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While there's no doubt that becoming a parent is a wonderful, fulfilling experience, it's can also be an experience full of must-haves and wonder products. There are so many different products on sale that claim to make a parent's life easier, or to help baby develop quicker, or that they're simply the best of the type. Some of these products are indeed fantastic, while others are simply useless while yet more claim to solve problems that do not exist and pander to our insecurities. So how do I navigate my way through this minefield? Well, if I'm looking to buy a new product I'll often research it online, which means I read reviews, some of which are helpful, while others are sadly less-so. As well as reading reviews on this type of product, I love sharing my experiences of using baby and family related products, whether those experiences be good or bad. There's something very satisfying about warning others off the mistakes I've made. Over the last few years I've written quite a number of Kids & Family related reviews and now I'm going to share my feelings on what makes a Very Useful and possibly even crownable review on the subject.
The points I'm going to make in this section are relevant no matter which category you're writing a review in, but I'm going to make them anyway because they are probably some of the most important if you want to get 'positive' ratings. First off, make sure that the product you want to write about is on site. If it's not then you'll have to suggest it and then wait for it to be added. Please don't try to post in similar category or close match as this will make your review Off Topic and therefore Not Useful. Next, make sure you write your OWN review, copying somebody else's work is cheating, theft and again simply Not Useful and you will be found out.
Although it's very tempting to simply start typing into the 'write review' box, I would really suggest that you hold fire and open up a word processing program instead. I always write my reviews in Word but any other word processing program is just as good. This will allow you to write your review over a period of time, spell check, proof read and generally get your thoughts in order without worrying about losing your work.
How you format your review is entirely up to you, some people like to use headings while others don't. Personally I think heading are most useful with longer more in depth reviews that go into various aspects of a product and that shorter reviews don't really need them. However you format, try to use grammar with paragraphs and spacing, make your review as easy on the eye as possible. Remember we are being paid for these reviews so it's only right that we put as much effort into making it as easy to get the information out of them as possible. And whatever you do, don't use 'text speak'.
When writing about any product it's important to have relevant experience, but it can be especially hard to define 'relevant' when writing in the Kids & Family sections. Unlike, say, a mobile phone, we don't technically own the majority of the products in this section, so here's my definition of that relevant experience.
Firstly, I would say that you need regular first-hand experience of using the product or watching the child use the product. This means that you would need to either be a main caregiver or see the child very regularly. By very regularly I mean at least several times a week, for a longish period each time. Why do I say this? Well as a parent, I know that I've often encouraged my children to play with toys bought by relatives when they visit, even though they really don't touch them any other time. It's similar to dressing them in the awful old-fashioned clothes Granny bought, we do it because we don't want to offend. So the child may always seem to play with the toy you bought him during your weekly hour long visit, but this really isn't a balanced view of how they play with it. It may be that their parent says they play with it everyday but unless you see it, then it's not your first-hand experience.
But relevant experience goes even further than this, many baby products are regularly improved, reformulated and updated, with some of the changes being very significant while the product name stays the same. Let's take baby bottles as a case in point, in early 2010 many manufacturers changed the formulation of the material their bottles are made from to BPA free. Some of these changes were more successful than others, with at least one brand becoming almost unusable due to how cloudy the bottles were. So how helpful would it be to simply review the old style of bottle that you bought several years ago? Not very, in my opinion. So unless it's a very recent purchase, it's important to check that the product hasn't been changed since you bought it.
This is also the case with many toys and nursery items bought years ago or those boot sale bargains. That's not to say that reviews on those items wouldn't be useful, because there are circumstances where they are, it's just they're not as useful to someone trying to decide whether to buy new. As another example, there are toys still available to buy new now that I bought when my now 19 year old was a baby. But there have been a number of changes and improvements made during that time frame, so if I were to review those products now then the review simply wouldn't help someone looking at buying new, but it would be more helpful if someone was trying to decide whether to buy second hand.
The amount of experience required to write a useful review obviously varies from product to product. But obviously the product has to have been actually used, so a review written for an item bought for a bump will not be useful until the bump is born and has actually used it. Similarly, a review written about a toy that's intended as a present that hasn't actually been given yet, is simply not useful. Really I would say the item needs to have been regularly for at least a few weeks before you should even contemplate writing a review about it. Of course there are some exceptions with the occasional product being so terrible that you'll never use it again, but again the experience should be relevant to the product. So a review written after trying just one nappy in a pack, just isn't useful, even if that nappy leaked.
