Difference between a Review and a Description

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I was talking with some Filofax fans recently and was mentioning that some reviewers don’t give any personal opinions in their reviews of items. And one person said  ‘because it is not a review, it is a description’ and we went on to discuss whether this is because they received binders from the company or whether it was just the way they worked.

I have been thinking about it since then and yes, I know that some people receive binders free and may not want to be critical about the company. I also know that others, like Laurie at Plannerisms, feel that if they describe the item, their readers can form their own opinion because we all have different needs and likes/dislikes. Which is a very valid point. Since I read Laurie’s explanation it has seemed perfectly logical to me. She always describes things so very well that it would be easy to decide if I would like it for myself or not and whether it would suit my personal needs. She often offers her reviewed planners as giveaways on her blogs so in that sense it is nice that they are unused. She does also offer opinions on the planners she uses and is honest as to why they didn’t work for just her.

I guess I fall a little between that myself – I buy all my own items with my own hard-earned money so I expect them to be good. I also feel that because my blog is about me and my passions, I can be honest. I am never nasty but I do say for example if I hate the tag on a zipper or if things catch on a pocket or a clasp, or if I feel the item wears too quickly or is overpriced. I am the kind of person who, instead of saying ‘it doesn’t work’ says ‘it needs work’ and then describe as diplomatically as possible why. I never want my readers to waste money on an item I have featured. On the other hand I do offer mostly a description and photographs of the binder, offering opinions on just the features I think work or don’t work.

When I read magazines or articles, I always prefer reader reviews to the magazine’s own article about a product. The reader reviews are more honest about the product and whether it works/is overpriced/badly designed etc. , whereas the magazine article comes off as  just PR. Not always but usually. I also always look at TripAdvisor if I am going anywhere. I am intelligent enough to balance the glowing reviews with the negative ones and look at the overall rating, as I think most consumers are. It is way more accurate to me than reviews by people who were given a free stay at the hotel before they wrote their review.

I have thought about it and if I were given products to review I would probably not want to say negative things about a company that was kind enough to give me a product. I hate myself for thinking like that but it is human nature I suppose. And I am very soft-hearted.

And don’t get me wrong, I like descriptions in blogs and videos because I feel that the companies themselves often fall short in really describing their binders or having nice photographs. But for me, having had the discussion with my Filofax friends, that is a description rather than a review. For me a review implies an opinion but that then could be pure semantics.

So I was wondering what my readers think. Do you like descriptions so that you can form your own opinion or would you like a review to be a critical analysis of a product and a service as regards packaging, delivery, quality and price?


Author: Janet Carr

Fashion, beauty and animal loving language consultant from South Africa living in Stockholm, Sweden.

24 thoughts

  1. I never do reviews and certainly not paid ones. If I talk about something, it’s spontaneous and based on what I own. That said, descriptions are very important. I love the Franklin Covey Flourish, but it is not leather and not right for everybody (and it only has one pen loop…boo!).


  2. I never thought about it before. I have done some “reviews” only according to your article, they were actually descriptions. Thinking about it, I realize my goal is like Laurie’s – to give a more detailed view of what the product looks like and how it’s used. Everybody likes what they like so I tend to keep my opinion to myself unless someone asks. I’ll have to think about that the next time I do a review/description. And the poll results are interesting and helpful.

  3. I’m with you Toni! Too many reviewers are so delighted to receive a free sample that they base their reviews on slushy, aesthetic stuff from when the product is first taken out of the box or wrapper. Yes, initial smell is important and all that about the “buttery-soft tactile feel” and the gorgeous shade of pink etc. However, I much prefer reviews that have a good look at the quality and type of construction. For example: is it all leather or is the inside vinyl? Is it thick leather or thin bonded with cardboard packing to make it appear thicker? What’s the stitching like? Are all the pockets useable? What’s it like when filled with a typical stash of inserts and other items? Are they cheap Chinese rings? How is it likely to wear with time?

    This shouldn’t worry the manufacturers. If the product is good, it will get a positive review!

    What really winds me up are the company press releases that purport to be reviews. Too often in the past, these have been replicated in full, without an indication of who wrote them and as if they are statements of fact, rather that just marketing hype. Steve has taken this on board at Philofaxy and usually now states when something is just an agency or company press release.

    1. We had some problems calling them a ‘Press Release’ Filofax USA complained to Filofax UK saying that Philofaxy wasn’t a member of the Press, and the ‘announcement’ or what ever you want to call it wasn’t a general press release anyway. They raised a load of other issues as well which just created a lot of red mist! Something for another time and place to be discussed.

