The latest research on the language of online reviews!

I’ve just returned from a large international conference on Pragmatics (=the study of language use in context) that was held in Antwerp, Belgium.  The last time I attended this particular conference – 4 years ago – there were only a handful of papers on computer-mediated communication…and mine was the only presentation about online reviews.  This time, however, there were LOTS of great papers on various CMC genres (e.g., Twitter posts and social TV, Facebook status updates, food blogs, comments responding to Youtube videos, and international businesses’ social media communication).    Most exciting for me was the fact that, besides my own talk about parodies on Amazon reviews, there were *2* other presentations about online review language!  (…hey, that’s a 200% increase in 4 years ;-)…)

In one of these, researcher Tuija Virtanen looked at 237 Amazon reviews of Linguistics textbooks.  Similar to trends identified in several earlier studies of online reviews, Virtanen found that over half of the reviews were positive (5*s), and average review length was 93 words.  She concluded that review writers adapt to the genre by basically using one of two possible strategies: either a “me first” approach, which focuses on the user’s experience with the book, or a “topic-first” approach, which instead emphasizes the characteristics of the product itself.  She also noted that a number of reviewers tell readers what they should do (in the form of recommendations, warnings, etc.), and that several reviewers also refer to what prior reviewers of the product had written.

The other one was Giuliana Fiorentino and Maria Rosaria Compagnone’s paper on Italian-language TripAdvisor reviews.  They looked at nearly 2,000 reviews of Italian hotels — 76% of which were positive (once again, we see the positive skew!).  In their discussion, the researchers touched on the most common rhetorical moves (description, evaluation, narration, persuasion) they found in their data.  Other features they mentioned include a future orientation (ci torneremo), superlatives (bellissimo), and speech acts such as recommendations (dovete andarci).  In addition to being able to practice my receptive Italian skills, I found their talk super exciting because many of their findings were similar to what I have found in English-language TripAdvisor reviews.  This means that although the user-generated online hotel review is a relatively recent genre (TripAdvisor  has only been around for 15 years: it first appeared in 2000), it is a relatively stable one, which relies on a set of pretty standard and consistent conventions.  Furthermore, it is also a global genre.  In other words, as they write their online reviews, people are using language in very similar ways to achieve their goals — regardless of which specific language they happen to be using.  Interessantissimo!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *