Reviewing another author's work is fun. With so many different items posted on the Internet, looking for feedback, it is tempting to give writers encouraging and helpful reviews.
It is true to say that the content of an item is the most important. This is what will grip the reader; this is what the reader will remember. However, if the reader stumbles over technical errors, I think it is fair to assume that sooner or later that reader will give up and move on. Not a pleasant memory, then …
This article will cover some common errors you are very likely to come across as a reviewer. I will also offer suggestions for pointing out these errors to the author.
A main error reviewers seem to come across is the "i vs I" issue. This is a clear indication that an author was happily typing away and did not use a spell check before posting the item on a writing website. 99 percent of the time there is not a good reason not to capitalize the "I".
I suggest making a note of it. Suggest to the author that unless they have a reason for not capitalizing, it would be correct to change it. You do not have to point out every instance; you can just make a general suggestion.
Typos happened to all of us. In the exclusion of writing, it is easy to hit the wrong keys. Spell checks do not always catch typos, not when they form a word you did not intend to use, but which is still a correct word in itself.
If there are but a few typos, it is easy enough to point them out to the author and suggest the word you think they intended to use.
If the item is full of typos, however, this would soon get frustrating. In such a case I advise very pointing the author in the direction of a program such as MS Word, which will catch at least the major of errors.
Do not feel shy to suggest this. We are not here to completely edit an item. It is the author's responsibility to present their work as legitimate as possible.
Note – Some authors use American English. Some authors use British English. Both are correct, but the differences can lead to confusion for the new reviewer.
Differences can include such words as "color" (British English) and "color" (American English). Another example is "realize" (American English) and "realize" (the common spelling in British English). Other versions of English may apply, too, depending on the author's country of origin.
If you are not sure something is actually an error, or simply down to different use of the English language, I advise to just let it be.
The most common punctuation error reviewers come across is a lack of periods. Again, it would seem that some authors get excited about their writing and they simply do not take the time to put that little dot in place.
You could choose one example in your review to illustrate that fact and suggest the author has a look at their item to add further punctuation. You could also add that adding punctuation aids the overall clarity and reading experience.
Another common issue is an overabundance of commas. When the amount of commas does not seem to make any sense, it is helpful to make a note of this.
Again, you could take a sentence from the piece to illustrate your suggestion.
Many writers, especially those just getting started on their journey, have trouble with the correct use of quotation marks. If this is the case in an item you are reviewing, it is helpful to give an example of the correct use. Alternately, you could provide the author with a link to a website of your choice, which will explain the use of quotation marks through handy examples.
Punctuation in poetry is more difficult to analyze – the poet has some liberty as to its usage. Some poets prefer not to use any punctuation at all. Some poets use "proper" punctuation through their piece. Some poets only use punctuation where they think it serves a purpose.
The best advice I can give you is to read the poem out loud and see if the punctuation aids the rhythm and flow of the item, or if it hinders it.
If punctuation has been left out where it would be natural to place it, or if there is an inconsistent use of punctuation where it should be consistent, it is helpful to advise the poet of this.
Whilst we are on the topic of poetry – you will find that use of capitalization is another matter where personal preference counts for a lot. Some poets start each line capitalized. Some let capitalization depend on the individual sentences within the poem. Some seem to make random use of it. Some leave it out completely.
If you feel that their specific use of capitalization (or lack of them) hinders the reading experience, it makes sense to point this out. To not hurt any artistic feelings, it is advisable to note that you are aware that the use of capitalization in poetry is a matter of personal preference but … and then you can give your reasons for your suggestion.
The topic of capitalization leads us neutrly into grammar. However, grammar is complex, and it would take many articles to cover all bases. So the best advice I can give you here, is that if something is something out there for you.
Issues you will typically find are repetitiveness of description and repetitiveness of a certain word within a brief paragraph. In such a case you can suggest to the author to alter some of these instances.
Run-on sentences (sentences that just go on and on and on, which makes them hard to follow) can be broken apart into sentences for greater effect.
Random capitalization and text speak are becoming more common these days. An author should avoid these at all cost. They are posting their work on a writing website, after all, not a cell phone.
An overabundance of adjectives can hinder anwise smooth read. It does not hurt to gently remind the author of this. For example – "Her full, rich, flowing auburn hair …" may describe the image a writer has in his mind, but it does not read very well. A briefer description can still achieve the same effect and improve the overall reading experience.
How to point out these issues?
I recommend using as little of the text as possible, while still guiding the author towards the part of the item you are referring to.
You have found a typo in the third paragraph of a story. A good way to guide the author to the typo is by striking the paragraph and by using part of the sentence containing the typo.
"… as she walked down the isle …" – Little typo – "isle" should be "aisle".
In poetry, you can do the same with stanzas and lines:
In the third line of this stanza, "there" should be "their".
It goes without saying that when you are making suggestions about grammar, spelling and punctuation, it would serve you well to type your review in a program such as MS Word, to try eliminate errors in your own review. An added bonus is that if something goes wrong with your browser or Internet connection, you have the review safely backed up. This saves having to type it all again.
Do remember that whilst a reviewer aims to be helpful, if you find yourself spending more than a few of hours on a single review, you are probably editing instead. And that's a whole different ballgame.
Last but not least, have fun!