      The ones on Philofaxy tend to be written with our readership (more enthusiastic) in mind. I know people don’t like the marketing steer on them… but I can’t avoid that. Without the physical product in my hand at that point in time I can’t write an announcement about them. But they are clearly labelled to avoid confusion that’s for sure.

      The construction of a organiser is a difficult one. I know for instance that some Maldens where made differently, I was able to identify the batch number of them too but we didn’t get any confirmation back from the QC people at Dalkeith as to us being correct or not about this change in the internal construction or not.

      However, we continue to work with the makers to help improve our understanding of how they are made so we can share that with readers. Van der Spek certainly went the full distance by taking over 700 photographs of two organisers as they were being made! We filtered that down to about 120 photos for the two reviews. The photos clearly show the internal construction no doubt about that.

      We are also asked for our advice and thoughts on improvements to products so again we channel readers responses back as well, in a few cases we have seen products changed in design following our feedback.

      1. I think that’s a key function of the site – consumer feedback. Any company with their brain switched on will see this as a captive audience. And the readership do want detailed pix of the product.

        As regards the press releases, the American companies have often been much slower than the Brits in realising that they needed to court bloggers and specialist websites. I used to edit a huge international review website – the British publishers had the bloggers on-side in no time, whilst the American publishers faffed around (and this was when book reviews were disappearing from US newspapers at a rate of knots).

      2. Filofax really needs to stop being so precious about language. They make planners, not dictionaries.

  4. As one who reads a lot of reviews I have to say that most of them are disappointing. For instance, don’t tell me something is ugly or beautiful, if there are pictures I can decide if it’s aesthetically pleasing for myself. What I want to know is the very thing most reviewers don’t comment on, the quality. I want to know if an item is well made and will hold up over time. In my opinion, if a company ask for a review then they should be prepared for both the positive and negative. I feel the same way if someone purchased the item themselves. The company decided a product was ready for market, said company can deal with the results of that decision. Sometimes that is good, sometimes it’s not, but I want to spend my money wisely, not wastefully & so many items are not available locally so I can’t handle them for myself.

  5. Again going back to when I worked in the lab we had to justify any personal opinion or subjective comments we included in reports.

    Therefore I try to be as objective as possible with my reviews. If you want to look at something that is completely subjective and full of waffle… go and pick up a HiFi magazine from your local news stand. Very few of them ever use any test equipment on their tests/reviews it is all subjective waffle. A bit like wine tasters and the way they describe red wine!! But we are getting a little off topic I guess.

    Doing accurate and fair reviews is harder than people think. Most people that comment on the content of reviews I suspect have never sat down and tried to write one themselves…. they should try it one day!

    1. This is a very interesting difference between professional backgrounds. I guess any kind of engineer or scientist would have to be as fact-based as possible whereas journalists like Sharon and I are taught to be analytical in the sense that constructive opinions are important and expected.

  6. I think it’s a mix of the two. Coming from a scientific background where sample size was always going to be small compared to the number of equipments on the market then to a degree a review will be mostly description. In the case of organisers it will be about the design and pocket layout etc.

    I’ve expanded my own reviews to include an ‘in use’ section but this will be down to one individual organiser which is hopefully typical of the ones on sale. But I know of situations when the one I reviewed was totally different to the ones on sale. So you have to sometimes be careful .

    One person asked me to start taking review samples apart. No that’s not going to happen. Quite a few of them I give away as a thank you to readers, some have to be returned to the supplier in as new condition. One company even invoiced me for the box of organisers they sent me on the understanding that if they didn’t get them back then I would have to pay! Slam PR used to insist I returned the Filofax organisers I reviewed a few years ago, but Filofax UK don’t insist on this now.

    Whilst some people see it as me getting a free organiser, they seem to ignore the equipment costs (camera equipment, computer equipment) that I am using and might not use unless I did reviews, but also the number of hours spent reviewing and using an organiser to discover all the small details. The cost of the organiser split in to the number of hours spent would in most cases fall well below the minimum wage!

    If you are going to do it properly and in as much detail as possible to help the buyer who is only able to buy by mail order then a detailed review with comparisons to other existing models and how they compare is of more value than just a series of pictures of one model.

    I do however always declare if I’ve paid for an organiser, I never accept payment to do a review, quite often I buy myself and review anyway.

    1. Would really love to see some posts of your binders in use Steve with some pics of how they are holding up and what you think of them.

