More on caveats 

Do you use a rating system for books or films? If so, do you give full marks?


I don’t think most people would think 2 stars means the book is OK. Then again, I know people who won’t give five stars. (Just as I’ve known English teachers who wouldn’t give full marks for an essay!)

Well besides the fact that if you have a scale, say one to five, and you leave off the ends, haven’t you just made the scale one to four? 

I find the fact that on Goodreads you can’t give half marks so by using one to four difficult. It limits you so you have to capture books together that you may not have lumped together on your satisfaction rating. You’ve only got four groupings!!!

Anyway, put aside those queries on the logic of not giving top marks, to deal with my main objection. 

Giving any mark is dependent on contexts and caveats. 

Let’s use TripAdvisor as an example. I might stay at a cheap place that’s a bit down at the heels but give it four, because  it was good FOR the price and expectations. Conversely if I stayed at a five star resort but felt it didn’t live up to the price, even if the accommodation and included activities were better than the cheap down-at-heels place, I might give it three, or even four stars. The latter rating doesn’t mean it is equal to or the same as the down-at-heels place but that it is not the best expensive place to stay. 

Does this make sense?

Here’s another example. I ate out at our recent trip to Canberra. One was an expensive restaurant. $150 for two without wine. (And I had two entrees rather than an entree and a main which would have bumped up the price.) I gave it five stars. The food was divine and the service friendly and attentive. The service at the other restaurant, a modern Indian, was also friendly and attentive, but without that finesse from the expensive restaurant. The modern Indian was cuts above your average suburban Indian, and priced accordingly. I gave it four stars. You want something nice and tasty and above your normal butter chicken and beef vindaloo? This is it. But if you expected, and prefer, your normal suburban Patak style Indian, you might be shocked at the price and give this restaurant two stars. Alternatively, if the Indian restaurant was priced higher, say at the same as the expensive restaurant, my rating would drop from four to three, maybe even two. 

Films have contextualised expectations too. It could depend on whether I watched it for free on TV or paid for it at the cinema. Or my expectations. Let’s say I paid for a movie, I might give it five stars, even with caveats, because it spoke to me, made my heart sing, or made me laugh a lot. 

And books? Books that I read and say, “That was awesome. I couldn’t put it down,” they get five stars. 

But beyond caveats and contexts, I get to the heart of star ratings. I hate them for books and films. How can you compare a self-help book with a work of fiction? A piece of literature with some Woman’s-Weekly-stickered, trashy, quickly written novel? (Yes, I’m a book snob.)

And at the heart of it, how can you sum up a book or a film in a number? I need to explain my caveats. I loved it but … It was good but … It was OK but … It was shit but …  

I give it five stars but

2 thoughts on “More on caveats 

  1. When I first started using iTunes and an iPod, I had to deal with star ratings for songs on a scale of 1 to 5. I decided that to rate “5 stars” a song had to be one of my all-time favourites with a lot of staying power. I used 3 stars for any song I thought was “very good” and 4 stars if I couldn’t decide. This is all a moot point now because subscription services (including Apple) usually only allow you to “like” a song or not!

    On Goodreads, I don’t consider 5 stars to be perfection because Goodreads itself defines it as “it was amazing” and that’s good enough for me 🙂 But I have been tempted to lower my ratings of a couple of books I thought were amazing at the time, and I can now barely remember, ha!

    All in all, I am OK with assigning star ratings to books, movies and music, because they are personal to me and I don’t mind if others disagree. I feel a little differently about hotels and restaurants because I’m looking for recommendations, not just personal opinions. So I want to know if service was slow or food was fresh or the hotel bathrooms were clean. I agree with you that a rating can be influenced by convenience and price. So the more facts in the review the better (such as “easy 5-minute walk from the Tate” or “I sat for 20 minutes before I was given a menu and my drink order was taken”).

  2. I like the quote at the end! Know what you mean about the whole subjectivity of ratings scales…a very interesting question overall, especially when workplaces often use ‘customer satisfaction ratings’ for nefarious ends.

    I like what Dar said about ‘the more facts, the better’. Perhaps we need a lot more of that in workplace ratings…just the facts, not the opinion on how much it was liked or otherwise.

    I find it hard to give bad ratings…I prefer to ‘not say anything at all if I can’t say anything nice.’ And then other times, I rate hotels etc. highly just because they were super nice to me in one way or another. On Goodreads, I’m guilty of over-using the 5 star (though that may be because I drop any book I don’t like straight away, leading to Darwinian Selection.)

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