Writing Professional Reviews - From Zero to Hero

Discussion in 'General Tutorials' started by Ryukouki, Jun 23, 2013.

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Jun 23, 2013
  1. Ryukouki
    OP

    Member Ryukouki See you later, guys.

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    [​IMG]
    Tutorial Contents
    • Prelude: Who Would Benefit From This?
    • Part I: What Is A Reviewer, and What Do We Do?
    • Part II: The Reviewing Process
    • Part III: The Meat of a Review - What Goes In a Review?
    • Part IV: Tips on Being Successful in the Field
    • Part V: Congratulations! You Wrote Your First Official Review!
    • Part VI: Revisions and the Part Right Before Submission!
    • Part VII: What Next?
    • Part VIIIa: Common BBCodes
    • Part IX: Ryukouki's Review Compendium
    • Part X: Resources and Handy Websites to Use
    A GBATemp Tutorial – Reviewing Professionally and the Media

    Hi! It’s no surprise I’d be writing something about reviewing, but why not? I tend to get a lot of questions and I read a lot of misconceptions about the reviewing process, so I wanted to take the opportunity and elaborate on what exactly happens when I am on the job.

    As I have been writing for about five years now, I have had my fair share of interesting stories and nightmares, but most of all, I obtained a lot of experience in what to include and what not to include in my reviewing process.

    Prelude: Who Would Benefit From This?
    Are you serious about learning how to write in media? If you have a lot of passion, pursue it and practice, because practice makes perfect! Read on and you’ll get a better grasp of what to approach in a review. This can also be an impromptu lesson in how to write properly on the internet!​
    I get a good amount of people who like asking me questions about what exactly a reviewer does! This guide serves as a guiding post for a person who has a passion in writing and wants to enter the media writing community, or for those who are interested in the etiquette of professional internet writing. The information presented here is by no means the de facto rule for writing a good review, but a point to start if you do not know how to approach a good review. Another handy source is GBAtemp Review Templates, found in the GBATemp Reviews and Guides subforum, and GBAtemp Review Rules and Suggestions, although in my horrible opinion, they are quite outdated and could use some more information. Nonetheless, they are handy resources if you find mine lacking in some way.​
    Part I: What is a Reviewer, and What Do We Do?
    Put simply, a reviewer is a well-established writer who spends time creating good relationships with sponsors (for people like me, who actually help run a website) to report on the latest trends in a given industry. Our main goal is to inform hopeful customers about whether or not a purchase is warranted through a presentation of facts and some opinions.​
    At this time, I will now answer the biggest misconception that the general public seems to think about reviewers as people. I get a lot of complaints from people who moan about how reviewers get "free lootz" and "secret knowledge" but that's really not true at all. Reviewers do get "free stuff," but nothing in this world is ever free. Reviewers do have to "pay" the company, but we are not rolling out money to them. We pay the company with the time it takes to write a quality review. For me, an average review takes anywhere from thirteen to twenty hours. Yes. It takes a long time, because the game is a bit psychological in which you have to try and gauge your audience, and accurately predict as many questions as possible, which are answered within the meat of the review. Thinking about it, here in my area, minimum wage is approximately $8.50 give or take some amount. I spend thirteen hours, and the amount of money I should theoretically make more than covers the cost of the item itself.​
    Another common misconception that people seem to get about writing reviews is that writing reviews is the same as just "writing an article." That claim is not only incorrect, but naive. As a reviewer, you are representing a company, and you have to prove to them that you can be relied upon. No company will ever want to rely on you if you write reviews with common slang, or use foul language. That will not get your point across. The occasional swear can work, given the proper context, but if you are found dropping f-bombs all over your article, you are most likely not going to be contacted again for review samples. A good approach to writing a review is similar to how you would speak during a job interview, or any important event, for that matter.​
    The reviewer's game is purely psychological. You need to be able to accurately gauge your audience, and try to predict their questions with an answer within the review. Picture a review as a guiding tool. An example of how a review can guide someone is a convention where you are offering a presentation. Let's say you just walked into the convention center, and you happened upon my presentation. You may not know everything, but you're getting bits and pieces of information that would help you get there, and my job is to try and predict where you're making questions and answer them for you. Game testing, quality, durability tests, etc. You are going to want to go in deep and explain a lot of the nuances of the item, while maintaining a concise manner of speaking. Terms that may be familiar to you will not be so for another person.​
    Part II: The Reviewing Process

