User Reviews

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Composing and Analyzing Online User Reviews

One of the characteristics of Web 2.0 is the growth of user-generated content.  In addition to advertising or friend and family recommendation, consumers depend on product or service reviews via the Internet.  You can find reviews of almost anything.

Foodies can go to www.urbanspoon.com  to view restaurant reviews, but would want to go to www.allrecipes.com or www.foodnetwork.com if they wanted advice for making their own dishes.  Additionally, www.yelp.com, and www.insiderpages.com enables users to search for and evaluate various businesses in a specific location.

Any book buyer frequenting www.amazon.com can find numerous reviews.  Movie enthusiasts may visit www.metacritic.com orwww.rottentomatoes.com to consult movie critics’ reviews, or share their own at www.netflix.com.  Meanwhile, www.newegg.com markets itself as a community space, in which users share a fundamental value of credible customer reviews.  Also, consumers may find themselves looking at reviews on specific store websites such as www.target.comwww.express.com, www.sephora.com.

As these examples demonstrate, there is no shortage of recommendations for prospective consumers.  Yet, as sites such as www.ratemyprofessors.com indicate, user reviews can be tricky when we begin to apply the same expectations we have of corporations and businesses to educational institutions.  What types of criteria do users rely on to determine whether or not the review is useful?  How can we be sure that the review isn’t simply a passionate response to a perceived slight, or a user’s overly optimistic reaction to their favorite products and services?  For every review we think is “good,” there are probably hundreds of reviews for the same product that we think are terrible.  If we revisit our example of www.ratemyprofessors.com, it is possible that such reviews may help students decide whether or not they want to choose a particular instructor for a class.  Another example, http://www.charitynavigator.org/ offers a rather striking example of how the user review genre is even influencing how we donate funds.  While it may seem alarming to decide which charity one wants to “buy,” the site provides numerous criteria for customizing or even figuring out what types of criteria should guide our definition of a “good charity organization.”

Although some of you have been reviewing, and perhaps even writing, reviews for years, this unit focuses on this emerging genre, and attempts to determine its conventions, limitations, and implications.  We’ll collaboratively analyze and develop a criteria for what constitutes “useful,” “good,” “bad,” “mediocre,” and “excellent” user reviews.  In our exploration of the online user review, we will learn to identify, critique, and produce evaluations.  Barnet and Bedau define the term evaluation, within the context of critical thinking and argumentation, as “judging the merit of our claims and assumptions and the weight of evidence in their favor.”  We can apply the knowledge we build throughout this unit to other rhetorical situations, in which audiences need us to clarify what types of assumptions, reasons, and evidence led us to make certain types of value judgments.

Part I:  Compose three user reviews for three websites of your choice.  Using your anonymous user-name for our course, or another one of your choice (just let me know what name you are going by), submit these reviews.

(TIP:  You should probably read several reviews of the product/service you are evaluating on the site to get a feel for what users seem to expect from those types of reviews.  As we discussed in class on _____, each type of review probably draws on a “social language” in order to make appeals to credibility.  For instance, the expectations of a restaurant review aren’t going to be the same as for a Chi straightening iron, a motorcycle, or a Lingerie store.  Whether or not your review seems to demonstrate that you know the “rules of language” on the site is part of my grading criteria for this assignment.)

Part II:  Complete a critical reflection about your experience writing user reviews, in which you account for the rhetorical choices you made throughout the composing process, and consider the far-reaching implications of this activity.

In particular, you should address the following questions:

1.  Before this assignment, how reliant were you on user reviews?  What types of products/services did you find yourself evaluating vis-a-vis online user reviews?  Had you ever written a review before?  If so, what motivated you to do so?  If not, why not?

2.  What is the relationship between online user reviews and ethics?  In what ways do online user reviews ask us to consider the importance of Netizenship?  Comment on the degree to which product and service review writers should be considered a “community.”(hint:  you may need to do a little research on what Netizenship is! 🙂   

3.  How did you determine the “rules for reviewing products/services” that governed how you wrote your review.  Did different sites have different rules?  How did you discover these rules for composing user reviews?  Did you receive feedback on any of your reviews? (hint:  what type of research did you do in order to fully understand your rhetorical situation?)

4.  What are some of the political, social, and economic implications of the genre:  online user reviews.  In what ways do they affect consumer decision-making?

5.  Will you continue to write user reviews after this assignment is over?  Why or why not?

Assessment

There is no page requirement for either part of this assignment.  For part I, you will be judged on the basis of fulfilling the criteria we collaboratively established for a “useful” and “credible” review.  You are also expected to fully engage each question in part II, your critical reflection, drawing on Barnet and Bedau’s criteria of “critical thinking and analysis,” as well as the Latterell, Johnson, and Poe readings.

Your assignment is due _________.  Your folders should consist of:

  • Screen shots of your three user reviews, with your chosen user name highlighted/circled.  You are also responsible for providing links to your user reviews on the this page.
    • To take a screen shot, look to the right of your F12 key on your keyboard.  You will see a button that has the following text:  PRTSC/SYSRQ.  It’s beside a pause break button.  When you have your user review open on your screen, click this button.
    • Some computers will automatically save it as a .png file.  You can also copy and paste it into an image editor such as MS Paint, or GIMP.  Open up the program, click on CTRL + V to paste your screen shot into a new img file.  Save as your desired file name, and your screen shot should be successfully saved in your desired file location.
  • A copy of your critical reflection
  • Peer Reviews (for this unit, you will be workshopping with more than one person!)   

