Short and Sweet

Thanks for joining us here again at the Feedback Loop. Today I’m happy to bring you another guest blog, this time by one Jeff Morrow, on the importance of writing short reviews. Jeff is one of my personal mentors, and I learned a lot of about writing reviews from him.

Jeff “J-Mo” Morrow

Jeff “J-Mo” Morrow

Short and Sweet

The Judge Program has many role models in many different areas. If there’s something you’re interested in, there are usually a few judges who are well-respected and well-known experts in that area. If you try to emulate those folks, you’ll learn a lot. With respect to feedback and reviews, one of those top experts is this blog’s host, Riki. Ever since the prehistoric days when Riki and I were coming up through the ranks together in the San Francisco Bay Area, Riki’s reviews have been insightful and helpful. Over the years, he has honed both his writing skills and his ability to observe judges so that he has something useful to write about. His reviews, simply put, are works of art. HOWEVER… Those of you who have had the honor of receiving a Riki review may be intimidated by their length. After all, if we’re meant to emulate the program’s experts like Riki, that must mean that the best reviews are the long ones, right?

Not necessarily. In fact, Riki asked me to write a guest post here to tell you all that it is perfectly possible to write useful, helpful reviews for judges without getting repetitive strain injury due to the hours spent at the keyboard. Reviews do not need to be long to be useful.

I’d like to point out an important distinction here. You can judge the merits of a review based on its length (i.e. word count) or on its content. One of the most important aspects of my personal philosophy of reviews is that a review’s content is significantly more important than its length. A content-free review is garbage, no matter how long it is. Conversely, a content-rich review can be extremely useful, even if it is short.

First, what do I mean by a “content-free review”? Well, I mean one that doesn’t actually say anything. For example, it’s one where the Strengths section says little more than “you helped with deck checks” and the Areas for Improvement box says something along the lines of “you should study the IPG”. This example is a little extreme, of course, but I’ve seen reviews that say little more than this. They often use more words, but those words don’t really communicate anything meaningful.

So how do we add content to a review? Well, there have been many other articles on how to write good reviews, so I won’t go into too much detail here, but I will say that for me, the key is to observe and comment on ways in which your review subject differs from Joe Random Judge of the same level. Part of the problem with the content-free example above is that it is much too generic. It could apply to nearly any judge, and by taking the review to heart, the subject would not become any better than Joe Random Judge. We can do better.

At the monstrosity that was GP Vegas, I was temporarily assigned to take over Dan Stephens’ deck checks team on day 2. I reported for duty and learned that Joe Wiesenberg was coordinating tasks nicely. So I simply helped out and let Joe take the lead. Joe was working toward L3 at the time, so I compared him in my head to a generic L3 Candidate and came up with this review:

Strengths: When I temporarily took the lead of the DC team from Dan Stephens, it quickly became clear that the team already had a temporary lead. It was Joe. I decided that having Joe be the acting TL was a good idea, both for consistency and for observation.Joe did a great job of taking charge of the team. He was able to give clear instructions to all team members, including me. When I showed up, the team was in the process of sorting lists, and Joe put me right to work. This was great to see. When I first worked with Joe, he was more of the “silent type”, but now he’s moving toward “strong, silent type”. Although he’s never going to make himself the center of attention, he can do a good job of taking charge and getting a job done
Areas for Improvement: Joe: your low, quiet voice can work against you in a crowded hall. Make sure to speak up, especially when giving instructions to team members!At one point, you were sorting out team member breaks, asking for volunteers and getting none. This is a conundrum I’ve found myself in a number of times, and the only solution I’ve found is to just take charge and start assigning people to rounds. Just remember: if they’re not volunteering, they don’t care all that much, so just make a decision.
Comments: Good working with you, Joe. See you at another event soon!

As you can see, since Joe was an L3 candidate, I focused on his leadership skills. The way in which he distinguished himself from a random L3 candidate was by taking charge, giving clear and concise instructions, and getting the job done. I felt that he could still do more about his “presence” as a leader, so I gave him a couple of suggestions. Since these suggestions were specific and actionable, I was able to give Joe feedback that was more helpful than “you need to work on your leadership”.And Joe is an L3 now, so I guess it worked…  😉

Here’s the beauty part about this observation and review technique: you can also use it to write what I call a “deep review”. When I want to write a deep review about a judge, I first do several iterations of comparison to Joe Random Judge. I typically do this over 3 events, but YMMV. After those events, I step back and look for patterns. I stop asking “what did this judge do that was good or bad?” and start asking “WHY did they do those things?” Putting all of your observations together will allow you to give deeper feedback and will often allow your subject to improve much more quickly.However, I digress. Whether you’re writing a simple event review or a multi-event “deep review”, content is way more important than length.

So remember, you don’t need to write paragraph after paragraph in your next review. A review doesn’t need to be long — it just needs to have something important and valuable to say.


3 thoughts on “Short and Sweet

  1. Great Article! Its hard to get people to write reviews and while I’ve always tried to convince possible reviewers that less is more, it never seemed like they believed me. This article does a great job of showing just how much needs to be written in order for the recipient to feel the valued feedback.

    Thanks J-Mo and Riki!

  2. When I write reviews I like to think of it’s length as a prerequisite to good content. Also I’d be very interested in an article on best practices for the deep review Jeff mentioned.

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