Thursday Thoughts: Rating Systems

There’s getting to be far too many interesting weekly events. Next I’ll even be updating my blog every day… or more than once every day! So yeah, this week’s Thursday Thoughts, hosted by Ok, Let’s Read, are around rating systems. Well, anybody who’s looked at my reviews here will know that I don’t post ratings on here. I prefer to let my thoughts on the books I’m reviewing come through more than my arbitrary, very personal gut feeling, which is what my ratings on Netgalley, Goodreads and LibraryThing are.

When I rate on sites that do use it, I tend to pretty much use GR’s scale, since I’ve been posting there the longest:

  • 1 star: Didn’t like it
  • 2 star: It was okay
  • 3 star: I liked it
  • 4 star: I really liked it
  • 5 star: It was amazing!

I like that because it’s nice and subjective. If I had to rate books on their technical merits, I’d probably be very critical and end up giving low ratings to books I actually really enjoyed. Or sometimes I’d feel compelled to give them low ratings based on things that might bother other people (but don’t bother me in that specific instance), e.g. ratio of male to female characters. I do still dock stars for things that really get in my way while reading, of course, but it’s possible to enjoy less well-written and even problematic media, and I do. At least when we’re talking subjective ratings, you can’t argue that just because you gave a book five stars, everybody should.

On Goodreads, there’s often been discussion about the skewed ratings (i.e. towards the positive) and more granular ratings (half-stars/ten point rating system). On the former, I feel that it’s more useful to be able to separate out positive reactions to books than negative ones. You’re usually going to skew to liking books unless you pick books without regard to genre, blurbs, etc. — I do know of someone who does that — because you know your preferences. It doesn’t stop you coming across some real stinkers, but generally being able to separate out much you liked something is more important than quantifying exactly how much you disliked something.

In terms of half-stars, I’ve just never seen the point. Sure, you can always get a more complex rating system that arguably expresses your feelings more accurately, but that tends not to work well for people. I can’t find the link now, but I think it was Netflix that found that people used the rating system less the more complicated it got.

Honestly, though, I find that my own ratings are more useful to me than anyone else’s. I don’t know what standards people are using when they rate stuff on Goodreads — they could be using the site’s standards, but plenty of people use alternate methods which they state in their profiles, but are still treated as standard in the aggregate, etc. Sometimes it works okay when you know the person’s tastes — for example, I’ve been following Dan Schwent‘s reviews on Goodreads for years, so I know when he rates something four stars what he means by that, and I can sort of gauge how I’d rate the same books because we’ve had significant overlap — but mostly, the star rating doesn’t tell me that much without the review.

I can start including star ratings on here at some point if people seem to want it, but I try to be clear enough about my feelings on books that it isn’t necessary.


11 thoughts on “Thursday Thoughts: Rating Systems

  1. I think your reviews do fine without ratings, if that helps. For me, I find that unless I know the person giving the rating pretty well, I end up ignoring it almost entirely since it tells me so little. At most it tells me whether to expect a positive or a negative review. That’s useful, but just as easily addressed without a rating and people do tend to lead into a negative review, so while it’s useful I wouldn’t call it necessary either.

    Ratings are interesting things, though. We seem to tend to think of them as pretty universal when they’re actually incredibly personal.

    (I think, basically, my point is “What you said”?)

    • Yeah, I did like someone else’s point on another post that it can sum things up — sometimes someone lists their likes/dislikes about a book and you’re not sure exactly what they came away with. But I usually try and do that with the final sentence of a review anyway, if I think it needs doing…

  2. Really interesting post, which throws up many additional issues. Like you I don’t have a ratings system for blogging because, like you again, readers should be able to gauge my opinion from my words. Literary blogs are so much more of a commitment I feel than, say, photo blogs where I just go on gut feeling to ‘like’ or skip a post. In fact, liking one of your reviews is tantamount to rating your review on the positive side of the scale! (If I didn’t ‘like’ it you’ll never know if I Just didn’t see it or if I thought it was turkey!)

