Points of Articulation
How to Review Toys the OAFEnet Way!
This is going to seem boastful. Really, really boastful. But totally tongue-in-cheek title aside, as we enter our 12th year of reviewing action figures, there's no shame in admitting that we've pretty much got a handle on the whole "how to write a review" thing. We're "your #1 source for toy reviews" for a reason!
But what's the value in keeping that knowledge for ourselves? If you want to write toy reviews, then we (as the OGs of the genre) have a responsibility to make sure you know all the tricks of the trade. So in the tradition of How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way, here's what you need to do.
- This is the internet: there's no word limit. That's why sites that divide their articles into multiple pages (those jerks) are so frustrating: it's nothing but a ploy to inflate their traffic stats. But you need to keep your reader hooked. If your writing is boring, they won't make it to through a single "page down" before losing interest; write well, and your 4,000-word treatise on why Sir Laser-Lot is the greatest character creation of the past decade will have them riveted.
You don't need to double-space after a period. That's a holdover from the days when typewriters couldn't adequately or reliably differentiate between a comma and a period: typists put two spaces after the period to make sure their intention was clear. On modern devices, this is an affectation that is no longer needed. Most browsers automatically strip the extra spaces out, so save your thumbs afew keystrokes.
Titles of works are italicized: movies, comicbooks, television shows, books, albums, videogames, and (particular to the world of reviewing action figures) the name of toylines. Defined segments of those works - an episode, a chapter, a song - are put in quotes. Example:
Last night I watched Four Rooms - great movie! My favorite part was "The Man from Hollywood." Did you know it's based on a Roald Dahl short story? "The Man from Rio." It was an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. But man, the themesong got stuck in my head! I had to look it up: "Vertigogo," by Combustible Edison. It always makes me think of that Us3 song "Cantaloop." I never got the album that was on, though: Hand on the Torch. Wait, why do I know that?
Manufacturers, such as Lego or Mattel, are not italicized. "Lego's Space theme is looking fun this year."
As in the sentence above, bold is used for emphasis, not italics. Italics may be used for foreign words.
No stupid "ratings systems." They don't mean anything and are never consistent. Humans always feel most strongly about the things we've just seen/experienced, so "new" items tend to be rated higher than they deserve. There's no point to assigning arbitrary numbers to a toy. Readers should be able to get that information from the body of your review.
Don't forget to write a conclusion - the review shouldn't just "stop," it needs to "end."
- Grammar and syntax
- Website is spelled "website," not "web site." "Web" is not capitalized except at the beginning of a sentence, nor is "internet." "Email" is one word with no hyphen, and follows the same capitalization rules as website and internet.
Comicbook is one word.
Videogame is one word.
Toyline is one word.
Superhero is one word.
There's no such thing as a "paint op." The term is "paint app" - it's short for "application." Paint is applied, not operated.
There's a difference between a wave and series. Know it.
"Recreation" is a fun activity; "re-creation" is creating something again.
"Re-use" is an adjective. "Reuse" is a verb. They're not interchangeable.
Numbers one through nine are written out. 10 and higher are shown as numbers. Heights and ages are always shown as numbers.
Single quotes are only used when within another quote. "Rustin's favorite chapter in Twilight is Chapter 16: 'Carlisle.' What a weirdo! Everybody knows 'Phone Call' is the best chapter!"
Commas and periods always go inside the quotes, not outside. Colons, semicolons, question marks and exclamation marks go outside the quote, unless they're part of the quoted material.
A character's biography is told in past tense; the events of a story are told in present tense. "Thomas Anderson went by the name 'Neo,' and lived peacefully in the Matrix until the day he met Morpheus" vs. "Neo and Trinity enter the lobby with so many guns that even Ted Nugent would consider it overkill." The same events could be covered either way, depending on how you're writing about them: "Captain America was frozen during World War II and revived in the present day" vs "Captain America gets frozen in ice, and isn't found until the present day." You just need to be consistent, and either can work.
- Open the review quickly. This can mean a paragraph, a sentence, or even a solitary word - anything, as long as it's short. Nobody cares about two pages of introduction. If the review's first picture isn't "above the fold" (a term from the newspaper business - on the internet, it refers to everything that's visible on a webpage when it loads, before the reader scrolls down), they'll scroll down past your lovingly crafted introduction, and all your work will mean nothing.
LAYOUT: The first image in the review is your cue for where the review "starts." The people who skim will start reading wherever that picture is.