FAQ Evaluation Assignment

1.  Are the reviews all going to be the same genre (e.g. movie reviews, food, etc.?

Although, you aren’t required to write about more than one genre, you are required to write reviews for three different websites.  I especially encourage you to try writing reviews of different types of things.  Variety is good for your increasing your rhetorical acumen.  The more variety you have, the more experience you can gain composing reviews for different types of products/services, which will enable you to not only compare and contrast how different online communities establish different rules for writing reviews, but also how different categories of products call for different rules of writing reviews.

Related:  Do we pick items to evaluate or are we given them?

You can choose them!  I can’t speak to what you have or haven’t purchased/used lately.

2.  How can you peer review a review if you haven’t had experience with the product?

Your peer can make editorial changes, for errors such as spelling and word choice.  They can also ask you to justify your criteria for your value judgment (e.g. Chi is a good straightening iron), by drawing on our class rules for writing “useful” reviews.

3.  What are some word choices, key information, to include and organization for good reviews?

You will need to do a little bit of research on the site you are contributing to in order to find out this information.  Examine how other people have written reviews of a similar type, and identify reviews you thought were “well-written.”  You did an activity at the beginning of the unit to discover your preferences, as well. 

4.  What if I don’t have technical knowledge about a recent purchase, such as a computer?

If you aren’t comfortable reviewing a product, don’t.  Try reviewing other products you feel qualified to write about such as your experiences with a restaurant, a specialty shop, or some other product.  Amazon.com is a good place to go because you can write a review about something as seemingly innocuous as Magic Eraser or batteries.

5.  What are some possible places we can write reviews?

As of yet, no one has created a wiki page for links.  However, your assignment sheet lists many different types of options. At this point in time, it’s hard to buy a product whose system doesn’t allow you to write a review. To get a feel, here are some additional suggestions:

Services (ranging from restaurants to dentist visits):  http://www.insiderpages.com or http://www.yelp.com

Travel and Accommodations:  http://www.expedia.com or http://www.hotels.com

Make-Up:  http://www.sephora.com or http://www.ulta.com or http://www.maccosmetics.com

Charity:  http://www.charitynavigator.org

6.  How will you be able to find our reviews once submitted to a website?  I feel like in 24 hours they will be diluted into the site by multiple other reviews.

This is why you are asked to take a screen shot of your reviews.  In regards to the review getting lost, different sites have varying levels of traffic, and some products are reviewed  more often than others.  Don’t be intimidated by the number of reviews on a given site.  Simply contribute what you feel is a high-quality review and let the users decide whether or not it’s useful.

7.  What is the criteria for the websites we can choose to review?

Would the person who asked this question please clarify.  Criteria for how to write the review or criteria for which sites are “acceptable?”

8.  How long is a good review?  It seems the longer they are, the less effective they are.

Being concise demonstrates sensitivity to your reader’s needs.  However, some reviews are lengthy because the product itself demands that type of attention.  Similar to anything else, context is key.  If you notice that the shorter reviews aren’t useful, and that longer reviews aren’t, you should always draw on our class criteria for useful reviews.  You know what you expect from useful reviews, so produce the same quality you would want to see for the product you are reviewing.  Consider that before you used a product/service, you were in the same situation as the person reviewing reviews.  What would you want to know about the product/service before you purchase it?

Homework Schedule
Day 1:  Introduction to the Evaluation Unit:  What’s a “Useful” User Review?
  •  Carefully read your assignment sheet.  Write down at least three questions/comments/concerns you have about this assignment and bring them to class (they do not have to be typed, feel free to write them down on a sheet of paper).
  • Consider a product or service you have been thinking about buying.  Browse reviews of this product/service.  Find a review you think is the most useful and one that you think is not useful.  Print these two reviews and bring them to class.
  • Consult:  http://www.charitynavigator.com and http://www.yelp.com

Be prepared to discuss how user reviews are advertised to potential writers.  In what ways do these rhetorical appeals reinforce and/or challenge major assumptions about community.  Also, pay close attention to how user reviews “tell a story” about what defines a community.

 Day 2:  Analyzing Evaluations

  • Read Catherine Latterell’s 3 Assumptions about Community
  • Read Steven Johnson’s Listening to Feedback
  • Complete the following questions and add them to the appropriate thread on our class discussion board 

    • According to Johnson, what makes user-generated content systems like http://www.slashdot.org successful?  Can you think of other examples of self-regulating online communities?
    • Spend some time exploring http://slashdot.org.  Does it continue to exhibit the qualities that Johnson discusses?  Is it still a successful self-regulating community?  What makes it successful?  Use your response to the previous question in your evaluation of the site.
    • Respond to at least one of your peer’s posts no later than midnight. 

(OPTIONAL-Netizenship Opportunity):  As we discussed on Tuesday, you should be practicing critical reading.  Consult all the terms in the Johnson article that you marked as terms that you didn’t know.  Choose two, visit the Oxford English Dictionary.  Go to our course glossary and add it based on the guidelines established on the page.  If someone has already defined the term, pick another one and add it.

Day 3:  Analyzing Evaluations (Con’t)

  • Read Marshall Poe’s The Hive
  • Complete the following questionand add them to the appropriate thread on our class discussion board.  
    • Visit Wikipedia and find an entry you feel qualified to write about.  Register (with an anonymous name of your choice such as the one you use for our wiki), and participate in the authorship process by editing your selected entry.  What’s the process like?  Is it consistent with Poe’s description?
    • In what ways is Wikipedia like Slashdot?  What systems of feedback are needed for Wikipedia’s success?  Apply Steven Johnson’s ideas in “Listening to Feedback” to Poe’s discussion of collaborative knowledge.  Feel free to use your experience with wikis in your response.
    • Respond to at least one of your peer’s posts

Day 4:  Peer Review

Exchange reviews with your chosen group of no more than 4 people.

Day 5:  Revision Day (No Class)

Work on revising your reviews and your critical reflection.

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