An illustration of five stars in a row on a blue background, one filled with gold and the rest unfilled

Graphic: Elena Scotti (Vector graphics: Shutterstock)

We all know that poorly written reviews online are of no use to anyone but the people who write them angrily. But every now and then you may find yourself in a situation that calls for constructive criticism. Whether you’re reviewing an Amazon purchase, a restaurant, or a former employer, your basic review writing strategy should stay the same: make it readable and useful. That’s how it’s done.

Describe what happened – and what should have happened

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

Next, describe what should have happened in the moment, not what you want to do in response or what you think you ought to do. This is an important difference because it is basically a test to see if your complaint persists. With legitimate complaints, it’s super easy to say what should have happened: Your former boss should have kept his rough comments to himself, Amazon should have billed you once and not twice for a single item, the server and the cook should have left supposed to get the peanut sauce off the plate after learning you are allergic, and so on. But for small beefs that make you feel under-cared for, the “right” course of action will either not exist or be so outrageous that you might as well start your review with “Please don’t take what I say” Serious! I work my way through some personal problems in an unhealthy and ultimately unproductive way! “

Get to the point

Verbose, overly long reviews are as unhelpful as they get, so keep yours short and to the point. This will allow a human to read and absorb what is being said, which is the whole point of writing a review. As a bonus, sticking to short, declarative sentences also makes it impossible for you to make a tirade lest you come across as a despised narcissist trying at all costs to get your way. (Even in situations where emotional outbursts are perfectly reasonable responses, they can undermine your point of view.)

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The bottom line: if you really want your review to make a difference, it has to be as pointed and easy to read as possible. Tell the truth, substantiate and close your case; whoever reads it at the end will appreciate the effort.