Review writing and commentary writing

Review and commentary writing tends to be a piece of writing in which you offer your personal opinion. Your own personal knowledge will make your conclusions count. To demonstrate how much you do know about a topic, you will need to support your points with valid reasons.

A review:

  • focuses on strengths and weaknesses
  • uses evidence to support ideas
  • draws a conclusion, saying whether something will be useful for, or interesting to, its audience and purpose
  • gives personal opinion with confidence and authority

Like all text types, review writing has certain fairly fixed conventions (called 'genre conventions'). A good way to get used to these is to analyse an existing review and to use it as a 'style model' or example for your own writing.

Below is an extract from an example of a review of the book The Darkest Realm by fictional novelist John Paul Grimeson. This particular reviewer did not like what they read. What techniques do you see being used?

An annotated extract showing the language techniques used in a review

These are some of the typical conventions that are being used in this review:

  • the review opens in a lively way to state the writer's opinion
  • there is a use of direct-address ('you') combined with a question aimed at engaging the reader
  • alliteration helps emphasise a key phrase
  • references to other well known works by the author helps the reader's understanding
  • writing techniques such as a metaphor create vivid imagery that helps engage the reader and also emphasise the writer's negative view

You can also ask some questions about the language the writer uses to learn from this style:

Question

Does the writer sound formal and use Standard English?

The tone is mainly formal with a few informal choices; the writer uses Standard English.

Question

Does the writer address (talk to) the reader directly?

The writer uses the direct address pronoun 'you' to help engage the reader.

Question

What are the vocabulary choices like?

The vocabulary is straightforward and everyday. A use of some technical language (jargon) such as 'scripts' and 'screenplay' add a sense of education and authority.

Question

What are the sentences like?

The writer uses a variety of sentences in both length and type. This helps to create a lively engaging tone but also allows sufficient information and detail to be given.

An analysis of a professional example ('style model') like this can tell you a great deal about how to write your own review – about what kind of ingredients you might include in your own.

You could turn this into a recipe for your own review:

  • use Standard English and mainly formal language, with some informal choices (to suit your reader)
  • sound lively by using a mix of sentence lengths and types
  • engage the reader by using 'you' or asking questions
  • use a generally straightforward everyday vocabulary with some specialist words (jargon)
  • give your view immediately, directly and passionately
  • use writing techniques such as alliteration to add emphasis
  • refer to other major works by the writer, producer or director to sound knowledgeable as well as help the reader
  • use writing techniques such as figurative language (eg metaphors, similes, personification and hyperbole or exaggeration; these help engage the reader by creating imagery that emphasises your opinion