Do Three/Four Star Ratings With No Negative Points in the Review Confuse You?

This actually annoys me more in product reviews than in book reviews, but it definitely still applies to books too!

Sometimes I see a three or four-star rating for a book and after I read the review I notice that nothing negative was mentioned at all. Surely if a book is given anything less than five stars it wasn’t a perfect book. There must have been something wrong with it, something the reader didn’t like, or even a simple matter of “it was a bit lacking”. As a reader, I want to know what that ‘something’ is because that helps me decide whether or not I might like the book! But sometimes reviews just don’t mention any cons whatsoever. It can be baffling!

Most amusing are some of the Amazon reviews that are literally something like:

This product was amazing! It worked just as I expected and the result was fantastic. It was everything I hoped for!

Then they rate it three or four stars!

Now I’m not trying to nitpick on people or presume that I know how to rate better than you do. But if someone goes on about how a product or book is “perfect” and “everything I hoped for” and then lists no negative points at all, I can’t help but wonder why they DIDN’T give it five stars! I’m not saying they’re wrong, I’m just genuinely confused! WHYYYYYY??

As a reader, sometimes I do read a book, love it, but only give it four stars. Sometimes there isn’t something I explicitly didn’t like, I just didn’t feel like the book wowed me enough to give it five stars. But, the difference is I always mention that. I always try to explain why I deducted stars, even if it’s just kind of a vague feeling of, “It didn’t excite me as much as it could have.”

People can write reviews however they want and in whatever format they please. However, in terms of review helpfulness, I always find it most helpful if the reviewer always mentions what they did like and what they didn’t like. If you only focus on one or the other, it makes me really confused as to why you rated it the way you did!

Have you ever seen something like this before?

Have you ever done this before? If so, what was your reason for not giving it five stars? Why didn’t you mention it in the review?

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54 comments

    1. Same! Even if I don’t really know why it wasn’t 5 stars I just ramble on about how, “I don’t know.. it just could have been a little bit better.” Sometimes it makes no sense, but at least I try to say SOMETHING.

  1. Actually, no they don’t bother me (in book reviews). I reserve my five stars for books that literally wowed me. Some books are great – they’re fun and I have nothing bad to say about them, but they didn’t give me the experience that made me finish the book and be, like, WOW. I give those 4 stars – even if I have nothing bad to say. Some good books I give three stars, because yes – I had nothing bad to say, but my overall feeling was “okay”, even though I can’t pinpoint one bad thing. (though I don’t review these, as I’ve got nothing much to say).
    I don’t really read product reviews so I don’t know if it’ll bother me there, but I feel probably not as rating is half “science” and half feelings – and sometimes you just don’t “feel” something is a five star – even if it’s all good.
    And the example you gave – you DID pinpoint something bad – “It didn’t excite me as…” – sometimes I can’t even say that, and then my review will be all good stuff and a four star rating. Four stars, for me, is for books I really enjoyed. What I write in the review fits that – I really enjoyed the book. Hence, I don’t really see nothing bad about it. But I will keep what you said in mind, and try to explain whenever I can why it didn’t get five stars 🙂

    Nitzan Schwarz recently posted: Spirit Bound by Richelle Mead
  2. To be honest, I don’t know if I’ve ever done this before. I don’t think so, or at least I hope so, but I can’t tell for sure as I don’t remember.

    Just like you, I found it confusing and even annoying since I care more about those positive and negative aspects than the ultimate rating. Moreover, what if an aspect that worked out for the reviewer is something I dislike in books? I won’t like the book, which could have been avoided if I had known about the aspect.

  3. That’s why I like breaking down my reviews in good and bad points, because that also drove me nuts, when reviews didn’t mention the bad stuff even though they gave the book 3 or 4 stars.

    Like you said, I have given a book 4 stars with nothing specific is wrong with it, but I mentioned that I just enjoyed it 4 stars worth because something was lacking for me. That’s enough for me.

  4. If I’m actually deciding whether or not I want to buy something, this can bother me too. As in, I’m looking at a laptop on amazon and I plan to spend a lot of money, so I want to know whether it’s worth it. With books It bothers me less because I know the same rating means something different for different people. Some people might give five stars to every book they enjoyed; others reserve those five stars for the classics they have read or for the one book a year that really blew them away.

