviews isn’t like updating your Facebook page. These things require thought. Sometimes lots of thought. If you not willing to make your online reviews worth readers’ time, don’t even bother.

Online reviewers: What other tips can you share with us?