Everyone’s a Critic (But Not Everyone Should Be)

imageMost types of writing require that you consider your audience. What is the purpose  of your communication, what do you hope to communicate, and to whom? Knowing these things are a must if you want to be effective.

This is especially true when giving a review, whether it be for a book, a restaurant, a play, or even a pair of socks you bought online. Why are you evaluating the product or service? What do you hope to get across? Who’ll be reading your review?

Know your readership. Who are you addressing? What are his or her needs? What would he or she want to get from this product? How might this product be useful to him or her? Remember that the reader is who you are trying to help. Do not concentrate too much on yourself, the vendor or anyone else more than the reader. Your readers are looking up to you for honest help on where to spend their money. Give them the help they want.

–from “8 Quick Tips to Write a Good Product Review” webwriterspotlight.com

I’ve been collecting fairly worthless reviews that I come across while shopping online. My list began a while back when I was checking out the reviews for a dress I was thinking of ordering. Among a smattering of helpful comments was this one-star review of the dress, in its entirety:

“It made me look fat.”

Really? That’s like saying a restaurant meal gave me gas, or a book made me angry. Without specifics or some explanation of why you think this happened and how likely you think this is to happen to others as well, you’ve told us nothing useful.

The following actual reviews make me wish the general public would stop giving reviews, or at least keep the questions above in mind and write a review that will help the next shopper make an informed decision (all spelling, typos and grammar errors, theirs):

Onlne comment about a decorative hairpin:

“Its not that great, but for the price I decided to keep it – its really not worth ordering.”

[OK, somewhat geared toward informing the next potential buyer, but not quite there. You just keep thinkin’, Butch.]

For a dog food mat, one star:

“Very small, I should have paid attention to the size. A plate dish mat would work just as well.”

[The dimensions were clearly listed.]

Regarding a clothing item:

“Ordered the coral color one, and when it arrived was a pale pink/peach color.”

[Wait–isn’t that what coral is?]image

For another article of clothing, one star:

“I didn’t like the material.”


For a cat toy, one star:

“I am not sure why but my cat does not like this item.”

[Mostly worthless.]

For a wreath, one star:

“wreath is too thick.. to hang it sticks out too far from the wall”

[And who are you to dictate how far is too far for one’s wreath to stick out? Also, what’s the depth anyway?]

Craft item, four stars:

“Very pretty color but I haven’t used it on a project yet so I cant really give it 5 stars.”

[Hey! Here’s an idea: How about you use the item and then review it?]

About yardage of nylon fabric:

“The Color Choices are very limited. There should be at least 3 more colors. I needed a brown or camel color. The colors available are mostly primary & secondary.”

[Oh, man. Where to begin . . .?]

A blanket:

“Not satisfied, disappointed with this”

[Why? Color? Quality? Itchiness factor?]

Comment about Friskies Party Mix Mixed Grill Crunch Cat Treats:

“I am very disappointed with this product.My son has used Pampers since he was in the hospital.I recently changed to Pampers Cruisers from Swaddlers and Baby Dry.I have tried their Baby Dry Size 3 and they work perfect, so I decided to give Cruisers I try. It leaked once and I ignored it but leaks soon became a routine. It got so annoying and I could not figure out the problem.I changed him every 3 to four hours, I was putting on the diaper right and it was the right size.Overall, I was very disappointed with Pampers.The Cruisers cost more than the Baby Dry but the Baby Dry never leaked. I don’t think I will buy Cruisers again.these diapers are the very best overall..i have twins and the value is great..love these and would recomend them to everyone.. I used Baby Dry diapers with my oldest when she was older – but I would not recommend using them for smaller babies.I bought a package of these for my 6 week old and 90% of the time when she has a BM it comes out the top of the back of diaper.\n\nMy 6 week old is exclusively breast fed so her BM’s are usually loose and these just don’t work.I bought 2 packs and I will be taking one back.”

[This glaringly worthless review may be due to a website glitch and not due to a mental glitch by the reviewer.]

Fabric, printed alphabet panel, one star:

Warning…. This is not an alphabet panel! This is a series of columns of letters that are not in the correct order. I purchased this and coordinating backing fabric to make a quick quilt for my niece, who was expecting and using a Dr. Seuss nursery theme. Imagine my horror when I finished the quilt and noticed for the first time that the panel was not correct. The alphabet was out of order! It read, “B-C-D-A” ! I had never even considered an Alphabet Panel would not start with A-B-C! I had used iron-on quilt batting so there was no saving the quilt. WHAT A WASTE!

[Oh, the drama! A simple, “The letters are not in alphabetical order,” would have sufficed. It turns out that the panel was cut wrong, but how could a person make an entire quilt and not notice?]

Overall conclusion: Please review responsibly.


Laura and Illinois Reads

This is going to be hard, which is why I keep putting it off. But I want to say it and it’s not going to get any easier, so here goes–

Laura Crawford's IN ARCTIC WATERS

Laura Crawford’s IN ARCTIC WATERS

I miss Laura Crawford. She was the author of several books for children, including a book selected for this year’s Illinois Reads program, In Arctic Waters, but her writing career ended suddenly when she succumbed to leukemia in the fall of 2013. It wasn’t supposed to happen like that. I mean, she had fought cancer before and vanquished it twice during the time that I knew her, but those battles were all behind her, I thought. We all thought.

I was taken by surprise. I had just attended an author event with her last spring–the 2013 Illinois Young Authors Conference in Bloomington. Laura was her usual energetic, witty, genuine self all day. She, the more experienced and knowledgeable author–I, the newb. She was the only other writer there whom I knew. We had known each other for over ten years, in fact, long before either of us had published any books. We had scads of mutual friends, plus some little inside jokes and memories of other funny incidents that had taken place at previous events, so there was always something to talk about with Laura. I was so happy she was there.

Back at our hotel, we were tickled to discover that our rooms were right next to each other. We joked around while she dug around in her bag for her room key card, which, I remember, took a long time. A ridiculously long time. I smiled as she scrounged again and again through the bag’s contents. So Laura.

At some point during that weekend, we made vague plans to have lunch over the coming summer. She would be out of school then (she was a reading specialist–another talent). I looked forward to lunch with Laura, but you know how it goes. The meeting just never got scheduled. Next thing I knew, fall had come around again.

Then came the message in my email with the subject line “Sad News about Laura Crawford.”


I couldn’t share my feelings with others who knew her, not yet. It wasn’t until this past March that I found a way both to honor Laura and to express my grief. At the ceremony to introduce this year’s books and their Illinois authors chosen for Illinois Reads, which was held the night before the Illinois Reading Council’s yearly convention, I carried In Arctic Waters.

At the Illinois Reads kickoff in the Old State Capitol, Springfield, Illinois (l to r: Jim Aylesworth, me, Kristina Springer)

At the Illinois Reads kickoff in the Old State Capitol, Springfield, Illinois (I’m in the center.)

Years earlier, I was one of the writers lucky enough to critique Laura’s arctic manuscript in its earliest stages. This happened, I realized, while traveling home from an earlier Illinois Reading Council convention in Springfield, before there was an Illinois Reads program, before either of us was published.

I was proud to be able to hold Laura’s book while standing in front of the crowd in the Illinois State House, in the very room where Abraham Lincoln used to speechify. Laura loved history. She would have loved being there. I wish she had had the chance.