    Calla recently posted: (Not So) Quick Book Recs
  5. you know I never really thought about this. I am not sure if all my four stars have my negative. I know my three starts do. Generally the only difference between my 4/5 start ratings is if the book gripped me so hard I couldn’t put it down or stop thinking about it. So I guess my 4 start don’ t generally have negative unless its the pacing. If the pacing is off or slow for me at all I won’t give it a 5 star. Some books start a three then end with a 5 and I would do those a 4. Ok so I rambled a bit. I guess I am still saying I never thought about it. I do see how a 5 star would definitely not have negative in it and a 3 star should have some. So now that you mention it probably will bother me and I am now going to make sure I review better. : )

    JennRenee recently posted: Delightful Discoveries #77
  6. I never really thought much about it I guess. I know that I don’t give out a five star unless it really wows me. I do give out a lot of four stars but that doesn’t mean there was anything I hated about the book, but that I really enjoyed it. Though I do think for the most part on three star books I always say something like it was lacking a little something to make me love it. 🙂

  7. I don’t think I’ve done this but I’d have to go back to old old old posts (which I no longer have) to see. Maybe when I first started reviewing I didn’t want to offend anyone, then very quickly realized that “Hey… I’m reviewing for a purpose not just to blow smoke up people’s butts.” Then I started getting more serious and definitely more honest. Right off hand I would say that I don’t do that, and yes it would be a little confusing to rave a book up and then only give it 3 stars. Obviously there is something wrong with it however minor.

    Carrie recently posted: Claimed, Stacey Kennedy
    1. Yeah even if it’s something small or just a vague idea of, “It was really good, but it was missing an x factor to give it 5 stars” I want to know! This is particularly important for me if I’m thinking of buying the book.

  8. I guess I’m tough. I book has to blow me away to get a five star review from me. If it is good, it will get 4 stars. If it is okay, it gets 3. I don’t think there has to be something wrong with a story to have three stars, it might just be that there just isn’t enough that is right. Now, stuff that has to be wrong, is if you start going below three stars. I gave a book 2 stars and had to stop listing everything I thought was wrong.

    Melanie Simmons (@mlsimmons) recently posted: Passion Untamed Audiobook By Pamela Palmer (Review)
    1. Yeah, you’re right, there doesn’t have to be something wrong. Sometimes I think it’s helpful to talk about reasons for not giving a book more stars though. Even if there’s not an explicit bad point, it can still be helpful to mention that “the book just didn’t have a little extra oomph to give it 5 stars”.

      But usually I can draw that conclusion myself. It just gets confusing when people get REALLY excited and animated about a book, then only give it 4 stars. For example:

      WOW WOW WOW!!!! This book was absolutely INCREDIBLE! It completely blew me away. I can’t think of anything bad to mention—it was just perfect!

      Then it only gets 4 stars. I guess I just see that level of enthusiasm and assume 5 stars by the text. Maybe that’s just me though!

  9. I agree! I’m not great at identifying specific feelings about a book so it’s actually most if the time that I don’t know what it was missing, so I usually just say I couldn’t get completely absorbed in it while reading or I just couldn’t bring myself to click 5 on my keyboard. Vague, yes, but it at least acknowledges the situation you’re talking about.

    1. I think being vague is totally fine! Because I think fellow readers will totally understand what you mean; I certainly do! I have that vague “I don’t know, it just could have had a bit more oomph” feeling all the time. It’s hard to pin point something specific, it’s just a vague overall feeling. I totally get that! So even if that’s all you can say, I think that’s better than nothing. 🙂

  10. I guess it would bother me, but to me, a 4 star is not a ‘bad’ review. It just means that the book didn’t bowl me over or leave me with a book hangover. 5 star books are books I rave about, and would re-read, if I re-read books. 🙂 3 stars are just middle of the road. Not awful, just not great, for me.

    I would probably mention why on a 3 star, and even might say something about why it didn’t earn a 5 star from me.

    The low star readings only annoy me when they’re on Amazon and it’s because of something out of the author’s control, like shipment/delivery issues.

    Lori L. Clark recently posted: Cover Reveal: Black Rose
  11. I always list the positives and negatives even in my 5 star reviews. It does sort of bother me when a 3 star review sounds like a rave. I guess everyone has their own rating system. To me a 3 star would be a book i liked just okay. And to someone else 3 stars might mean they liked it a lot.

  12. I think I’m one of these reviewer who won’t explicitly explain why it’s 4 and not 5 stars. On the other hand, I believe the wording of the review should speak for themselves: “fantastic”, ” masterpiece”, or strong terms like those won’t appear in a 4-stars review. I often give 4 to books which I found really enjoyable, but didn’t give me any insight of any kind. 5-stars books provide more than a good stories in my opinion.

    Angélique recently posted: Blindness by José Saramago [Portugal]
    1. Yeah I think that’s the thing that confuses me. I HAVE seen 4 star reviews use words like “fantastic” and “perfect” and “everything I was looking for”. I don’t think 4 stars is a bad rating at all, but when you describe a book/product as perfect to me that kind of suggests 5 stars (since 5/5 = perfect, pretty much 😛 ).

      So really it’s just those super enthusiastic reviews that make me wonder… why not 5 stars if it was “perfect”?

      1. I see what you mean, I saw it sometimes on GoodReads! Actually, I think I’ve always discarded these kind of contradictory ratings as mistakes ! 😀 I’ve also seen the inverse on RottenTomatoes about movies: people put a “positive” review, but then say the movie is shallow and stupid. Go figure! ><

  13. I always list positives and negatives in my reviews (even five star reviews might have a couple of small negatives, but I’ll point out that the negative wasn’t enough to keep me from loving the book). I actually was just reading a review the other day that was three stars (I think) and didn’t list anything they didn’t like and I was a bit confused. Almost all books have good and bad points – I like to see them!!

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction recently posted: Review – How I Fall by Anne Eliot
    1. Exactly! If I’m about to buy a book, I want to be aware of any potential downsides, you know? Those downsides may not even bother everyone, but it’s good for me to see them so I can know if they’ll bother me or not.

  14. I have done this before.

    Maybe sometimes it depends on the reviewers perspective on valuing things at the time of rating and reviewing? Like do they start from a low place then let the book earn stars positively or start from a high place and see if the book un-earns stars. There’s more to it than that of course but there might be something in saying there are at least two different broad camps when it comes to rating a book (looking at how a book has earned stars versus how a book has /only/ earned x amount of stars, plus people in between camps who look at both sides) and this reflects how reviews are phrased.

    I don’t know.

    Ren recently posted: A Trip to the Castle
  15. Sometimes I can really enjoy a book, but it just doesn’t hit the high notes for me – it has all the great qualities I expect from a book, it has fabulous characters etc but there’s just something missing that gives it that 5 star quality.

    Also in recent times I’ve started to feel really bad writing negative points to a review – I still do, but it’s hard when you speak with the author on Twitter or via email and to try and combat that (because I don’t want my reviews to suffer because I’m trying to be too nice) I’m sort of pulling away a bit with over-friendlyness on Twitter (and I think a lot of book bloggers could and should take that advice).

    Mostly though it’s just my gut feeling that while I loved the book, it was missing a certain something (and because I don’t know what that was, I can’t point it out in my review hehe).

    But generally I try to review good bits and bad bits, thanks to your awesome spoiler tags I got to have a rant on one of my latest reviews about a bit I didn’t like hehe.

  16. I try to mention highs and lows in all reviews. Once in a while I am too enamored to find fault. But With a four, more often than not there isn’t anything wrong with the book, it just didn’t make me love it. That’s hard to convey. If I give something a three though, I have reasons. There are things that got under my skin.

    Anne recently posted: Bring on the spoilers!
  17. In my case, sometimes I rate a book with 4 or 4.5 stars and don’t express anything wrong or bad with the book, but it didn’t take by breath away you know? It was well written, with a pretty good pace, character and story development decent, happy ending, but it wasn’t a book hangover, or book orgasm, I know I won’t remember it in a two o three months.

    A few weeks ago after I posted an arc review I was wondering to myself why I didn’t rate the book with 5 stars, I really enjoyed and didn’t find anything wrong with it. I suppose we’re like the “bad teachers” don’t give away the perfect grade so easy.

    Great post Ashley, and have a wonderful weekend

    Savannah @Coffee, Books & My Kindle recently posted: Book Review: His Allure, Her Passion by Juliana Haygert
  18. I do this occasionally. Since I’m a mood rater, I rate the book right after reading based on the feelings it left me with. But I don’t always review right after reading. Sometimes I let it sit a little and then forget some of those feelings. I have written reviews before for 3- or 4-star books and not mentioned a single bad thing. Inversely, I write 4- or 5-star reviews with all negative content. And I know exactly what I’m doing when I do it. Sometimes I include a little disclaimer like ‘It may seem like I really hated this, but I did end up giving it 5 stars because…’ and I’ll include some things. But generally I have some good and bad. I even have a section in my reviews for ‘good vs. bad’. I try to keep it balanced. But in the end, I write what I feel about it. If I don’t mention some aspect, that means either nothing was wrong with it, or I didn’t feel emphatically about it one way or another.

  19. I do this sometimes, but that’s mainly because I rarely ever give books 5 stars. A book has to completely change me or just amaze me so much in order to get 5 stars. I’ll sometimes LOVE a book, but I don’t have any real emotional response to it, so I’ll give it 4 stars instead of 5. I can’t pinpoint anything wrong with the book, it just didn’t change me in a way that I feel like I can give it 5 stars. Does that make any sense?

    Jessica recently posted: Cover Lust: Mila 2.0 by Debra Driza
  20. Honestly, if I give a book four stars with nothing really negative to say about it, it just means that I enjoyed it quite a bit … But there was just something about it that didn’t make it a five star read. Most of the time it’s due to not feeling as strongly about characters/relationships/plot as I would like to. As for three star books: personally I feel like that rating just means the novel was average. It was good, but not great. And generally there’s always a good reason for that, which is why something negative will definitely be included.

    Wonderful discussion post!

    Becca recently posted: End of the year survey
  21. I’ve actually done this a few times – there’s really nothing WRONG with a book, but there’s something missing that I can’t pinpoint that makes me give it four instead of five stars. It always bothers me that I can’t decide why I wasn’t wowed, but I at least try to mention that so people know that it’s just me being weird instead of the book not being amazing.

    Kayla @ The Thousand Lives recently posted: ARC Review: The Winter People by Rebekah Purdy
  22. I stopped putting star reviews next to my posts on my blog. I always felt it the hardest part of reviewing books. A three or four star review doesn’t mean that I found fault, just that it didn’t wow me as much as a five star book did. I can tell you that I have given five stars to books with spelling mistakes and the like only because I enjoyed the story so much that the rest didn’t even make me flinch. So I think it’s just a personal thing.

    I hate putting star ratings on any site now, because I think the words of a review should speak for it all.

    Chrystal @ Snowdrop Dreams of Books recently posted: I'm overwhelmed...
  23. I always struggle with this when writing reviews because I’m such a FEEL reviewer, rather than a report card. So sometimes, it’s really nothing more than a feeling that it didn’t wow me and I don’t have a specific reason. But when I can’t identify a reason, I do try to at least say exactly that- “it was good, but something was missing” or something along those lines. I figure that by saying it’s just a feeling that made it less, rather than a specific problem, I’m at least letting readers know that they could easily feel differently.

    Berls recently posted: Book Blog Walkers Check-in 35
  24. I do point out what I like and dislike about a book all the times. I actually half of my review isn’t made thinking of the readers, though I respect them, but thinking in the authors. Because, if I don’t like something is likely that someone out there doesn’t like it either, so I try that my reviews have both side (good and bad) for the authors take into cosideration and don’t make the same mistake in futures books.

    Sure, others fellows could like what I didn’t but I always think to make the authors better day to day, so how could they be better if they don’t know what they doing wrong. Well, of course, wrong for me that could be wrong for someone else.

    Giovana @ Corazones Literarios recently posted: Premio del Blog
  25. I’ve seen reviews like this before and didn’t understand either ! The only explanation I can see is that some people hate writing bad reviews or are afraid to offend the people who recommended it to them or the author who might read the review.
    I always try to outline the good and the bad in each book I review because it’s all a matter of feelings. For instance, when reviewers rate a book 3 or 4 stars but point out that there was a stupid heroin or a miscommunication issue, the book will be a no-go for me, I hate those ! I know it doesn’t bother other people, though…

    Red Iza recently posted: Sunday post #25 : What's up, doc ?
  26. Yes, I’ve seen this a couple of times and also the other way around. Only negative things and then a 4 star rating.. I don’t get how that is possible, because a 4 star means I really enjoyed it.

    I have the same thing. Sometimes I enjoyed a book, but it wasn’t WOW enough to give it a very high rating, but like you say, I always mention it. It’s important to me, because it gives such a strange message to your followers if you ratings seem.. random.

    Mel@thedailyprophecy recently posted: Monthly recap. August.
  27. Good question! I’ve noticed this too, and I usually find it annoying as a reader/consumer.

    When I’m writing a review, I always try to match my rating to my review, but for me, 4 stars is pretty darn good. I usually save 5 stars for “this totally knocked my socks off,” because if I use 5 stars for all the books I really like, there’s no where left to go for the ones that stand out way beyond those. (I also use 5 stars for books I’ve reread a bunch of times — and still love. That kind of staying power can bump a 4 to a 5 over time.) So a 4-star review migth not mention any major or even minor problems, but it won’t contain all the superlatives I might load onto a 5-star book; it will be more measured. That’s not to say a 4-star review won’t mention any flaws; usually it does, because almost nothing is without any flaws at all.

    But If I give 3 stars, there’s generally something that kept the book from getting 4 stars, even if it’s just that the book is somewhat predictable, or light and fun but nothing deeper. And whatever that is will certainly go into the review.

    Lark @ The Bookwyrm's Hoard recently posted: Sunday Post - 8/31/14
  28. I don’t think it would bother me that much because I don’t really base my reading judgment in the rating per se but on the overall impact the review have given me. I do think I could be “vague” sometimes when it comes to 4 stars or less books that I review, but I rarely ever give 5 stars so I think that’s a given. I also considered my rating system enough to cover everything. But now, I would really have to take this into consideration for my future reviews. I don’t want those who read my reviews to feel dissatisfied or wanting after.

    Sarah @ Smitten over Books recently posted: 2014 Favorite Reads so far + Emoticons
  29. Ratings in general confuse me. I hate that people consider 3 or 3.5 star reviews as negative reviews now. I’ve seen reviews where a person says it’s one of the favorite books of the year…but it’s only rated 4 stars. I’ve seen reviews saying the book was good, but it’s only rated 2 stars.
    I think with the influx of so many 6 star reviews, the rating system is getting screwed up. I mostly pay attention to the review and ignore the rating 🙂

    Nereyda @Mostly YA Book Obsessed recently posted: Stacking the Shelves (116) + Weekly Recap!
  30. Another great post Ashley! I find that often I’ll give books I enjoyed three or four stars if they didn’t capture me as much as others but I try to always list why (especially with three star books because generally the book just wasn’t to my tastes but it was good quality so I want people to know that).

    I think it’d be really confusing if we didn’t give the pros and cons when reviewing books or products but I can see how someone might forget to do so making this post a good reminder. 🙂

    Kate Tilton recently posted: Gif Interview with Kirby Howell
  31. I’ve done this quite a few times, I have to admit, and every time, it’s just because there wasn’t that ~something~ that makes me rate a book 5 stars. My 5-star books are books that I’m completely in love with and obsessed with. I can adore 4-star books too, but for some reason unbeknownst to me, I just didn’t fall in love with them like I did with my 5-star books. But you’re right – I should definitely be better at mentioning this, even in passing, in my totally-not-negative 4-star reviews…

  32. I actually find the opposite to annoy me. I hate when I see something rated as a 4 or 5 star but you read the review and it’s all negative. I mean, what did you actually enjoy?! I have a friend who rated a book like this recently and I hated it because I felt like she was rating it just because she loves the author. If the author has a bad book, they need to know that. Giving it higher stars isn’t helping. I’m too nice to say anything to her though. Let her rate how she wants even if it makes no sense to me. I usually will look at the stars and read the review. I never base something off one or the other. If the stars don’t match up with the review though, it discredits it and I am far less likely to trust that reviewer’s opinion about a book again.

  33. When it’s a 3 star I always wonder why if no negative aspects were mentioned. A 4 star less-so, though. Maybe because Im super picky when it comes to giving 5 stars, and sometimes nothing is particularly wrong with a book for me to give it a 4, I just didn’t LOVE it enough for a 5-star read. Though I do try to mention this in my review if it happens. But I totally get what you mean. A review that is basically wowing the book and it only has a 3 or 4 makes me wonder what’s on the other hand you know.

  34. YES!! This annoys me so much with book reviews. Some bloggers don’t rate books at all on their blogs…I’ll read their reviews and think they absolutely loved a book. Then, I’ll see they rated that same book on Goodreads 3 or 4 stars! Makes no sense. Do you think it has to do with being able to send positive reviews to publishers…leading to more ARCs in the future? Theoretically, publishers could still see the GR rating, but it’s unlikely they go check GR for every blogger that sends them a positive review.

    Sometimes I’ll really like a book and not really be able to pinpoint anything specific that was wrong with it, but there was nothing taking it to that next level (meaning the 5 star level) for me….but I say that in my review.

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