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Etiquette of Negative Reviews

Updated on February 13, 2016
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Rebecca Graf is a seasoned writer with nearly a decade of experience and degrees in accounting, history, and creative writing.

Too many people think that negative reviews are short and nasty. They think the reviews should be mean and directed right at the heart. They don’t have to be. Others think they have to be long and nasty. They shouldn’t have to be. Negative reviews don’t have to be nasty at all. There really is etiquette of writing negative reviews which can benefit both other readers and the author.

Negative reviews can be constructive and helpful to other readers and even the author.

The Purpose of Reviews

Reviews are to communicate to other readers and to the author what you thought of a book when you read it. Why do we read reviews? To see what others have to say about the book and use them to help decide on purchasing it or not.

Think about it as if you are at a social function at home. You have a few friends over, and the topic turns to the latest books you are reading. No one just says that a book was good and leave it at that. They expand on it. They go in depth on what makes it good or issues they saw that hurt their reading pleasure.

I have had lengthy conversations with my friends about a book I just loved and wanted to tell them about. I talk about the plot, the writing, and the characters. I really talk about the book. Even if they ask about a book I read and wasn’t thrilled about, there is a lot I can talk with them about. There is a discussion to be had about the books, the authors, and reading in general.

How to Express Negative Thoughts

Now, I’m not saying that you can’t write a review without pointing out negative aspects. I'm not saying you should only write positive reviews. No way am I doing that. If there are things you see as negative as you read a book, you really are obligated to point them out to potential readers. What is the purpose of a review then if you have to say something good all the time?

But there are ways to express these negative thoughts without being mean or unduly harsh. Be honest without meaning witchy.

Let's look at some examples. You can see by any of these examples with the harsh comment noted first and then a nicer one that there is a way to say the same thing coming after the dash:

Hated the book. – I found myself struggling with reading the book. This is not one that grabbed me and kept me hooked. I don’t think this is one I’d recommend though if you like …… you might want to give it a try.

The writing was juvenile. – Though the book seems to be aimed for adults, the writing style felt more geared toward middle grade.

Characters were stupid. – I had trouble connecting with the characters.

It's a stupid plot – It was hard for me to understand the plot and follow it.

There are always nicer ways to state how you feel. Try to find them and use them instead of being nasty or too direct.

What Not to Do

While you are expressing your personal feelings, don’t forget to not do a few things. Don’t get personal. When you get personal, you are no longer providing a review. You are doing a personal attack which is something else entirely. Do other readers really want to read that? No. They want to read a review of the book that will help them decide on whether or not to read it. You being nasty doesn't help them decide that.

Getting personal is how kids on the playground act. Don’t go down that road. Be mature.

Remember that you can always express the negative aspects without being nasty. Constructive criticism goes a lot further than nasty personal attacks.

Treading Carefully

Don't take the 'anonymity' of online reviews and use them to attack people. Too many get nasty just because they don't have to face the author. Yes, they get attention, but these reviewers also get bad reputations. Don't go there.

Hold yourself above acting badly towards authors. Be kind in your negative reviews. Be honest but be kind.


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