NOTE: This is intended only as a suggestion… except for the part on libel—that's mandatory.
Avoid being too harsh when giving critiques. It's not nice. But, if you must be harsh, avoid writing your reviews in ways that invite someone to challenge their content as false.
Example of what we would advise against At the School for Gifted Mutants, Professor Xavier always came to class drunk. He sleeps with half of the class every semester and only passes the ones who do him special favors.
Though this review is funny, and could even be a good satirical description of a horrible, devil-may-care professor, it is going to lead to complaints.
A better example of what you might write At the School for Gifted Mutants, Professor Xavier couln't have cared less about the class. He taught in a haze, seeming like some stoned 15-year-old. He'd quiz us all the time. And, he played favorites with the most beautiful women in the class: he would always find a way to compliment their comments, even when they seemed like nonsense. None of us regular folks in the class got this treatment. I've never seen a teacher with such rampant disdain for his job and for the Mutant Academy as an institution—he is the type who seems to think mutant powers begin and end with opening bottles of beer from across the room.
This version doesn't sound much tamer than the previous one—yet it avoids problematic language. The difference is subtle, but important—instead of saying that the professor actually did things like come to class drunk or commit specific acts, we are couching opinion. "He came to class drunk" is replaced by "He taught in a haze". The previous factual statement that "He sleeps with half the class…" is replaced by the opinions "He plays favorites..." and "he is the type who thinks that…"
You can have the best of both worlds—you can still get your digs in at a bad prof, while avoiding complaints on the back-end!
Do what you feel with length—we have some fantastic manuscript-length reviews and some fantastic short reviews—although if a review is so short that it essentially lacks content, we may not publish it. Here are some tips for length that will help in any case.
Be specific about good things and bad things about a professor.
Bad Review Large Professor is the best. You'll love him! He does a good job of teaching, most people agree. I recommend him. There was lecturing and homework. You take notes.
That was too vague. Why is he a good professor? What makes him good? What are the things about him that people would point to if they didn't like him? What sort of person would like him, and what sort of person wouldn't? From that vague review, we don't know the answer to any of these questions. Imagine a whole courseguide full of reviews like that—useless, right?
Better Review If you like lectures packed with info, you'll love Large Professor. At times, he speaks so fast it's hard for some students to understand him, and his commentary can lack depth. But if you're unfamiliar with the field of Jewish History, you'll appreciate his breadth over his depth.
Now, students can envision the type of professor you're talking about.
Many famous people apocryphally once said, "I'm sorry my speech was so long—had I more time to prepare it, it would have been shorter." Harpo Marx was as wise as Karl. Yoda was a man of few words, Luke a chatterbox who needed a smacking. Our point? Longer, more verbose reviews are not necessarily more informative ones.
Excerpt from a long review …does that really look like a duck? Everyone, including Master Buddha, laughed. He taught us alot about how to sit in that position where you're like a lotus or something—OW! Look out, because if you don't read much Sanskrit, you'll be in trouble in this class! You'll sit there wondering what's going on. One time I asked Master Buddha for help learning to read these 8 principle things, but he was deep in meditiation and wouldn't even answer me…Some office hours THAT is! Anyway, if you take this class, tell Master Buddha I said hi…
That review excerpt contains references to specific pieces of homework, specific personal interactions, and completely irrelevant filler.
Wouldn't it be better like this?
…Master Buddha will laugh with you one minute, then demand that you meet his tough physical austerity requirements the next—a rewarding mix of friendship and high expectations. The reading is excellent, but it can be hard to get through the Sanskrit—and it's next to impossible to get extra help from Buddha or the TA's. You'll feel drawn to Master Buddha, but you may come away from the class feeling like you got left behind. Of course, that's where the Boddhisatvas come in…
Ahh, isn't that better? Talk about the course in general, but mention specific trends, patterns, good aspects and bad aspects.
Have fun with the reviews.
Bad Example You could say that Professor Sherman Klump is an unusual guy. He can do some strange things. I guess that because of his weird experiments, he missed a lot of classes. That's ok with me because when he was gone, Professor Jada Pickett would fill in for him, and she is a lot of fun. All around, a pretty good class.
BO-RING! Try this:
Better Example If you're looking for a professor who will come to class one day having lost 300 pounds overnight, and return the next day with the 300 pounds back, look no further than Sherman Klump. The straight girls and gay guys in the class will wonder what happened to hot-Sherman; everyone else will wonder when the hell they'll get their midterms back. On the plus side, Professor Jada Pinckett fills in for Sherm when he's out rearranging his DNA, which is a treat for the straight guys and gay girls. Look out for her husband, though—he came and did a biology rap for us, and half the class dropped.
Ooh! Doesn't that just sizzle with the risqué language of life-on-the-fringe? And not a professor complaint in sight -- the only factual criticisms (midterms returned late, he is absent sometimes) are about the academics (and they are true). Everything else is just snake-tongued opinion, straight from the sardonic lips of Heraclitus!
Well, that's all for now, folks. I can't believe you actually read this far…now go and submit reviews for every course you have ever taken! And, freshmen, don't worry—you'll get to Heraclitus later in the year. Maybe.