Giving Something A Fair Review (2019)
James C. Rocks
Comparative reviews are one thing and obviously must be done as objectively as possible but reviews of individual items are in many ways more difficult because there is no context against which to base them. As such, I feel they should be handled as objectively, as fairly as possible, and the following is my way of trying to achieve that.

As a critic, I feel it is not adequate to simply say you loved a film or hated it, you must be seen to be consistent so proper evaluation is necessary. This can be painful at times but, in my opinion, it is worth the effort … it seems to work well and often gives some quite surprising results. The following outlines the review method I try to use and the categories I evaluate my reviews against (I've given those categories some considerable thought). Most of the reviews on this site follow my original method and future ones will follow this updated version; it is my hope that using a consistent review method make the reviews you find here that little bit more objective and interesting. Most reviews on this site will be books (mostly fiction) but occasionally I will also review magazines, film, TV, DVD and games.

Giving Something A Fair Review Clearly the very first thing you will need to do is to experience the item in question i.e. read the book, watch the film/series or play the game. That’s important something I say in the knowledge that some critics don’t; I have several times been shocked by reviews when it becomes clear the reviewer hasn't experienced it and, being brutally honest, if you haven't read, watched or played the thing under review then you should shut up as your opinion is effectively worthless.

Reviews can be carried out in hindsight but, in order to do it properly, it is better to have a notebook or something similar nearby ... the human mind is a fickle thing, tending to remember the last thing or recalling something negatively because a few things upset you. If I watch a film and it has what I would deem a dismal ending that will colour my perception of the entire thing which is hardly fair because there may have been many great things about it.

The following are the categories I use to write my reviews. The groupings are advisory (not fixed) as all categories are effectively optional with the exception of "Personal":

All (Intro)
  • Originality: How innovative the concept behind the story is.
  • Scope: How wide-ranging it is (in terms of story, geography or ideas).
  • Presentation: Cover artwork, packaging/binding, information and additional material.

  • Writing: How good the author's writing style is.
  • Fiction
    • Plot: How good the basic story is.
    • Action: How much action is there (as opposed to violence).
    • Violence: How much violence is there (as opposed to action).
    • Romance: How well/appropriately the romance & sex scenes are handled.
    • Suspense: Well we didn't see that one coming ... or did we?

    • Objective: The overall goal of the book in terms of what the author says they are trying to achieve.
    • References: Does the book include references (preferably post chapter or book)?
    • Achievement: Does the book achieve the objective the author sets out at its start?

Film & TV
  • Direction: Quality of direction and its effect on the final product.
  • Acting: Regardless of the script or direction, how good the acting appears to be.
  • Effects: Quality, appropriateness & effectiveness of the effects.
  • Music: Originality and appropriateness of the score & other music.
  • Sound: How good the sound effects (as opposed to music) are.

  • Addiction: How eager you are to get back into the game.
  • Control: How easy the game is to control.
  • Difficulty: How easy or hard the game is.
  • Gameplay: Straight line play or can the player deviate from the path (linearity).
  • Graphics: How realistic/smooth the graphics are in relation to the platform.
  • Effects: Quality, appropriateness & effectiveness of the effects.
  • Music: Originality and appropriateness of the score & other music.
  • Sound: How good the sound effects (as opposed to music) are.

All (Final)
  • Personal: A personal score based on the reviewer's gut reaction to it.
  • Overall: Overall mark (calculated ... see below).

  • Reviewers can choose the standard suggested sets of categories or adapt them.
  • Reviewers should not use inappropriate categories e.g. the action category would not normal be correct for a romance.
  • Chosen categories should be accompanied by a short comment and typically explained in greater detail in the review.
  • All category marks are out of 10.

Final Score
The "Overall" score is calculated as:

CAT = No. of categories + 1
TOT = Sum of all categories except personal + 2 x Personal
Percentage = TOT/(CAT*10)

Ultimately it up to a reviewer how they evaluate something but the above method does allow for a degree of objectivity and if anyone has better suggestions, I'll be only too pleased to listen. Your concluding remarks should contain a recommendation (or non-recommendation) and, if possible, a link to where the item can be purchased.

Thanks for reading.

James C. Rocks, Author ("The Abyssal Void" Series)

Buy my first book, "Stars Hide Your Fires":
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I don't believe in astrology; I'm a Sagittarius and we're skeptical.

Arthur C Clarke

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