And, sadly, a good eighty percent (or possibly even upwards of that) of all reviewers really suck.
Hence, I have here the manual that every good reviewer knows by heart--and one that a lot of reviewers should read anyway, whether they be good or bad.
(i.e., what writers want to see in a review)
1. Sucky reviews seriously suck, but they are better than nothing. There are few things more annoying than having your email backed up with twenty to thirty notices that your stories have made people's Favorites list, then visiting your page itself and seeing that you have only accumulated one new review. Say something. It is bad for our self-esteem if you like our work but won't give us the time of day about it--we want to know what we did right, so we can keep doing it.
Case in point: A lot of people have told me that my oneshot Sympathy, which contains speculations on how Aymia's Gravity Chaos Tactics Card was made, was very excellently written, which I don't see at all--I hate how it turned out and think it's incomprehensible. And while it took lots of prodding to find out why it had such an emotional impact at all, I wouldn't have been able to do so if no one had ever told me they liked it. And I would still hate the semicoherent piece of random.
2. If you're going to take the time to hit the review button anyway, don't just type "it was good" or "I liked it". Think a little, since this is the feedback writers are counting on. What, exactly, did you like? Was there a part of the story that was really original or that really surprised you? Did you laugh somewhere? Did the story make you cry? It's a real compliment to an author to know that their work has affected you emotionally, so be kind and let them know.
Especially if authors are branching out with their characters, and doing either character studies, "what-if" fiction, or alternate universe tales, try to compliment especially good characterization. We all know, for example, how Axel fixates on Roxas, or how Kagome never admitted to herself that she was in love with Inuyasha until three-quarters of the way through the anime. If the characters' situations are changed or their motives are being explained, try to think if this is something that's really plausible--and compliment authors when they get things right.
3. Sometimes, it's actually better to postpone reviewing something so that you can go back and look at something objectively. An emotional outburst can at times be really flattering, but at the same time, you may miss something you really want to say about characterization if you're too upset over an event or mindlessly happy that something you wanted to happen did.
Because it's the example that made me include this--a really good story that fits with this point is Steam's Yggdra Union AU, Resurgence. The writing is bloody amazing, but the author has an unfortunate habit of writing painfully graphic scenes depicting Nessiah in truly desperate physical, mental, and emotional condition that drive me absolutely crazy. Since Nessa is an adoptee, it takes me hours to calm down after seeing him written in so much agony. If I reviewed directly after I read each chapter, that would probably be all I talked about--and there are so many other points I need to address each time: From yelling at Rosary's latest stupid escapade to praying for Roswell's survival to remarking on how well the cast fits into the futuristic ficverse... particularly, in the most recent chapter, the Leon and Elena scenes, which absolutely cracked me up when I read them (and still do). Since I love those things, I try to make sure I'm in the state to address them.
4. If you find a story's content offensive in any way--characters are paired up in a way that disgusts you, or ir broaches subject matter that seriously contradicts your beliefs--don't review it. Just hit the back button on your browser and try to find something else. If you review a story when you're having a really negative reaction, the chances are high you'll spew on the author and flame them regarding content, not even the quality of their writing itself. And if you do that, you'll come off looking like a stupid bigot. Which you're not, are you?
5. Try to keep the author's experience level in mind. I've known a lot of newbies who were really shy about their work who actually stopped writing when their very first stories got viciously flamed. You can't expect someone who's only just started writing stories to be perfect at them on their first try. Instead of telling them how badly they suck, point out politely what they need to fix and what they did well.
6. If you're using a "Yes, but" statement in your review, always make sure the criticism is first, the compliment second. "You wrote Negi well, but you butchered your Asuna" sounds really mean, while "You may need work on Asuna, but your Negi really rocks" sounds supportive. Writing is hard work, and people tend to be sensitive about it. Constructive criticism is intended to improve someone's work, not to get their back up about it and make them defensive.
7. If you're going to point out the flaws in someone's work, make sure you're very sure about what you're talking about. You come off looking like an absolute moron if you try to call someone on a mistake and you're wrong.
(And now, it's time for the God, I Hate This Reviewer story. You knew there was one coming.)
Okay, so--there was this guy, right? This really, really sucky reviewer, who violates most of the points on this list. I'm not going to name names, but I'm sure a lot of you will know who it is I'm talking about. We had a lot of trouble with him in the Yggdra Union section a while ago. He went through, read everything, hated almost all of it, and proceeded to flame it all, in excruciating detail. And because he didn't use profanity in his flames, no one can get the administration to remove the reviews--even when their content becomes alarmingly bigoted and intolerant.
Anyway, he was flaming one person's story--their very first story, when they're definitely the shy type--about Roswell and Rosary, and a possible take on their relationship: To those concerned, it was more of a Cathy-and-Heathcliff thing than anything else. While the Really Bad Reviewer was ranting about every shortcoming of this debut piece, he spent a while whining about how the story was inaccurate because it described Roswell and Rosary as having a semi-friendly relationship, saying that they weren't anywhere near that "chummy" in the game. It is stated--hell, it's nailed into the player's head in every single town or village in Verlaine--that Roswell and Rosary were once very close friends... which means our blustering fool obviously hasn't paid much attention to canon.
Now, this author--who hasn't written anything since--has to live with this really scathing, nasty, and completely inaccurate review that she doesn't deserve. Where the hell is the sense or justice in that?
Please don't be so stupid. I know you can do better.
8. A little politeness goes a long way. There's a huge difference between saying something is absolute shit and saying it could use some improvement, and don't think we don't notice it. Sometimes, people will post things that have slightly lacking grammar in places, or redundancies, or other typos--and those people will probably appreciate your pointing them out politely in either a PM or review so that they can fix those things (they'll usually be mortified and thank you for catching it when they didn't).
9. Read the warning labels on stories. They are there for a reason. People usually state their story pairings somewhere in the story summaries, in the stories themselves, or in their profiles--if the stories need other warning labels, they'll usually be there too. If the story contains something you don't like or aren't comfortable with, than either don't read it or don't whine about it in the review. Some of the most irritating reviews I've ever had deal with people complaining about content that I explicitly mentioned ahead of time.
Consider who you're reading, too. Authors who contribute to a lot of fandoms or have a great many works usually have their preferences, and their own very noticable styles. If you are trying to find some good Edward/Bella stories, don't go to the Jacob/Bella enthusiast. If an author is particularly noted for yaoi or yuri, and you prefer to read only het, avoid their works. If you don't like dark content, then stay away from people who have a trend of writing really angsty pieces.
Especially if you're the type who has trouble "unseeing" things, don't go looking for trouble and then cry about it to the writer when they have warnings up.
10. If you read something really really bad and want to offer concrit but don't know how to say it politely, take some time away from the story to think about it. Being mean or too harsh isn't going to help an author at all, and remember than unless your reviews are openly abusive, they can't get taken off. You don't want potentially sensitive authors having to deal with the stigma of an overly critical review that might put readers off forever, after all.
11. Make sure you consider the context. Characterization and plot coherence are often very lax on humorous fics in general, particularly parodies, and you have to expect a large degree of nonsense and shattering of the fourth wall there. Epics and dramas often thrive on suspense and drawing out the mystery, and usually depend on the reader's ability to pick out tiny details that will hint at events to come. If the story is intentionally very cracky, don't complain about small breaks in character; those are only a problem in serious stories.
12. Watch Ratatouille.
...seriously. While this may seem like a very nonsensical piece of advice, that particular movie has a lot to say about the artists vs. critics battle, and can put your concrit into perspective. Don't forget that you're dealing with another person here, and also don't forget that if you're too harsh, you could scare off potential readers or cause them real damage. Overly cruel and critical reviews or flames can really haunt writers who don't have skin a mile thick. If you can't be kind, supportive, or at least helpful, you shouldn't really be reviewing.
13. If you're a writer, think of the kinds of things you'd like to hear from your reviewers, and try to review in that style. Don't just think "Oh, well, I'm bad at reviewing" and not hit the button--you'll improve through practice, and if you can give feedback while being polite, that's a lot more than most of the world can handle. If you can consider the other person's self-esteem while talking about your reaction to their piece, you shouldn't sell yourself short.