    On Goodreads and Amazon (where I post the odd review, when I feel like it, not that I buy anything there now) the 5 star system is often a guide for browsers with little time (their layout encourages short review anyway). Sometimes when there are few reviews of a book one’s rating can help redress the balance that partisan reviews have skewed. But mostly I don’t worry much over ratings on GR because (a) my rating is usually close to the average and (b) my rating is not going to make much difference. (The Amazon system is good when it allows you to compare a favourable review with one that rubbishes the work.)

    I initially liked LibraryThing’s half-star system that allowed me to give a more nuanced 10-point rating. For example, I gave the truly dreadful The Holy Kingdom only half a star, and that was for the odd decent photograph, not for the writing. But more recently I’ve just gone with a system comparable with yours, which means that many of my ratings are **** ‘I really liked it’, with the occasional three- or five-star.

    Sorry, that was longer than I meant it to be. As Lynn commented, “What you said”!

    • Yeah, sometimes something just seems to deserve half-stars, but mostly it doesn’t matter to me too much. It may not be surprising to know that science wise, I tend to be a ‘lumper’ rather than a ‘splitter’…

      Now you have me worrying what you think of reviews/posts of mine you haven’t liked! (This is a joke!)

  3. I think you need both. I wouldn’t want a review with just a rating, but I tend not to like reviews that don’t have ratings. Sometimes I feel like they aren’t always very clear what they actually felt about the book overall. I like getting to see the positive and negatives of the book, but I also want some idea of whether they ended up enjoying the boo overall, despite it’s faults or not at all.
    I agree that my own ratings are the most useful to me, you obviously know what you mean when you rate something a certain number. I also follow reviewers who seem to give extremely high ratings all the time and that puts me off, sometimes it feels like the review reads like it’s a 2 star read.

    I do want half star ratings on Goodreads. A lot of books don’t feel like they are a 3 star, but aren’t a 2 star either. Or something along those lines.

    • Yeah, your comments and a couple of other posts on this have made me wonder about it. It’s not like it’d be much additional work for me — I’ve already decided on my rating for GR/LT, so adding a little line with my rating wouldn’t take much. It’s not that useful for me, but I can see some people’s points. I do try and sum up how I feel about books in the last line of my review, if it’s at all ambiguous, but still.

  4. I don’t really pay attention to the ratings unless I know exactly what people mean by the stars, because I am way more interested in what people have to say about the books, rather than trying to figure out why they’ve rated something low (imo) despite talking the book up.

  5. You really have a good point when you say the rating is more about showing if you liked a book OR NOT, instead of how much you liked it. I feel like it’s the way I look at it as a reader: on GoodReads, I won’t consider a book below 3. Above 3.7 I’ll look into it. In between, it depends.
    But GoodReads ratings are really an average and doesn’t really tell you much about who rated a book. It makes a big difference for “niche” genres that not everyone appreciate.
    However, I still feel ratings are a good tools to sort reviews in the long run.

    • I thought I said the opposite! I think a rating is best used to show how much you liked a book you liked, or just to denote a book you didn’t like. I don’t think it’s useful to be able to grade exactly how much you disliked the book. I’d be happy with a system that gave books a thumbs down if you didn’t like/don’t recommend them, but had stars for the positive end of the scale.

      • (X_x) Oops I totally misread what you wrote (sorry, I have to stop reading articles at night).

        Anyway, my comment was not clear either. I meant that I think people most of the time try to translate any sort of rating into a binary statement (does the review say the book worth reading, or not?). That’s the basic question we try to answer in our review: good book or bad book; or rather: how close from each opinion we are.
        As a reader, I think I’m mostly interested in three “ratings”: 1) mild “liked it” and lower (okay, average, bad, horrible…) 2) Really liked it 3) Awesome reading.
        I avoid one, consider 2, and a 3 will encourage me into reading the book for good.

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