    The reviewing process goes in three parts for me. The first part is obtaining the sample. When I first started, I started with cheap knock offs and simple accessories. The key to getting someone to like you and offer more is to not ask for something incredibly big the first time. Be professional and courteous to your sponsor, and if you are given a deadline, always meet it. If you have to delay it for some reason, make sure it is a strongly valid reason and that you follow through with your claims. Communication between sponsors is key. Remember you are more than likely going to earn "free" stuff. As a reviewer though, it should not be about the free items! Focus on making the quality review, and when you finish, then you should lay back and enjoy a little bit.

    The second stage in the reviewing process is the actual write up of the item itself. More information will be included in the next part. But basically, a shorthand version of the next part will be this: stick to the facts, give the facts, and then offer an opinion about it.

    The third part is the revision process. This, by far, is probably the biggest part of the process and actually the part that takes the longest. Why? You’ve finished the meat of the article, yes? But there’s almost always going to be something wrong with the review, and your job is to make it as best as it can be. Talk to a friend, take a break on it, do whatever you can to make sure you get a professional looking article readied out. Another key point about reviewing is that no review is technically “finished” as there are many things you can still do to make it better. And as you proceed through school and learn more information, you can constantly apply those skills to your writing process, so that over time, your revision time is shortened, and you do not have to spend hours combing over simple grammatical error. Take this article, for instance. It may look great to me right now, but in about two or three hours, I might just be completely fed up with it and debunk a chunk of it.

    Part III: The Meat of the Review – What Goes In a Review?

    As a reviewer, I tend to get a lot of these questions. Sometimes, it can be a flattering email complimenting my writing or asking to look at their work.

    A review usually consists of different sections of information. For me, the overall article begins with an introduction. It can be a combination of greetings, basic product information, and general facts. I tend to try and keep this section down to about two hundred and fifty words or less. You do not want to go and spoil too much information in the introduction; otherwise, you'll basically end up with a too long, didn't read sort of thing, which is not the point of the review.

    Following that, I include a listing of the items included in the product. Did it come with freebies? Was the packaging bad? If you are feeling like you need more substance, some ideas of what to discuss can be the following: item build quality (does the product feel durable?), features (what makes it better than the next thing?), tests, ease of use (if you gave it to a guy who doesn’t know anything about the item, can he use it easily?), etc.

    After that, you can work on a small portion about the benefits. What did you like about it? Be truthful and honest. Was the user interface really cool? Mention that. Was it snappy? Did you not have to sit through hours of trying to set up the device? Mention those factors. People like reading about that.

    After discussing the above, it is time to address the criticisms. This is not considered a free for all bash on your sponsor. Remember, you are writing for a company. If the company treats you like a worthless loser, you should not directly address that in the article. This is your time to indirectly talk to the manufacturer and let them know that they need to change up a few things. One person’s word is most likely not going to induce change, but if everyone is saying the same thing, chances are that they are more than likely to address those complaints first. Be realistic with your criticisms, though. If you want to address a high price point, make valid points about why it needs to be so. Arguing your criticisms with valid remarks is a better way to look professional. Remember, criticism does not equal bitch fit. You are probably asking, why is this singular line bolded, underlined, and in red text? The answer is because bitch fitting does not go anywhere in the reviewing community. It will only help if you want to burn your reputation quickly. It is unprofessional and immature, and companies will quickly learn that you are nothing more than a freeloader. I tell you this from my own personal experiences. Criticisms also make a review look more authentic. When I say “authentic,” what I mean is that it gives the feel of a genuine article that you were not paid to write. Although, I never receive actual payment from my sponsors. I usually end up declining it if offered, because it feels like hush money to me, and I don't want to be bribed for an opinion change or whatnot. And yes, I have been threatened with libel from a past company unless I changed my response. If you ever find yourself in that situation, just be calm, politely insist that you will do no such thing, and let them know that it is a not a negative reflection on the retailer, but an issue with manufacturing that they have nothing to do with. This is also a good time to quietly bow out of further communications with this team.

    I typically like to close my reviews with a small section that quickly outlines the positive and negative aspects, followed by a “should you buy it” type of question. I use this section to quickly analyze the pros and cons of the cart based on the facts and what I experienced. I rarely use scores anymore, as I tend to read a lot of media bias and the scores do not often reflect the experience. It is also one of my major bones that I want to argue about with the current GBAtemp reviewing system. I, for one, find the scoring system and the medals awarded to be quite outdated. As of right now, if it has X main features, it will get at least a silver medal, 9/10 times. I am honestly hoping for a way to be able to validly critique the current review system as it is, and make necessary changes that move away from simple scores or medals, to a system that doesn't have to score but will provide a hopeful customer the relevant information.

    A small recommendation for the actual review: When you are actually writing the review itself, type it all up in a word processor of your choice (I have Microsoft Office 2013) with the coding that you are to use present (if any). This is done to prevent doing the entire article in one sitting, and it allows you to go at your own pace, easily allowing you to make corrections. Once you finish the actual review and revisions, all you have to do is copy that, paste it into the post box, preview, and submit!

    Part IV: Tips On Being Successful in the Field

    1. Practice. Practice will eventually make perfect. Start small, practice with blogs or something, where you are not subject to real public scrutiny. Make a tumblr or something, and just ramble. That is actually how I started.

    2. Know your audience. This is actually the key to writing reviews. I come to see reviews as a psychological game. You had better know about your product, because if people start asking you questions and you do not know the answer, it makes you and the company you represent look dumb. You are not going to write a review as you would talk to a friend. These are not just some articles you conjure in twenty minutes. On average, a review takes me thirteen hours. You want to look professional, no? Avoid everyday slang, and use of contractions (basic college writing, in essence).

    3. If you want to take pictures, take good ones. For digitized images, use low lighting, and maximum backlighting. It will make the screen look a lot better. For shots of the actual item, try to find a nice solid backdrop (desk, wood floor, black leather chair, etc.) and use a good lighting for maximum effect. For photos of digital games, like mobile games, try using the device's in-built screenshot generator. However, contrary to popular belief, a smartphone or any cell phone, for that matter, are not great sources when it comes to taking photos. Pictures often appear fuzzy or stretched, with a grainy feel. Do yourself a favor, and spend $100-$200 to get a decent digital camera. You will most likely thank me later. Cell phone photos degrade the overall quality of a review, as sometimes, people just want eye candy and will only look at the photos.

    4. You are always allowed to have an opinion. You are allowed to make viable complaints! It makes reviews authentic. If your sponsor tells you otherwise, and if they disagree on your thoughts, then what that means is that they do not care about what you think. Politely decline, and begin plans to search for a new benefactor. You do not want to work alongside someone like that. A good benefactor is one that does not impede your own opinion in an attempt to garner sales. Keep in mind though that you should not become hard-headed from this; do not think that your writing is absolutely perfect and that because they live out of country they are wrong. You should keep their thoughts in the back of your mind, and be open-minded to criticisms, and if they seem valid, make an attempt to fix it. Fixable and constructive criticisms are grammatical errors, or product detailing. You may have mentioned that the device only supports SD cards, but in reality, it accepts SDXC memory cards. Or, you said that the product had a lifetime replacement warranty, but in reality the warranty is only 90 days. If they ask you to change a 6/10 to a 9/10 without providing reasons why, that is when things are going to go wrong.

    5. Practice good formatting, and be consistent. Did you bold one section? Than be sure to bold other sections like it. A good grasp of the English language is also handy.

    6. Be prepared to keep editing! Your review will not be perfect the first time. It could be grammatical, or just your overall inflection to your audiences. I promise you though, as long as you keep practicing, you will be great in no time.

    7. Do not think of reviews as “OMG do I get free stuff now?” Your “payment” is your devotion to writing a solid and professional review. Your job as a reviewer is to inform the public about making a warranted purchase, based on the facts and your opinions.

    8. When you contact a sponsor the first time, your very first message is vitally important. This will set the grounds as to whether or not you will be working with them again in future. It is also recommended that you have a few articles you can refer to as examples, so that they get a better feel for your writing style. And as I stated above, start simple. Ask for the smaller things, like an outdated flashcart or an accessory. You are not going to get the expedited shipping treatments and premium items until much later down the road.. Heck, even I just started getting the expedited treatment recently.

    9. If you ever have problems with your sponsor, never address it in public. This sounds like common sense, but it is actually a big thing to note. If you get stuck with a person who demands really strict deadlines, or is hassling you to change information, never mention that information in a review, but keep a private note of it elsewhere. I find that it is not fair to make a company sink ship because of one person's inability to communicate.

    10. Your sponsor (if we are talking about flashcarts) will more than likely be a person working overseas. The English language is not their strongest point. They may ask you things that you may find hard to understand. The best thing to do in a case like this is to be patient, and ask for elaboration if you are still confused. It happens to the best of us. As far as yourself, though, a solid grasp of the English language is absolutely necessary.
    Part V: Congratulations! You Wrote Your First Official Review!
    If you have made it to this point, you deserve a round of applause. You have made a successful contact, you pounded through hours of writing and revision, and your article is ready to submit. Submit it to wherever it needs to go, whether that may be to your blog, your sponsor (in the form of a link to the review), or here, even, in the GBATemp User Reviews and Guides Section! Take a second to quickly scan over it, and preview the post before you submit. This applies greatly especially if you screw up and made a coding error. I tend to write through BBCode or HTML, and it's annoying to submit a finished product to find that a code went loose from a missed bracket. In fact, I took a temporary internship at Zelda Informer to help cover the news from the release of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, and at first, I was not too familiar with HTML and my boss hated my guts at first because every post I made kind of broke the website. It was due to missing a bracket. Take the two minutes and review what you wrote, and edit anything that may cause these issues.​
    Part VI: Revisions and The Point Right Before Submission!
    So you've finished writing the meat of your article! This is the best and often longest part of the reviewing process! It can often take several hours to revise the article in order to get it at a submittable level. When I say submittable level, I mean a level where you feel comfortable with enough content to garner satisfaction. I do not recommend putting a post up, only to have it say "Working on the content." You might think, hey, it's a placeholder, and it tells me where I need to go, but you should really be doing that off screen, on a word document or something. This is because sometimes, the sponsor would find the article and they'd be clueless as to why there is so little contact, and if their strongest language is not English, I really hope you have a prepared response if they ask about it. It just does not look good, presenting a partially completed work. That is just my personal opinion though, and you should do whatever works for you.​
    Common revisions include grammar, spelling fixes, the removal of excessive contractions (it looks more professionalized), forum coding additions and fixes, consistency checks, or factual details. Does the item support SDHC cards? Then why did you write it only supports SD cards? Did you use a [ instead of a <? Consistency is key here, and take care not to leave loose brackets of code laying around.​
    And now, right before you submit the final article! You have all the text copy pasted into the box, and you're ready to submit. Take a moment to quickly sweep the article and make sure you didn't miss a punctuation mark, make sure your code is okay, and before you hit the "Submit" button, run a quick preview so that you know that your article looks pleasing to the eye! The preview is used to see what your post will actually look like. I know that sounds like common sense, but people sometimes thnk that previewing is where you're actually typing it out. When you see that all of your code is perfectly lined up, and everything looks consistent, go ahead and hit submit! You're done, for the most part, and a big congratulations to you!​
    Part VII: What Next?
    Now that you have your first review(s) under your belt, take the next few opportunities to hone your style, figure out your niche, and how to approach your audiences. Be consistent in the first few reviews. Once you've gotten a solid grasp on things (usually after the third or fourth) you get more space to move around. You can use those other reviews as examples if your sponsor wants to see proof of writing. You're also going to be able to get on and write about bigger things. I know that based on my time writing, I'm able to call Apple up and get a review loaner unit of their brand new computers that come flying out of their Cupertino headquarters. I have been successful in reaching out to technology companies, such as Mugen Power (Extended battery solutions for your mobile phone) and they have been more than happy to take me under their wing to review their latest products. Once you get the ball rolling, it will only get better from there.​
    And of course, remember that your reputation is not going to suddenly surge. You are more than likely not going to become an overnight success. I was not like that, and anyone who has ever reviewed will most likely tell you the same. With a lot of practice, you will go far in the hobby, and you'll be able to use what you've learned to apply to your own school writings and whatnot. All I can do from this step on is wish you good luck or offer fleeting words of advice, but the rest is on you.​
    Part VIIIa: Common BBCodes
    With BBCoding, to create a code, you need a bracket, followed by a command, and then another bracket. The text you want to code goes in between, and then there's another closed bracket set, the only difference on this side being that there's going to be a "/" without quotations before the command. See the following examples.​
    Code:
    [b]Bold Text[/b][/LEFT][/LEFT][/LEFT][/LEFT]
    [LEFT][LEFT][LEFT][LEFT][i]Italicized Text[/i][/LEFT][/LEFT][/LEFT][/LEFT]
    [LEFT][LEFT][LEFT][LEFT][u]Underlines Text[/u][/LEFT][/LEFT][/LEFT][/LEFT]
    [LEFT][LEFT][LEFT][LEFT][url=[URL]http://www.google.com[/URL] ]Google Link[ /url][/LEFT][/LEFT][/LEFT][/LEFT]
    [LEFT][LEFT][LEFT][LEFT][img]IMAGE URL[/img][/LEFT][/LEFT][/LEFT][/LEFT]
    [LEFT][LEFT][LEFT][LEFT][center]Centers Text[/center][/LEFT][/LEFT][/LEFT][/LEFT]
    [LEFT][LEFT][LEFT][LEFT][spoiler]Text in here goes in a Spoiler box[/spoiler][/LEFT][/LEFT][/LEFT][/LEFT]
    [LEFT][LEFT][LEFT][LEFT][h]Fancy Header[/h]
    Part IX: Ryukouki's Review Compendium

    Here are many examples of what I have done in the past few years. These all took a lot of time to write and compile, so I hope you take these as a way to learn about how a review is compiled. As a fair warning, the following links are going to lead to an external site. The reviews that I had here years ago were ruined by the migration to Xenforo and it took me way too long to try and reformat, search, and reconfigure each and every one of them.​
    If you would like a review template, I could send you the template with proper BBCode formatting so you can look at it. Please feel free to send me a private message, and I will send you a word document with everything formatted.
    Part X: Resources and Handy Websites to Use
    To have a decent chance at becoming a successful reviewer, it is recommended that you have some of the following:​
    Digital Camera with 8+ Megapixels (No, your smartphone does not count)​
    Basic photo editing software​
    Thesaurus​
    Dictionary​
    GBAtemp Review Templates​
    GBAtemp User Reviews and Guides Section​
    GBAtemp Review Rules and Suggestions​
    The links for GBAtemp Review Templates, GBAtemp User Reviews and Guides Section, and GBAtemp Review Rules and Suggestions are located in the Prelude and Section V.
    Conclusion

    I think that is as much as I have this time around. Feel free to voice any criticisms you may have about my tutorial, as I actually accept valid criticisms and complaints. I am open to thoughts and ideas. If you have any questions or just want me to look at your previous works, feel free to ask! I am more than happy to steer you in the right direction. This is a work in progress tutorial, things will be taken away or added in future as I see fit. In terms of the contest, however, my tutorial is ready enough to be judged.

    This guide may be worthless to you, or it may be a gold mine to getting a small time unofficial career in media reviewing. Something like this was what got me into the career five years ago. And for that, even if this guide helps only one person, I am extraordinarily grateful and honored to have been of service. Thank you to GBAtemp for being an incredible resource that I have come to call home for the past seven years.

    As for this contest, thanks TwinRetro and the GBAtemp staff for the generosity! I look forward to seeing the winners!
    About Your Author
    The author is currently an undergraduate student at a public university in Southern California, and is working towards a degree in chemistry; more specifically, a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry. Therefore, he is always spending his time mulling over books and absorbing new knowledge, without any hint of a social life. In his spare time, he enjoys reading and studying.​
     
  2. Devin

    Member Devin "Local Hardware Wizard"

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    Definitely a nice tutorial, I do most of the stuff listed in my reviews. I just recently got asked how I became a reviewer, and this is quite the answer.

    :yay: We should collaborate on a project sometime.
     
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  3. Ryukouki
    OP

    Member Ryukouki See you later, guys.

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    I'm down for that. :D
     
  4. FAST6191

    Reporter FAST6191 Techromancer

    pip
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    Afraid I am going to have to disagree, strongly in the first case, with a couple of key things in that, some of it will make for you being well liked among certain companies but maybe not make for the best reviews.