There is one final aspect of relevant experience I'd like to cover here that is quite important to me as a parent and unique to some Kids & Family products. And that's when the products are not used for their original purpose. While I quite understand that many baby toiletries are multi-purpose and can be used by adults as well as children, if I was looking at reviews to find out what other people thought of a particular brand of wipes (for instance) and read a review that told me how great they were at removing make-up and cleaning leather settees but didn't tell me how good they were at cleaning dirty bums I really wouldn't find that review helpful. So while I've got nothing against these types of review, please bare in mind that I (personally) am unlikely to find them Very Useful and won't nominate them for a crown (although others might).
==Description vs. Opinion==
No matter what the subject, there seems to be a culture on sites such as this to describe a product rather than share experience and opinion. I personally don't find this particularly useful, if I want to know what a product looks like, well I'll go and look at it. That's not to say all description is unhelpful, it's just the context it's used it. For example to say 'there are four buttons on the toy, the red one plays music" is pure description, while "There are four easy to press buttons, but baby likes the red one best because it plays a lovely loud tune" also contains opinion and experience. When reading a review about a baby toy, I want to know how baby actually interacts with it, does your baby actually play with it, is there one aspect that baby especially loves, does it hurt if baby throws it at you.
Of course the same principle applies to other products in the Kids & Family section. A description of a bottle of baby bath simply isn't useful without some relevant experience. So stating "the bottle has a flip-top lid" is simply description, while "I find the bottle's flip-top lid is easy to open even with one hand" includes experience and opinion. With nursery furniture, description is, perhaps, a little more important, but experience and opinion is still the most essential part of any review. No matter what you're reviewing think about what you wish you'd known before buying the product, good and bad, and then tell us about these aspects.
After writing your review, read through it. Does it say everything you want it to? Does it make sense? If not make any alterations and then read through it again. Once you're happy then save your review and it's time to start thinking about a title, the advantages, disadvantages and summary boxes. Now personally, I'm terrible at thinking up a title, there are reviewers that can come up with witty titles, but I can't do that. My titles generally refer to some aspect of the product I'm reviewing, but as long as it's not offensive then it's up to you, I definitely do not judge a review by it's title.
With the advantage and disadvantage boxes, try to think of the products strongest positives and negatives. I know it's sometimes really difficult to say something positive about a product you've hated (or negative about something you love) but nothing is all bad or all good. Something to definitely avoid, is putting 'see review' in either these boxes or the summary box, this simply smacks of laziness and isn't at all helpful for anyone coming across your review. For the summary box, try and summarize the product in one sentence, I must admit I sometimes find this quite difficult.
Now it's finally time to post the review, so 'cut & paste' your review into the write review box, add your title, advantages, disadvantages, summary and star rating and press the preview button. Have another read through, check that everything makes sense and that the spacing is correct and then when you're happy press the publish button and you're done.
So that's my opinion on what goes into writing a good Kids & Family review. Of course it is only my opinion and other people will possibly look for other things. Personally, I think the most important thing is to remember who it is we are writing for, the potential consumer, who is looking for information on other people's experiences before purchasing an item for a child (whether their own or somebody else's). So try to include opinion on the aspects that you would have found helpful to know about before you bought it. And remember you can please all of the people some of the time, or some of the people all of the time but you can't please all of the people all of the time.
This review is *my* attempt at an answer to the question of 'What makes for a good opinion?' I placed it in this category as this is the one I guide, but a lot of the advice I am trying to offer applies to reviews in general, not just Kids and Family. I separated the advice for general points and those applicable to different types of reviews (product, advice, opinion). I assume that people reading this text will have interest in writing pieces useful for general consumer, but also in ratings they receive and the chance for a crown.
...should be placed in a correct category and on topic. An excellent review of Bella nappies will not be crowned if it's placed in 'Nappies in general' category. I might rate it as Very Helpful or Helpful if the title and the first paragraph make it clear what the writer is covering, but I would NOT recommend it for a crown.
... need to be structured. It means grouping together information that relates to the same aspect of the product (e.g. setup, play, cleaning). Reviews don't need headings, though I personally think they often help to find relevant information and skip the parts readers don't care about, especially in longer reviews. Remember, you should be writing for a potential buyer, not for dooyoo members. I sometimes start with headings - they help me write in a structured way - and then remove some or all of them before posting .
... shouldn't have padding. Yes, shorter reviews tend to get lower ratings. The temptation to pad a review that seems short despite containing all that it needs can be strong, but the main result is that a review becomes less useful as a source of information for a buyer.
- Don't add unnecessary descriptive information about the product (look of the packaging in detail, full nutrition information, list of possible side effects and safety precautions copied from a drug's leaflet).
- Remove unnecessary personal information (e.g. 200 words on family Christmas before describing a present that was then received) .
- Avoid general information about the whole category (e.g. how to make up formula milk in a review of one specific type) or masses of info on the company that makes the product.
