How do I write a bad review?

You might be angry, but your job is to be helpful. |  Andre Hunter  on  Unsplash

You might be angry, but your job is to be helpful. | Andre Hunter on Unsplash

Want to write a bad review? Easy. Go to allrecipes and trash a dish after making no fewer than three substitutions.

Not in the mood to cook? Go to Amazon and write a scathing review about a book you haven’t read.

Don’t want to even pretend to read a book? Go to ratemyprofessors to explain how your professor is a bad teacher because she assigned too much reading and gave you a C- after you didn’t submit a final portfolio.

Those are bad bad reviews, because they violate the whole function of a review: helping other people make a purchase decision.

I’ve read so many bad bad reviews lately (I’m looking at you, GoT petitioners) that I wanted to write a rare how-to post. Here’s how you write a good bad review.

Step 1: Identify your motivation

The key question to ask yourself before writing a review is why you are writing it. Are you writing to retaliate against that server who intimidated you at the restaurant, or the baker who marred your Insta-feed by misspelling your one-year-old’s name on his smash cake? Are you hoping to get free stuff from a company by complaining loudly? To get free stuff from a competitor’s company by complaining loudly about the competitor’s products? To help other people avoid your own terrible mistakes?

All of these are terrible motivations for a negative review. If someone has legitimately wronged you, then you don’t need to write a review. You might need to file a police report, depending on how much time, energy, and money you are willing to expend on your moral victory. If you’re after free stuff, skip screaming into the void in favor of calmly addressing a customer service department. If you want people to learn from your mistakes, write a self-help book about why you shouldn’t read self-help books.

You cannot write a strong negative review without pure intentions. If your motivation is anything other than helping other people make a purchase decision, don’t move on to Step 2.

Step 2: Describe why you bought the product

If you’ve decided that your goal is to help others make a purchase decision, the next step is to describe your own purchase decision, including the criteria that mattered most to you. These criteria will help other reviewers determine if what matters to you matters to them. Don’t just write “I bought this sunscreen because I needed sunscreen,” but “I bought this spray sunscreen because I have trouble getting my kid to stand still long enough to apply cream to him, and although spray sunscreens might be less effective, some sunscreen is better than no sunscreen.”

An initial interest in a product is an important component of an honest review. My general view that less baby gear is better. I find wipe warmers and snot suckers a waste of money and time. I can’t write fair reviews of these kinds of products because I have no interest in using them.

A word to fellow bloggers: actually having bought a product is also an important component of an honest review. Receiving a free, cleverly-branded snot sucker is likely to make me forget that I dislike the very idea of medically-unnecessary single-purpose baby gear.

Step 3: Explain your criteria for evaluating the product

Focus on the specific criteria that matter to you. Your criteria can be obvious or generalized (“A cracker should taste good”) but they can also be surprising and personalized (“Cracker packaging should be quiet enough not to alert my child to my early-morning snack break”).

It’s important to avoid superlatives like “best” and “worst,” which are value judgments, not specific descriptions of a problem. The new cracker you just wasted your money on shouldn’t taste “terrible,” but “like burnt rubber with a hint of peppermint.” Taste is subjective, so value judgments aren’t particularly helpful. Description is, because some readers of your review might prefer the scorched refresher flavor.

Readers may also take your negative review more seriously if you focus on the positive. It’s unlikely that your entire experience was negative, because something led you to buy the crackers. Perhaps you like other cracker varieties from that brand. Perhaps you just like how the box looks. Including the positive demonstrates that you’re not writing out of spite, but to help other people make decisions.

Step 4: Question how you may have influenced your results

Let bad recipe reviews guide you here. Let’s say that you wanted a meal that would be finished in 30 minutes, but you cooked beans from scratch anyway. Is your negative experience really based the recipe?

Focusing on your own part in your negative experience may show you that your review best belongs in your diary. You may be disappointed with the giant confetti-filled balloons you bought for your child’s birthday that only filled halfway and failed to hang like the ones in the pictures…until you’re honest about ignoring the instructions. Perhaps you would buy a second batch of balloons if you also purchased helium.

Step 5: Wait

Once your review is done, you need to wait. Time and distance will help you cool off and avoid retaliation.

Waiting before publishing a review can also change your mind. Did the sunscreen work better for everyday use than it did for boating? Did the box of crackers you opened today taste better than the seemingly identical box you opened yesterday? Did the next batch of balloons look better with the addition of helium?

I look forward to reading your reviews, which I expect will be as earnest and helpful as these reviews of chime candles.