Two-page review

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Linux Format writer's templates

Two-page product review

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1 PURPOSE:
Our product reviews form the core of our hardware, software and service evaluation in the magazine. A review should give the reader a good idea of the quality and suitability of a product for a set purpose or situation. If it is rubbish you should say so.

Before submitting your review, please read it through and check it against the following checklist:

a/ Have I avoided a long-winded, flabby, indulgent intro? (If you haven't got to the product by paragraph three, the intro is probably taking too long to get to the point.)

b/ Have I included plenty of hard facts? See your commission for exactly what Paul or Nick want you to do on this front, but we mean testing, comparisons, specs, list of contents and so on.

c/ Is the review entertaining? It doesn't have to be flashy or gimmicky, but it should at least be flowing and well-written, and get across some of the community's excitement or your own interest in the product.


2 WORD COUNT:
The review itself: about 1,450 words. This is for a layout with an annotation, a step-by-step walkthrough and a pull quote.

An alternative layout with a main picture, a step-by-step walkthrough, a pull quote and a second image (or a Features At A Glance box) is about 1,400 words.

A layout for a review with lots of images, such as a review of a computer game or a 3D graphics application would have a lower word count: 1,050 words for a layout with a step-by-step walkthrough, a pull quote and three images.

Please note that these word counts are for the body of the review only and do not include word counts of standfirsts, boxes, captions and so on (see Pictures And Boxes, below).

  • If you prefer to work out the word count another way, the total word count for a plain review without any pictures or boxes except the Verdict box is 2,400 words. Then you could deduct the word counts for two or three images and boxes from that. I have marked in the Pictures And Boxes section, below, roughly how many words every object takes up.

3 LAYOUT:
If there's anything you need to point out to design and production staff, label it ///DESIGN NOTE/// and put it IN CAPS at the beginning of the text in square brackets, or at the relevant point in the body if it refers to something like an annotated pic or flow diagram.

4 PICTURES AND BOXES:
Plan for at least three objects on your layout. Choose from:
a/ A large picture of the product. With a caption, this will take up about 320 words. Almost all reviews will have one of these.?
b/ A secondary picture of the product, perhaps to be used smaller. A small screengrab and caption take up approx. 110 words.

c/ Two small pictures illustrating noteworthy features of the product, good or bad. We will use these as thumbnails in a Features At A Glance section, so they must show the feature clearly and have clear captions. This section takes up approx. 110 words. See Structure, below, for the word count.

d/ An annotation: a clear picture of the interface and annotation captions to show the reader what the software looks like and where some of its key features can be found. A large annotation takes up approx. 420 words. See Structure, below, for the word count.

e/ A three-step walkthrough. This is a very quick way to show readers how to use the software to do something quick. You can also use a walkthrough in a game review to show how you, for example, kill a monster. See Structure, below, for the word count.

f/ A small box.
Ideas for boxes:

  • 'Core Software' box for distro reviews. These should list version numbers of Kernel, Gnome, KDE, then anything other noteworthy applications in alphabetical order.
  • A tabulated list of resources or instructions.
  • Essential system requirements.
  • Facts about the product.
  • Background information or history.

A box can take up between 50 and 150 words, generally speaking. The word count for a box varies too, but 50 words would be a very small box and 250 words would be a large one.

g/ A pull quote. This takes up approx. 30 words.

Notes about images

  • Images should be colour, and 250 DPI. Screengrabs are best sent in PNG format.
  • Please crop all images yourself before submitting them, unless you mark otherwise.
  • All screengrabs should be named appropriately with something relevant to the article's title, numbered sequentially in the order they are to appear in the article if relevant, and all should have a proper caption.
  • Captions must be interesting. A good caption contains some titbit of information that has been held back from the body copy. Captions are also usually an appropriate place to exhibit a bit of wit, and it's encouraged!
  • Avoid grabs that have copyrighted images as your desktop wallpaper, or grabs that include images of your pets or children. Also avoid grabs of the Linux Format website.

5 STRUCTURE:

///TOP BAR///
Reviews Xxx xxx
where Xxx xxx is the kind of product being reviewed eg Web browser.

///TITLE///
Name of product including version number.

///TOP STUFF AWARD///
If appropriate. See note under Verdict, below.

///ON THE DVD LOGO///
We try to put most free software under review on to the LXF coverdisc. Please contact the disc editor as soon as possible to let him know what you are reviewing and where the code is kept online so that he can take a look. Email mike.saunders@futurenet.co.uk.

///STANDFIRST///
26 words for a standfirst that goes over two lines.
This introduces the review and includes the writer's name. Consider posing a question, summarising a shock review result, or introducing the subject and making it sound interesting. The standfirst should not be dull, emphasise the writer at the expense of the product (that gets self-indulgent when it's done too often) or repeat the name of the product.

///IN BRIEF...///
20-25 word summary to set the product in context and offer at least one alternative. eg An audio and MIDI sequencer now with virtual synthesizer support. See also: Ardour or Muse.

///PIC///
yourfilename_number.png

///CAPTION///
10-20 words.

///BODY///
Add the review here

Body copy notes

  • Any code must be clearly tagged at the start with ///CODE/// and at the end with ///END CODE/// because we format it differently in the magazine. Any indents in code MUST be done with spaces, NOT tabs. A good rule-of-thumb replacement for tabs in pasted-in code is to use two spaces: the code is quite often displayed in quite narrow columns.

///CROSSHEAD///
A one-line title that:
a/ breaks up the dense text of the main body copy
b/ highlights an important point or a new section.
Aim to insert a crosshead every three or four paragraphs.

///END BODY///

///VERDICT BOX///
Should include the following elements in this order:

Name of product plus version number
Developer: [Can be a single lone developer, a development team or a company. If it is a game review, please give us the name of the company that ported it to Linux not the original game developer.]
Web: [only include 'http' if there is no 'www' on the site address.]
Price: [Ideally in ?. Please quote price excluding VAT for business products. Include VAT for consumer products. If the product is free software, please add the type of licence eg Free under GPL.]

Then ratings out of 10 by you, taking 5/10 as average, for:
Features
Performance
Ease of use
Value for money or Documentation [if product is free]

If you are reviewing a game, please rate it out of 10 for:
Gameplay
Graphics
Longevity
Value for money

Next, a summary of about 18 words. Should give users firm purchasing guidelines and be more subjective than the product summary in the In Brief... box.

Finally, a rating out of 10 [this is your overall rating, and should be an average of the four scores].

Verdict notes:

  • If a product receives 10/10 overall please mark it down for a Top Stuff award. You may also ? at your discretion ? recommend a product for a Top Stuff award if it scores a good 9/10. Mark it simply with ///TOP STUFF AWARD/// at the top of the review.?* Don?t overrate products. If the product is just average, don?t be afraid to give it 5/10.

///END VERDICT BOX///

///LXF SAYS///
[Optional]
If you think the product you're reviewing is either excellent or important, please include this for someone at LXF to comment. They will add a comment of about 25 words. Note: this won't need to be deducted from your word count for the review, because it goes in the margin and therefore doesn't interfere with the layout.

///FEATURES AT A GLANCE BOX/// [IF USING]
///PIC///
yourfilename_number.png

///CAPTION TITLE///
1-2 words.

///CAPTION///
12 words.

///PIC///
yourfilename_number.png

///CAPTION TITLE///
1-2 words.

///CAPTION///
12 words.
///END FEATURES AT A GLANCE///

///WALKTHROUGH/// [IF USING]
Step by step: Xxxing
Where Xxxing is a brief summary of what you'll be doing in the walkthrough eg Turn-based monster mashing

///PIC///
yourfilename_number.png

///CAPTION TITLE///
1-2 words.

///CAPTION///
25-35 words.

///PIC///
yourfilename_number.png

///CAPTION TITLE///
1-2 words.

///CAPTION///
25-35 words.

///PIC///
yourfilename_number.png

///CAPTION TITLE///
1-2 words.

///CAPTION///
25-35 words.
///END///


///BOX/// [IF USING]
///BOX TITLE///
This should make it clear what the box is about.
eg Resources

///BOX SUBHEAD///
This shouldn't be necessary unless the box title needs embellishing to make sense.

///BOX BODY///
The text of your box.

///END BOX///

Box notes:

  • If you include pics in a box, include their filename with a ///PIC/// tag, and a caption with a ///CAPTION/// tag, as you would in the body text.


///ANNOTATION [IF USING]///
///PIC///
yourfilename_number.png

///ANNOTATION TITLE///

///ANNOTATION///
About 12 words long.

  • Aim for six or seven annotations.

///END ANNOTATION///

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