How to Write a Useful Negative Review

How to Write a Useful Negative Review


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Graphic: Elena Scotti (Vectors: Shutterstock)

We all know badly written online reviews benefit no one besides the people who angrily type them out. But every now and then, you may find yourself in a situation that calls for some constructive criticism. Whether you’re reviewing an Amazon purchase, a restaurant, or a former employer, your basic review-writing strategy should remain the same: Make it readable, and make it useful. Here’s how to do it.

Describe what happened—and what should have happened

If you’re considering writing a bad review, you’re probably motivated by at least one specific experience. That should be your focus. First, clearly and objectively describe the bad thing that happened, and stick to the facts—in other words, don’t make shit up. If you’re still feeling worked up about your experience, keep it under wraps.

Next, describe what should have happened in the moment—not what you want to happen in response, or what you think you’re owed. This is an important distinction, because it’s basically a test to see if your complaint holds up. For legitimate complaints, it’ll be super easy to say what should have happened: Your former boss should have kept his gross comments to himself, Amazon should have charged you once and not twice for a single item, the server and cook should have left the peanut sauce off your plate after learning you’re allergic, and so on. But for petty beefs that boil down to you feeling insufficiently catered to, the “right” way of doing things will either straight-up not exist or be so outrageous you might as well have opened your review with “Please do not take anything I say seriously! I am working through some personal issues in an unhealthy and ultimately unproductive way!”

Get to the point

Wordy, overly long reviews are as unhelpful as it gets, so keep yours short and to the point. This will make it possible for a human being to read and absorb what you are saying, which is the entire point of writing any review. As a bonus, sticking to short, declarative sentences will also make it impossible for you to go off on a tirade, so you won’t come off like a scorned narcissist trying to get your way at all costs. (Even in situations where emotional outbursts are totally reasonable reactions, they can undermine your point.)

The bottom line: If you really want your review to make a difference, it needs to be as pointed and easy to read as possible. Tell the truth, make your case, and wrap it up; whoever ends up reading it will appreciate the effort.

  



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