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Reviews, or it really is personal

January 28, 2011 — R

Review writing can be a rewarding pastime. With the resurgence of wet shaving has come a plethora of new shaving related products. Ranging from hones to strops to soaps and creams, they provide aspiring wet shavers and experts alike with an abundance of choices.

The purpose of reviews should be to help readers make informed buying decisions. In order to achieve this goal, both the reviewer and the review have to meet a number of criteria.

  1. The reviewer should be independent. That means, he should preferably have bought the products himself. Alternatively, he should clearly state who provided the products. Failure to provide this information results in a marketing technique called shilling, ie the practice of making gifts to induce another to promote your product. Also known as collusion, it is arguably the single most annoying marketing technique commonly employed by artisans and small vendors in particular. The problem has recently been made worse by a large number of vendors joining the ranks of the moderators of various large forums. The results can be seen by skimming the review sections of both Badger & Blade and, lately, the Straight Razor Place.
  2. The reviewer should be able to put a product into perspective. It is hard to imagine something more useless than a review written by a beginner making wild claims about his latest purchase. But since no-one so far bothered to separate expert from amateur reviews, the occasional reader of the review sections of various shaving forums will have to be very careful. Because separating the wheat from the chaff can be quite a challenge - especially if the chaff is actually well written. I have made it a habit to quickly research the posting history of reviewers in order to establish their perspective. Superlatives and multiple punctuation marks are suspicious, as are reviews with less than 250 words. Also, a lack of structure is typically indicative of a lack of experience, grey matter, or writing skills. Either of which will turn any review into a bad review.
  3. The reviewer should have a proven track record of evaluating products. Yes, everybody has to start somewhere. But there are many ways of commenting on a product. A review is the supreme discipline. It should therefore be reserved for well researched, well written comments and recommendations, lest it become irrelevant or misleading.
  4. The review itself should be about the product, not the reviewer. While it is useful to establish a reviewer's track record and background, a review should not be a vehicle for self promotion.
  5. And the review should aim at making itself meaningful to a clearly defined audience. Certain razors are not meant to be used by beginners, but more often than not, reviewers fail to identify this audience. Suppose you own a custom razor, and you want to review it - will a beginner understand that this razor is not for him? Will an experienced user understand the risks associated with custom razors, both in terms of functionality and performance? Many reviews fail in this respect, and that makes them rather useless.
  6. The price/performance ratio should always be clearly evaluated. A Dubl Duck or a Filarmonica is just another razor, unless you are a collector. There is absolutely nothing unique about either of these, or most other razors outside the custom scene. Many reviewers - typically those who admit to having mental problems - fail to stress this fact in their reviews.

Applying these guidelines and principles to any of straight (or wet) shaving related product review should help you evaluate assess its usefulness to your particular purposes.