In today’s age of paid promotions and online shopping, it is important to learn not only to write credible reviews but also to identify them.
We’ve all seen online articles with titles such as “25 Products You Have to Have from Amazon” or “30 Gifts to Buy Online for Your Best Friend.” These articles are often written by editors who are paid to review and promote products. As editors, writers, and readers, how can we identify whether a review is credible or not? And how do we then take this principle of credibility and apply it to our own writing and reviewing?
Doctor Jo Mackiewicz explains how to recognize credible online reviews in her research paper titled “Assertions of Expertise in Online Product Reviews.” Published in the Journal of Business and Technical Communication, her research found that “one way…online reviewers establish credibility is to assert expertise” (Mackiewicz 2010, 3). Mackiewicz determined that attempts to assert expertise usually fall into one of three broad categories: personal testing, familiarity with similar and relevant items, and being in a position particularly relevant to the product. She then analyzed 750 reviews of different electronic devices and categorized them based on their type of expertise assertion and on the review’s effectiveness. These types of assertions were presented to 69 raters in order to see how they responded to each type.
Mackiewicz found that when reviewers specified that they had experience with the item being reviewed, they were able to show expertise by detailing how they tested the products and the findings of these personal tests. This lent more credibility to the reviewer and made them seem educated on the product and thus an expert on its quality. In reviews that asserted familiarity with similar and relevant items—such as products of the same brand—she found that these assertions were found reliable when the reviewers communicated that they were knowledgeable about a broader field in which the product could be categorized (such as a camera reviewed by someone who was informed about various camera types). Finally, Mackiewicz studied the reliability of reviewers that identified themselves as someone in a position particularly relevant to the product (such as a student, professional, or hobbyist). She found that this type of assertion was often considered less reliable because “reviewers’ assertions of professional expertise may not have the intended effect on readers” (Mackiewicz 2010, 18). Using hotel reviews as an example, she states that “the experts’ reviews did not change participants’ attitudes toward hotels [or products] any more than the nonexperts’ reviews did” (19), meaning that when a reviewer asserted that they were an expert on a product or hotel, this did not weigh more heavily than reviewers who did not state that they were experts.
We learn from Mackiewicz’s results that the most reliable reviews assert expertise through personal experience with the item or experience with similar or relevant items. But how can we relate this to the field of editing and publishing? This article shows us that promoting personal experience with a topic or related and similar topics gives the impression of expertise. So when editing an author’s paper, or writing one ourselves, we need to keep these principles of showing expertise and authority in mind. Using personal experiences as well as demonstrations of expert knowledge on a topic will lend more credibility to writing. Similarly, when looking at products or academic articles, we should pay special attention to these assertions of expertise and the provided supporting evidence. Doing so will not only improve our ability to write and identify credible online reviews, but it will also enable us to write and find accurate sources across all fields.
To explore more about online review credibility, read the full article:
Mackiewicz, Jo. 2010. “Assertions of Expertise in Online Product Reviews.” Journal of Business and Technical Communication 24 (1): 3–28. https://doi.org/10.1177/1050651909346929
—Heidi Knapp, Editing Research
FEATURE IMAGE BY TOWFIGU BARBHUIYA
Find more research
Take a look at Madeline Jones’s Editing Research article “Effective Quality Assurance in User-Generated Content” to learn more about editing to create credible reviews.
Read Dominec V. Cincchetti’s (1997) research article about the importance of editor credibility and reliability, specifically in relation to peer-reviewed academic materials: “Referees, Editors, and Publication Practices: Improving the Reliability and Usefulness of the Peer Review System.” Science and Engineering Ethics, 3 (1): 51–62. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11948-997-0016-4.