Monday, 24 June 2013

Star Ratings - Useful, Or Just Stressful?

The Bad: I've been thinking about book reviews and star ratings quite a bit recently. I've purposefully avoided giving star ratings on my blog because it feels a little awkward to rate books sometimes. Perhaps I really enjoyed something, but it had so many flaws that it doesn't feel right giving it 5/5, or perhaps I end up being very critical of a book, but when it comes to choosing the stars, I think it deserves a good rating overall. This can be confusing, and choosing star ratings can be so stressful sometimes. If you just don't give stars at all, then you're simply putting across your thoughts on a book without scoring it. It feels somehow less judgemental, and more understanding of the very different ways in which people can like or dislike books.

The Good: On the other hand, I know star ratings are actually very useful for readers. When I'm reading a review, I like to quickly look at the star rating for an overall feel of where the reviewer placed the book, and then read the whole review with that in mind. Star ratings can also help to show that, although a reviewer may have had a lot of negative things to say about a book, in the end it was still very much worth a read. Or the reviewer may have liked most aspects of the book, but in the end it's still only 3 stars because it didn't amaze them or blow them away.

But Goodreads Makes Me!: Added to this is the fact that I end up having to give star ratings on Goodreads anyway, so it's not like I'm getting out of all that angst of trying to decide if a book is 3 or 4 stars (the hardest distinction, I think. When it's 1 or 2 or 5 stars, you tend to have a gut feeling about it). So perhaps I just ought to put the star ratings on my blog too, to make things a bit easier for readers. I don't really have any issues with rating movies. Just... something is holding me back from using star ratings with books.

The Three Star Problem: One of the big problems with star ratings is what the ratings actually mean. Again, this tends to be the biggest issue with the 3 star reviews, and is what I think of as the Three Star Problem. What does 3 stars mean? On Goodreads, 3 stars means 'I enjoyed it', but elsewhere 3 stars means 'it was okay.' The latter is a 2 star rating on Goodreads, but almost everywhere else 2 stars means 'bad'.

Half Stars: There is also an issue with half stars. Do you do halfs or not? You can't on Goodreads, but there's nothing to stop you from doing them on your blog. Giving half stars may seem a bit silly at first, but actually, as you rate more and more books, you start to feel a bit odd about how different in quality the books that are given the same star rating can be. So that one was a 3 star, but this one was better than that... oh, but it's not really as good as that other book that I rated 4 stars, so, um, 3 and a half? It makes sense, but then again, that way madness can lie. I have my own Goodreads rule: if I ever feel the urge to give a book a half star, I simply round up. But if I could give half stars, well... I'm still a bit undecided on them.

Out of Ten: Of course, there is the other possibility: marks out of 10 instead. This is what Fantasy Faction currently uses, a site I write occasional reviews for. And in some ways, it works really well. 5/10 sounds better and is more meaningful than 2 and a half, even though it's really the exact same thing. And doesn't 7 sound much fairer to a good book than 3 and a half? The possible issue with marks out of 10 is that it comes across as a bit overcomplicated or picky. There's something to be said for the simplicity of 5 stars. But then again, books are complicated, and can't be wedged into 5 star ratings easily, which is why so many people do add half stars.

So, help me out. :-) What do you think? Do you use star ratings and if so, why? Do you like half stars, or do you find them unnecessary? Do you think it's important for reviews to include ratings?


  1. I do think that stars are needed. I always glance quickly at someone's rating to see what they thought. Also... I like that we can see an average of the overall ratings from everyone on goodreads. I don't actually use stars on my blog.. I use crystal balls. But they still equal 1 star, 2 star... ext. Sometimes I do think I give too high of stars, I have to make myself give low stars!!


  2. I can see from your booklist at goodreads that you are very light.
    You should read Mabel Collins, Marie Corelli, Henry Rider Haggard, Gustav Meyrink, or at least William Butler Yeats, but let me warn that you will go deep into the wild side, the real stuff, which is not Hugh Grant's Nothing Hill