    "As a reviewer, you are representing a company, and you have to prove to them that you can be relied upon."
    If I write a review for here I am representing myself and GBAtemp, the company/collective/individual that made the item for review and if they are not the same then the place that sent it to me (if I did not otherwise buy it) will certainly be treated professionally but I in no way represent them. Indeed I would say "representing a company" makes you a shill and the world certainly does not need any more of those.

    "Assume that your audience was just born yesterday with no knowledge of anything."
    It works sometimes and works fairly well for a lot of the things we deal with around here and in some consumer goods worlds but it is not something that I would give as blanket advice. By all means have a section aimed at the just walked in crowd but playing solely to that is not the way.
     
  5. Ryukouki
    OP

    Member Ryukouki See you later, guys.

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    Hey FAST, thank you for your feedback! In regards to your first point, you actually hit what I was wanting to say on the head! I was having a bit of word play issues and trying to figure out a good way to express it the way you did. As far as when I was typing it, when I write reviews on here, at the time I felt that I don't have an official representation on here. While I am writing on GBAtemp, I'm not exactly "representing" the site as some sort of officiated reviewer, you know? As far as the second point, I just find that explaining certain concepts does seem to work better.

    Either way, I really appreciate your feedback, and I'll look into further expanding on your points in the next few days. :)
     
  6. Ryukouki
    OP

    Member Ryukouki See you later, guys.

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    Lots of new revisions and some new content added!
     
  7. Ryukouki
    OP

    Member Ryukouki See you later, guys.

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    New content and revisions added. Many of the reviews I have written over the years have been posted in section 9 (IX). Unfortunately, the reviews are external links, as I could not adequately recover my reviews on GBAtemp due to the migration over to Xenforo, which completely destroyed the formatting I had set up years earlier. It would take far too long to go in and manually fix every single aspect of each review.
     
  8. Haloman800

    Member Haloman800 a real gril

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    Very informative, thank you for this.
     
  9. Ryukouki
    OP

    Member Ryukouki See you later, guys.

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    Thank you for that! :) Glad I was able to help, and if you need any further assistance, don't hesitate to send me a message. :)
     
  10. placebooooo

    Member placebooooo GBAtemp Advanced Fan

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    this guide is beast! Nice job Ryukouki :)
     
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  11. Ryukouki
    OP

    Member Ryukouki See you later, guys.

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    I'm telling you right now, it isn't just any article on the web. ;)
     
  12. AgentChet

    Newcomer AgentChet Trunks, The Man.

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    I'm inspired by your "Guide to Writing Professional Reviews" Ryukouki.

    I have been puzzling myself whether I should take reviewing under my belt or not; and I believe your "guide" has placed me a step closer to doing it. I've watched many famous reviewers, ranging from Tech to Video games (One to name is MKBHD).

    I believe my best "reviewing" would come from flashcards and Video Games, maybe some tech devices on the side since I have a good hand in using them. But I don't want to be limited to just "reviewing"; because I love guides. Helping people who can't seem to figure how to fix something.

    I plan to read the reviews you and Devin has done and learn from them. But here is a question I raise to you, what is your niche? :huh:
     
  13. Ryukouki
    OP

    Member Ryukouki See you later, guys.

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    Thanks for the compliments, I greatly appreciate it. As far as my niche, I like to work with electronics and hardware, more specifically those in Nintendo related products such as flash kits or video games. I've been looking to expand into gadgetry and the smartphone/tablet industries though.
     
  14. loco365

    Member loco365 GBAtemp Guru

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    I really like this, and I intend to follow this if I ever do more reviews. I've done them once before (See here, feel free to tell me how I can improve upon it!) and it wasn't that bad. I've considered doing other devices (Like flashcarts and whatnot) but I haven't the foggiest idea where to start, and if they aren't already covered here, although I wouldn't mind getting a little kickstart.
     
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  15. Ryukouki
    OP

    Member Ryukouki See you later, guys.

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    Thank you! :) As far as where you can start, follow the steps above, and start with things that you own. Get a few reviews under your belt, with things that you liked to play or use. I'll check your review later, but for right now, since you're starting out start small. Don't expect to get a Gateway 3DS out right off the bat, but you might be able to get some smaller goods.
     
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  16. loco365

    Member loco365 GBAtemp Guru

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    Yeah, something like a Gateway would be a stretch at this point in time. I'll probably start with the things I do have (R4DS, AK2i, some of my electronics, etc etc), although it isn't much haha.
     

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