Chapter 8: Responding to Other Views

8.1 The Review

Professional reviewing usually requires a high degree of familiarity with the medium of your chosen subject. If you are reviewing a particular video game, for example, it is helpful to whoever sees or reads your review if you know the previous versions of the game, when the game was first created, perhaps some information about why certain decisions were made, and who worked on the game. It is also helpful if you know about other, similar games and can rank this one based on your familiarity with this type of game. Someone might be looking to buy a first-person shooter game and wondering if the one she saw advertised is as good as it appears in the ad, or if it’s merely being hyped as the next big thing in order to sell it.

Reviews also typically demand a high level of familiarity with the wider world of your work of art, whether it’s gaming, dance, or music. You’ll need to know approximately how many games are out there (hundreds? Thousands? Millions?) and what technical specifications do or don’t make certain things possible, as well as when they arrived on the scene. How old is motion capture, and what did it change in the gaming world?

Usually, a work is helmed or wholly created by a single person or entity, whether it’s a game developer, a famous choreographer, or a known movie director. You’ll want to know about the developer’s previous track record. Is this the first such game the company has created, or the latest in a long line of them? Were other games popular and successful? What type of game is this company known to produce, and how does the new game fit in? Depending on the scope of your review, you may also want to be familiar with the social world around your chosen piece of art. In gaming, for example, you may find it relevant to reference “Gamergate,” or the harassment of women gamers.

Typically, we only find out this much about a subject if it really interests us. So when you write a review, pick a work and medium you really like. You might have to play the game a number of times, see the movie twice, read what others have to say about the book or the author—in other words, really immerse yourself in the work.

Finally, reviewing requires a balance of praise and criticism. Reviews can praise creators for what they did (“This work succeeds in …”), what they tried to do (“Although ultimately unsuccessful, so-and-so made a notable attempt to …”) and what they did not do (“So-and-so resists the almost universal urge to sentimentalize the dying”). You are trying both to understand the work of art in light of the creator’s intentions, and to judge whether it is worth an audience’s time and attention.

Thus, just as with praise, your criticism can bring to light drawbacks (“I can’t help feeling the piece would have been better if …”), missing elements (“The addition of a tuba would have really …”) or unnecessary ones (“So-and-so’s lighting scheme, although dramatic, overshadowed …”). While you’re judging the work, the reader or viewer is judging you. How sound is your judgment? Should the reader rely on your view when deciding whether to devote money and attention to the work? Just as with other forms of writing, the review requires you to demonstrate that you are a trustworthy guide and that the reader is justified in relying on you.

Table 8.1 Dos and don’ts of reviewing
Things to always do Things to never do
  • Mention the history of your chosen genre.
  • Bring in relevant facts about the creator’s past work.
  • Include plenty of evidence for any judgment you make.
  • Consider several different aspects of a work when rendering judgment.
  • Praise and critique not just for what the work does, but for what it tries to and what it does not do.
  • Deliver a judgment without supporting evidence. (Example: This is the director’s best work ever. You need to see it to believe how good it is.)
  • Ignore the creator’s previous work. (Example: This is the director’s fifth movie, and in this one …)
  • Judge work in light of political standards that did not exist at the time. (Example: This minstrel movie from 1929 is horribly racist and uses many outdated and offensive terms for black people.)
  • Use clichéd language. (Example: This book was a thriller—I literally could not put it down!)

Review Questions

  1. Write a review of your favourite work of art. Make sure your review includes information about the art form more generally, a larger look at the entity responsible for the work, and evidence for your judgment.
  2. Write a political review. Review a work of art in light of a recent controversy (the lack of representation of people of colour in the movie industry, for example). Briefly describe the history of the controversy, explain how it is relevant to the work you are reviewing, and judge how the work measures up in light of the controversy.
  3. Write a review of a work that praises a) what the work did, b) what the work tried to do, and c) what the work did not do. In your review, offer three pieces of criticism of the same pattern: a) what the work did, b) what the work tried to do, and c) what the work did not do.

Points to Consider

  1. Bring a review by your favourite reviewer to class. Analyze the elements that make the reviewer trustworthy. Is it the tone? The included details about the work, history, or creator’s other work? Do you learn more about the art form when you read the review? Does trustworthiness arise from a combination of these things?
  2. See if you can write a review on a different subject that includes some of the same elements used by your favourite reviewer.


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Building Blocks of Academic Writing Copyright © 2020 by Carellin Brooks is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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