      I always really love your photographs because it is so obvious you have spent a great deal of time on them and they do allow people to really see the binder (I wish online webshops would do this though I suppose with high turnover they feel it is not feasible)

      Philofaxy plus the Filowiki must be the most complete descriptive resource for Filofaxes out there.

      Do you ever not like a binder once you start to use it?

      1. Yes sometimes I have had to completely retake the photos on a particular review because when I view them on the screen there’s something I don’t like about the pictures. I always try to use pictures straight out of the camera, no enhancements to the files, only a minor crop or straighten the picture. Not easy as in some bright sunlight browns can look orange. Greys turn black etc.

        The VdS reviews where done after about 3 months of every day use and I continue to use those to this day. I will have to swap out occasionally though! I think I’ve learnt over the years of the things that I look for and what others look for as well, so I try to home in on those things. Like does it lay flat when open, what does it weigh, does it mark easily with your finger nails (not that mine are long !!) I do a ‘scratch test’ as well.

        Yes the webshops leave you guessing often on what organisers look like inside. When I’ve asked for more photos they have sometimes just said… we will send you one! So I get to photograph it myself!

        I’m sometimes disappointed in ones I’ve bought because they aren’t quite like the description on the sellers website, e.g. Zipped Holborns have a different internal layout to the clasp ones in the same size, not a deal breaker, I just wish I had known about the differences before I bought one. But sometimes there are a few nice surprises because they missed something out of the description… like the extra pocket on the personal size Malden that wasn’t included in the description at the time I bought one!

    2. Good grief! I wouldn’t have reviewed stuff that had to be returned – the least they can do is let you keep the product. But then I’m a grumpy old hack!

      I’m very strict on reviewing guidelines. The thought of payment horrifies me – that’s an advertising feature. I don’t even go to book launches or meet and greets, as I want to be able to review a product without feeling I know the author!

  7. If I’m searching for an item that I am planning on buying and looking at reviews, I want to read opinions. If it isn’t working for someone I want to know why, and vice versa. A simple description doesn’t tell me that.
    When I review I’ve always been honest but that doesn’t mean I have been nasty about things that I don’t like. For me, if you’re calling it a review, I expect at least one opinion.

      1. Looking at the poll, I’m surprised that description is actually winning over opinion at the moment! One thing that I’ve realised I do forget in my reviews is to talk about the quality and how well it will hold up in the long run. Thanks to seeing the comments below, I’ll definitely try to include more of that information! Maybe I should revisit my binders to show how they’re holding up! This is a great post!

  8. Uh Janet, you touched a very complex topic: reviews on item that was given for free by companies.
    Honestly I’d expect to hear good and bad thing when reviewing an item, even if it was given by the company.
    That said, I’m still able to form my own opinion and choose whether I like the item or not.
    I read and saw too many reviews saying only the best about stuff just because they were given for free and people didn’t want to be rude on the company (and didn’t want to loose the opportunity to get other free stuff).
    I’ve been reviewing makeup stuff for a while on a blog of mine and on youtube and when companies asked me if I wanted to get their products to review, I always stated clearly that I was going to accept only if I was allowed to say the good and the bad about their products (without being mean and offensive of course).
    You won’t believe how many companies didn’t accept that.
    But maybe I’m going a little bit off topic now XD

    Anyway I prefer to read/listen to a critical review of a product, because honestly, a mere description of how it looks and how it’s done is almost redundant sometimes.

  9. And here you have one of my hobbyhorses! Excuse me while I mount up and ride round and round!

    I’ve been a reviewer for most of my working life as a journalist. My view is that if people charge money for a product, then a review is fair game. Not a description or a summary. A review, which gives both sides, but which is constructive – and that is the key word. I co-edit a book review site, and we make it abundantly clear that reviewers are asked to be honest, but constructive.

    The rise of blogging has meant far more people purporting to be reviewers but who are really cheer-leaders because they think they won’t get any more free books/CDs/whatever if they are honest. And that’s actually pretty unhelpful. I want to know if an item is worth spending my hard-earned cash on.

    I don’t expect to be reviewers binders any time soon, but I’d want to make my parameters clear at the outset. A description is fine, but it should be clear that’s what it is.

    As they say in internet terms, YMMV. And I shall now dismount!

      1. People think reviewing is easy – it isn’t if it’s done properly. And you have to be able to back up your views. It’s not like when your mum used to close down arguments with “because I said so!” A good reviewer argues their pitch persuasively. I don’t want huge tranches of plot parroted back at me – I want to know if the artefact is any good!

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