What is a review? Fundamentally, it is a collection of words. The words form sentences, and sometimes, though not always, those sentences even make paragraphs. The collection of words offers an observation. Reviews are that simple.
So why don’t people write more reviews? Some misconceptions or myths about reviews have created complications. Today I want to address three of these myths.
Myth #1: A review is homework.
Homework is assigned at school. It’s graded. Nobody likes homework. But reviews aren’t assigned at school, they aren’t graded, and they can actually be quite fun.
Judging is fun, after all, and there’s no reason that writing about judging shouldn’t be fun as well. We talk about judging all the time, and writing a review simply preserves those ideas in a digital format. It turns out that there are many ways to enjoy writing, free from the constraints of school and grades. Of the many words I’ve written in my lifetime for work, school, or pleasure, the words I’ve written for pleasure far outweigh the work. Articles for Magic sites, blog posts (both personal and for this blog), Tweets, Facebook posts, online chats, and even reviews fit into that category. These are voluntary writing activities that many of us enjoy daily without a single thought of work.
It’s important to frame reviews in that light. To that end, I like to take my review-writing away from the formal frame of mind and conceptualize it as a dialogue with a friend. For example, while looking over some older reviews, I found one that I wrote for Toby Elliott that started with “Holy hell…” (Unfortunately, I left off the “Batman.” Hindsight and all.) Another review of Kali Anderson includes the line “Kali brings the fun to funda-team-leading.”
My point is that if you try to write reviews the way you would homework, they’ll feel like homework. Try a comfortable, conversational, or even lighthearted approach.
Myth #2: Reviews must follow the prescribed formatting.
The review submission form contains three boxes: Strengths, Areas for Improvement, and Comments. These three boxes can be useful for providing an early framework, but like any framework, they can become constraining. Think of the three boxes as a suggestion, a useful starting point. They don’t need to be the end-all of your review. Ultimately, the single goal of the review is to record observations and feedback.
Are your observations all positive?
Write your entire review in Strengths, and leave the other boxes marked N/A.
Are the judge’s strengths tied directly to their areas for improvement?
Discuss your observations holistically in one box, and mark the others N/A.
Worried that your text doesn’t fill up the space in the boxes?
There are no minimum word counts because reviews aren’t graded!
Myth #3: Reviews are a permanent record of someone’s judging career.
The idea of giving specific criticism about a judge to Big Brother WotC and/or the high level judges has created some fear of reviewing in the judge community. Reviews don’t actually work that way. Technically, when you enter a review, the people who can access it include you, your subject, regional coordinators, select L3s who are on projects like the L3 Checklist Verification Committee, select people at WotC related to judging, and probably their web dev team.
That sounds like a lot of people. But those people don’t actually read your reviews.
In reality the people who will read your review are you and the subject of your review.
That’s it. All those RCs, high level judges, and WotC employees are never going to read your review, or any review for that matter. They are too busy, there are too many reviews, and the content of those reviews isn’t relevant to their work. So why review? It’s simple.
A review is part of a conversation between you and your subject.
You write it because you care.