I will not personally downrate an otherwise Very Useful review that contains padding *provided it's easy to identify where it's located and potential reader can skip those parts with no problems*. But I would think carefully about recommending it for a crown. I would definitely rate lower if the padding permeates the whole text and the reader has to wade through it to find the relevant information.
... should be easy on the eye and on the brain, written with basic regard for spelling and layout conventions:
- Use paragraphs. Long stream of text is impossible to read and take in. Non-paragraphed review will be Not Useful or Somewhat Useful.
- Don't use text speak or other shorthand method; most people will not understand you and your review will be clearly Not Useful to them.
- Don't write in capitals, anything longer than a few words in capitals is almost impossible to read and thus Not Useful.
- Spell check for obvious typos and re-read at least once before posting for inconsistencies, broken trains of thought and typos that the spellchecker doesn't pick up (there/their etc). I am not fanatic about spelling, I make a lot of typing mistakes myself and I would only rate down an otherwise Very Useful review if the spelling makes it hard to read. I would normally not recommend for a crown a review that contains lots of spelling mistakes and typos. Please, please use capital I for first person singular personal pronoun (I was born in 1907 NOT i was...) and at the beginning of sentences, they are there for a reason (the reason is to make reading easier).
...need to have HEAPS of personal experience and opinion: how was it for you? And why? This is the main point of a consumer review. A review is not a review if it just describes product. For some products the personal experience part would be short, but it needs to be there. A product review without personal experience and opinion will be in my books automatically rated Somewhat Useful or Not Useful. Opinion doesn't need to be separated from the rest of the review, I personally prefer when it permeates the whole text. I also love to see a short summary/verdict which would enable people looking just for that to still gain information from the review. Remember, you are (or should be) writing for a potential buyer, not for the dooyoo members.
... should contain brief(ish) but reasonably comprehensive description of the product. I don't mean a detailed spec and ingredient list!! But it's good to say what the product is, what it does and how it does it. It should not assume that the reader would know much about the product or service. I think this is really a difficult area in case of children's products, especially toys. Should we say what colour it is? Is it advisable to list all the tunes that a musical bar plays? Would it be useful if we said what happens when every button is pressed? In my opinion the answer to all these questions would be no. It's better to give an example ('It plays 'Old McDonald' when you press the triangle and other tunes on pressing other buttons').
...it's great when a product review says in what way the particular product that is being reviewed differs from others in the category. For example 'This steriliser can be also used as a steamer for food.' or 'Most strollers have a shopping basket but this one does not.'. I love reviews which provide comparison with other models, brands and types. I realise that it's not always possible as you might have only ever experienced one product from the category, but do it if you can.
...we often need a little context of the user's personal and family situation: an indication of an age range for which the product might be suitable is especially helpful with children's stuff and reviews of children's books, films and television programmes often lack this. I am definitely NOT asking for a detailed family and personality background, but something along the lines of 'my daughter is a physically active and courageous 3 year old and she enjoyed playing on this frame, while her 4 years old brother found it intimidating at first and never took much to climbing to the very top.'.
... have to give a price information. If you bought the product second hand, tell us how much you paid (often very useful info for bigger items); but please include a current price for a new item - I have yet to encounter a product whose price could not be checked on the Internet.
Such reviews usually come as 'my story' or 'advice bullet points', and often a combination of the two.
My personal preference is for the combination, with more of the space devote to advice/generalising and less to the story; or ideally, using the story just to back up the advice.
However, I know there are people who find such personal accounts inspirational and thus I can only say that, as with product reviews, try writing for people who are looking for information about the subject, not just for dooyoo members and certainly not 'for yourself' (to make yourself feel better by 'sharing' or something).
If you are writing about a medical condition, I think including some information about it is a useful thing, ideally it should be related to your experience of the condition.
What is exactly the point you are making?
The most important thing about discussion reviews is to actually have an opinion and be able to articulate it clearly in the review as opposed to vague rambling about in the area of discussion.
Why do you think so?
Arguments that support the opinion are necessary. If you quote research or survey data, it would be lovely if some indication of the source was provided (I don't mean proper referencing, I mean 'as seen in a Daily Mail article' or 'from several studies I found online').
Does it help the argument?
Structuring and layout of a discussion review is, I think, more important than in product reviews. I am looking for a clear argument, not a 'whatever I can say about the subject' mumble.
What does THAT have to do with the topic?
And finally, it's rather important to keep to the topic and avoid going off into side lanes that often can take the reader away from the main argument and leave them bored, confused and unwilling to continue. Going off at a tangent to an area only related (and sometimes vaguely related) to the subject really spoils many a good argument.
PS: This text was originally almost 2000 words long. I cut it down to just above 1500 and I think it's much better now.