December 9, 2021

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Want to Write a Review? Here’s Advice From New York Times Critics.

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Note: Our Student Review Contest is open from Nov. 10 to Dec. 15.

You probably have a slew of opinions on the books, movies, video games and music you love and loathe. With some patience and attention, you can turn these opinions into a piece of written criticism: a review.

Advice from experts might help. To support students who are interested in writing their own reviews, whether for our annual review contest or just for fun, we asked Times critics who work in four different genres to share their advice.

In the four short videos below, you’ll learn more about how to explain your opinion, persuade a reader, consider a work’s context and examine the artist’s intent. For each video, we provide reflection questions to help students apply the advice to their own writing.

A.O. Scott, a chief film critic at The Times, told us that a review should share the writer’s opinion and explain why he or she feels that way. An opinion alone is not enough, he said: “The only way you get anyone else interested in it is if you can explain it.”

Some questions to consider after watching the video:

  • Think of a work of film, music, art or writing that you reacted to strongly. What is your opinion of that work?

  • Why do you have that opinion? What evidence could you use to support your opinion?

  • What other information about the work might be useful to someone else who wants to learn more about it? How could you help an interested reader?

Maya Phillips, a critic at large who reviews theater, poetry and other works of art and culture, stresses that a review is simply a piece of persuasive writing. She urges students who are new to review writing to use their visceral responses to drive their arguments.

Some questions to consider after watching the video:

  • Have you ever written a piece of persuasive writing, like an argumentative essay or newspaper column? How did you go about convincing the reader of your opinion?

  • What does your unique voice sound like? What review topics could be a good match for your preferred language and tone?

Jon Pareles, the chief pop music critic at The New York Times, told us that when it comes to today’s pop stars, “their stardom isn’t only in their music.” He encourages students to consider not only the work they are reviewing, but how that work fits into the broader cultural landscape.

Some questions to consider after watching the video:

  • Think about one work that you would be interested in reviewing (in any of the categories that The Times reviews). What would it mean to do a “close read” of this piece? What small details jump out at you?

  • Who created the work you chose? What do you know about them? How does their public presentation factor into your opinion of their work?

Jennifer Szalai, a nonfiction book critic at The Times, told us that reviewers have a responsibility to be fair to the creators of the work they review. “Fair doesn’t mean boring,” she said, “fair just means that you are trying, as much as possible, to understand what the writer of the book was trying to do.”

Some questions to consider after watching the video:

  • What do you think was the goal of the artist who created the work you chose in the last section? How well do you think they accomplished that goal?

  • Read a New York Times review in any section that interests you. (Arts, Books, Style and Food are good places to start.) Do you think the review you read was fair to the artist? Why or why not?

If you want to learn more about review writing, we encourage you to explore our review writing unit and enter our Student Review Contest.

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