Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Thoughts on review writing...

I know that many, if not most, of the problems that affect everyone's hit counts are purely technical or related to the site's business model. We reviewers can't solve those problems. Sure, tech-savvy Epinions members who know how to crunch data and have hands-on experience with website design and operation should chime in and suggest fixes to Damon and his colleagues. I'm a writer, so I can only sit on the sidelines when we discuss Google Panda, Alexa ratings, the SdC database, and things of that nature.

As a writer, though, I think we need to consider the possibility that we need to change how we write our reviews. Many of us, including me, tend to write long and detailed reviews in an attempt to cover every feature of a product. We have a site-wide tendency to describe not only a product's important features, but to pad reviews with "facts" that a typical website reader might not care about.

The average reader does not like having to wade through unnecessarily long articles just to see if Zero Dark Thirty is worth checking out or if Fancy Feast cat food is better for cats than Friskies. He (or she) wants to get the necessary information in a clear and concise review, not a doctoral dissertation on why Zero Dark Thirty is a reflection on America's War on Terror. Many of us, including me, tend to write overly complex sentences and paragraphs that are full of what William Zinsser calls "clutter."

Why do we do this? I think part of it is that we have created a culture of writing "to the rating" instead of writing to the reader. Many of us worry that advisers and category leads will withhold Very Helpful or even Helpful ratings if we don't describe every detail of a product or include the skinny on "why we bought this." As a result, we write reviews that try to cover everything we believe a "blue hat" or "red hat" wants to see. There are categories, such as Electronics and Computer Games, that might warrant the "more is better" approach to review-writing. However, by writing to the rating, we are failing to attract and retain the readers we need to get page views. 

I am one of those reviewers who writes reviews which are too long and full of unnecessary fluff. I'm guilty of using complicated sentence structures and "impressive" stuffy words that make my reviews hard to read. I know that I need to improve my writing so that it's clear and concise.

Maybe if we look at how we write and identify those problems that we can fix, we can give the average reader reviews that catch the eye and receive badly needed page views. I'm willing to try and change my writing style if it will help keep Epinions survive.

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