There was a good post from Russ Mayne recently on the importance of criticism. He mentioned overly unpleasant criticism and unnecessary venom that might accompany it. Russ mentioned both academic and social media contexts. This post is about the latter, and mainly blogs.
I’ve directed unnecessary venom and ad hominem attacks at somebody in ELT before. I once called Geoff Jordan a false idol and even referred to him as, quote, ‘the Bam Margera of ELT’. That was poor form – I don’t even know if he owns a skateboard. Honestly, it was in the heat of the moment and I apologize.
I’m far more vanilla on this blog though. I’d be surprised if you find much criticism on here, especially not aimed directly at people. There are a few bitty critiques (rather than criticism) of this or that, usually including either the word ‘naff’ or ‘meh’. There’s the occasional attempt at taking a controversial stance just to see how it goes down, but that’s normally a clickbait thing.
My reviews though, hmmm. They seem to draw controversy. From nowhere a lot of the time.
I think most of them are fair. I try to be balanced, I always share areas for development, and I try to relate things directly to my practice. Personally, I think my tone shows that, you know, it’s just a subjective thing. It’s me writing as a teacher in one context, working in just a few classrooms with a handful of learners.
However, in the last year I’ve been chipped away at from a few angles.
I’ve been told that I share less than complimentary views about publishers or people working for them.
I’ve been told to ‘take down comments as a matter of urgency’ which I’ll be honest did actually scare me into googling ‘can a blogger with no views be done for libel?’.
I’ve been told that my critique might be deemed a conflict of interest that could now limit my work opportunities.
I’ve been told a year after publishing a piece that because it is now out of date (read: wrong) I should consider editing it, I’m guessing because a) people are incapable of viewing a post date b) the resource creators commenting on the post mentioning updates is clearly too much effort.
I’ve been told how disappointing it was that I chose not to contact the company before publishing my review.
And so on.
It’s no biggie. I mean, most people are probably just angry because of Covid and stuff. Trivial issues like me not valuing a resource as much as they do just blow up.
Even so, reviews are more hassle than they are worth. The trouble is, I care about them. If someone asks me to review a site/blog/etc I rarely think ‘what will I get out of this, apart from a free resource?’ But if I did, here’s the answer:
Between 1 and 20 hours work (or professional development if you look at it like that).
The last review I did involved reading all but one chapter of a book, spending nearly two hours writing a review, then spending 30 minutes editing the bits I thought might annoy people. I gained a lot from the reading for sure, Still, it took about 10 hours all told, and I missed the first half of the Arsenal game because of it.
I must add though, the publisher/editor were very appreciative of the time I put in just upon their request. Gold star to Garnet Education.
One review of a website took three evenings of 3 hours each. Getting home, taking a course on an online platform, taking another and another to get a better feel for the resource. Sure, it benefitted me in many ways. It’s still a big investment though.
I look back at the hours I’ve put into reviewing stuff. I remind myself that it’s all my subjective views as a consumer, and that I have benefitted professionally. Then I deal with backlash and I’m like ‘right, I need a reviews policy’.
Look, I’m not being a hypocrite. I’m not immune to critique – of course not. Some of what I write can be utter rubbish. I am not an expert in any ELT-related topic other than putting puns in coursebooks. I expect people to call me up on comments, just as Geoff Jordan did in one of my recent reviews. I do value that. Same as what Russ says – the criticism helps you learn.
But it’s the lack of perspective sometimes that gets me. Sure, someone spending X hours on a review of your work might not be something you asked for. It could be useful though. I mean, at least they’re being honest. How often in life does that happen? Genuinely…
So, that reviews policy. Here it is.
Knowledgeable? Meh. Informed? Meh. I don’t care – I’m officially setting myself up as a Consultant for reviews. My rates are, as an average consultancy fee seems to be, 350 quid a day. So, if you want a book review I’d say that’s your minimum offer. Alright, 345 and a Punk IPA.
2. Pro Bono
I’ll review your resource for free. If a) you seem alright, and/or b) you are like Walton Burns.
Walton has heard this rant before. When he (well, Alphabet Publishing) sent me their latest book to review, I responded with a declaration to sign which said ‘I accept that Peter Pun can say what he wants about the resource coz he’s the one using it’. Being a sport, he sent it back but in a sort of Early Modern style font as it was a Shakespeare-related resource.
If you have a sense of humor, it’s free. Question is, are you up to the challenge? All reviews requested from now on will require a pun in line 1 of the email. No pun, 350 quid. Pun? You could be quids in. Or get pounded in the review, either way.
If you want a review, but you want to read that review before it’s published (probably requesting changes)… That’s a cross between consultancy and just being meh. 175 quid, final offer. Or your worst dad joke – but it’s got to be very, very bad.
4. Press releases
If you send me one of those ‘Hey #NAME!#, we’ve been reading your blog, #NAME!# , for some time now and we love it!’
I’m just gonna screenshot the email into a review. But I won’t look at the resource. I’ll post one line at the bottom of the screenshot that says one of the following:
Sounds like a rip-off of XYZ
Sounds like I’d have been bothered to review that.
Please be aware that the ELT world does not revolve around your product. Seriously, no one will read my review. The best average (make sense?!) views a review gets on this site is 20 a day. If you’re lucky it will get 1.
6. Your wellbeing is my priority
I recently removed a review because someone said they felt attacked by it. Not my intention at all. If what I write is something that genuinely makes you feel like crap, just say.
Don’t lay it on too thick though. You know, like telling me things need to be dealt with ‘as a matter of urgency’ or something. I don’t like my reviews being likened to STDs.
TL;DR: be like Walton Burns.