After your introduction, copy any biographical information from the packaging. Italicize this, so it's clear that's what it is. Then any synopsis you need about the character, toyline, or circumstances of release. Since the biography probably won't be long enough to take up all the space next to the main image, this is good filler.
Think about your photos while you're writing. If there are three different things you specifically want to call out in the review, and know you'll want to have pictures of, don't jam them all into one paragraph. The photos should illustrate whatever point you're making as you make it, so if you you talk about a weird sculptural element on the figure's back in the same paragraph where you talk about the paint on the face, something's going to go wrong. So plan ahead, and save yourself the headaches later.
Photos will alo direct readers to the things they want to know about. The photo of the articulation will be next to the paragraph about the articulation, the accessories will be next to the accessories, and so on.
ADJECTIVES & EXAMPLES: "Well done" is a way to cook meat. Avoid variations too, like "well-made" or "well-painted." Get descriptive. If there's a descriptive adjective rather than just an approving one, that's the one you want. "Insightful," "tense," "taut," "exotic," etc. are better than "good" or "well." If something is "perfect" or "awkward," why? Couple a descriptive adjective with an example, and you've reviewed something!
THINGS TO AVOID: "What can I say?" is pointless filler. You can say whatever you're about to say next. You're not trying to sound folksy. No one thinks content on the internet is being written live as they read it, so faking stream of consciousness doesn't do anything for you. It may seem to suggest immediacy, but what it really says is "I didn't edit this: enjoy my glaring mistakes."
Avoid saying something is "worth getting" - we're judging the toys, not the value of the reader's time and budgetary spending. Just review the toy, and let the reader figure out for himself if it's worth buying.
Don't talk about yourself. You're doing this to inform people about the subject of the review, not for personal recognition. "I," "me" and "my" should almost never appear in a review, unless it's relevant to the subject. "I found this at Kmart two months before it is supposed to come out. My figure's knee is broken."
A review comprises two parts: specific facts; and personal opinions. Anything that is not a concrete fact is, by process of elimination, the reviewer's opinion. Because of that, you never need to waste time qualifing your opinions - just state them. Don't bother with things like "I think" or "I feel"; we already know you think or feel those things, because you've written them down and we're all reading them. "Captain Marmelade seems like a good addition to this line. I feel his marmelade-shooting action feature is unobtrusive, and it might be one of the best action features I've seen in years" is weak, ass-covering language; you're deflecting criticism by not committing to anything. Compare that to "Captain Marmelade is a good addition to this line. His marmelade-shooting action feature is unobtrusive, and one of the best action features seen in years." It's bold! It's firm! It's punchy and it actually says something. You're a reviewer, goddammit! If you can't judge the quality, who can? Be proud of your opinions, don't apologize for them; because if you can't stand behind the things you write, no one else will, either.
As a plus, writing like this provides the ability for readers to disagree with the review, and thus to discuss it after reading. "I liked (X)" isn't something someone can refute, so the conversation ends right there, while "(X) is good" gives them a starting point. You want that.
BE INTERESTING: We've reviewed more than 50 Batman figures here on OAFE, and we'll definitely be reviewing more in the future. There's only so much you can say about Batman, and only so many times it can be said. So you need to find a way to make every review something fun, because if you're tired after writing about 50 different Batmen, imagine how tired your audience is of reading about them. Look for the way you can go above and beyond to keep the audience entertained - it's what the E in our name stands for, after all.
ONE RELEASE, ONE REVIEW: if figures come in a two-pack, review them both. If they come in a seven-pack, review all seven. If the toys are released individually, review them individually - no bunching everything together so you have less to write. Reviews help people know what to buy, and clumping things together cheats them out of the info you're supposed to be providing.
STOP READING: When you sit down to write a review, don't read other people's reviews first - you need to write your review in a vacuum. If you go out and you read that everyone else loved this figure, they thought it was the best toy of the year, then you are going to be prejudiced when you sit down to write your own review. If you want to read other people's reviews, do it after you've written yours: we want to hear your opinions, not theirs.
- And most importantly...
- Don't be afraid to break every one of these rules when necessary. Click around the site and you'll find dozens - maybe hundreds - of examples that violate the guidelines up above. But you have to know when to break the rules, and know why you're breaking them; there's a difference between breaking the rules and doing it wrong.
This is pieced together from various sources I've been given over the years, from common sense, and from more than 15 years' personal experience. It's the OAFEnet style sheet, and it's what's made us the best toy review site around.
And if you disagree with that statement, then heck, I probably said it just to spark discussion, didn't I?