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Book Reviews – Why I Don’t Like the Star Rating System

Reviewing places or products of any description has become synonymous with the star rating system. Whether it is a hotel visit, a new camera or a book, consumers are immediately aware of the average star rating given by other customers. This post will be focusing on purchasing books, which is something that I know a lot about! It is fair to argue that star ratings are one of the biggest influences when purchasing a new book. The question is, should they be?


Why is the Star Rating System Popular?

There are very good reasons why the star rating system is so dominant!

Quick & Easy

Firstly, it gives you a quick at-a-glance impression of how well thought of a book is by other readers. Whether you read a little or a lot no reader wants to waste their time or money on a book that is poorly constructed.

Simplicity

Secondly, it is a simple system to understand. Books that people enjoy will earn a greater number of stars. I know plenty of readers that will not pick up a book that has less than a 3 star rating. Personally, I am always a little more cautious when picking up books at 3 stars or below but will not rule a book out on star rating alone.

Everyone Else Does

Finally, the star rating system is universal. There is no language barrier in the star system. It also means that it is easy to duplicate the rating between numerous sources. For book reviewers these may include Goodreads, a blog, Amazon and other retail outlets. It is a very simple system… or so it would seem.



What Does Each Star Rating Mean?

Different places or websites have their own definition for what each star means but for book reviews Goodreads is probably the best system to look at. They define their star rating system as follows:

1 Star – Did not like it

2 Stars – It was ok

3 Stars – Liked it

4 Stars – Really liked it

5 Stars – It was amazing

There are no half-star awards on Goodreads, which is disappointing as I think sometimes books do tend to fall between categories.


What are the Problems with the Star Rating System?

Subjectivity

Star ratings are subjective! Every individual has their own method of classifying books into ratings. My three stars may be very different to another readers three stars. Three stars is often seen as ‘average’ or ‘okay’ but on some systems, as above, it means ‘like’.

A Book’s Intended Audience

Patrick Rothfuss raised a particularly interesting point during a Twitch stream. How do you rate a book when you are not the intended audience? Regular visitors to my blog will know that I read and review a lot of Young Adult books despite not being classed as a young adult for quite some time. Readers should read books they enjoy but as a reviewer how much should I let that influence my ratings? There are plenty of reviewers that do not consider the target audience of a book when discussing, for example, the behaviour of characters. If the intended audience may hold a different opinion to you about an aspect of the book, should you take that into consideration? If the book was middling for you but could be great for the intended audience then how do you reflect that through the star rating system?

Reading New Book Genres

Then there is the question of reviewing new genres. As an avid reader of YA, I can very easily compare within a genre but that would not be true if I read something out of my comfort zone such as horror. My star rating is unlikely to be the same as a seasoned reader of horror. On one hand I might think a particular book is ground-breaking simply because I haven’t read enough within the genre to give it a fair comparison. On the other I may give the book a poor star rating, not because the book was bad but because I may generally dislike the genre.

Emotion

I think time can play a crucial element in deciding a books true rating. As a reader I get very caught up in the world of books that I read so I tend to lean towards giving them a higher rating. Sometimes it is only after time passes and I have got over the book hangover that I gain a deeper perspective.

Classic Books

A personal problem that I have with the star rating system is whether to give a book four or five stars. There is a big difference between books that I love to my favourite books of all time. Does that mean that I shouldn’t rank books as five stars unless they are utterly exceptional? I loved Mammoth by Jill Baguchinksy but do I put it on par with The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss or Tolkein’s classic The Lord of the Rings? No there is still a disparity there. I have questioned myself a lot recently regarding my ratings and if I should only have those rare unicorns as five stars and downgrade others to four. What should be a very simple system has felt a lot more complicated as of late.

Too Easy?

The biggest issue overall is that I feel it can discourage users from reading full reviews. A well written review is always going to be a lot more meaningful that any star rating. The reviewer should leave you with a greater impression of a book than you can gain from a blurb, synopsis or indeed a star rating. In conjunction with each other a review with a star rating can be helpful but a star rating alone can be misleading if you don’t know the reviewer.

There’s Always One…

Did you know that some individuals leave star ratings on books that they state they haven’t read yet?! Really guys?!


Solutions and Other Systems

A number of ‘solutions’ have been suggested over the years. Here are some of the most popular suggestions:

Never Give 5 Stars

One suggested system is never giving a book five stars because we should always assume their is something better out there. I personally dislike this solution as I don’t see the point in having a fifth star if I will never use it. Don’t you think that books should always be given the credit that they deserve? It also means that your ratings are likely to be harsher than others, creating further disparity.

6 Stars

Another suggested solution is adding a sixth star. I understand the principal of this in terms of only giving utterly exceptional books a 6th star. It could work well for book bloggers. When they use other platforms though it would mean having to give different ratings. I will soon be adding an extra distinction for exceptional books, although it won’t be in the form of a 6th star.

1-10 Rating

Would a one to ten rating system be any better than a five star system? I like the idea of one a 1-10 system. For me, it’s easier to rank a book correctly with a wider scope. There are books that I really like but they have minor issues with e.g. pacing. 3 stars doesn’t seem fair though when I love the story! In a 1-10 system a 6 or 7 would represent the book a lot better for me.

Emojis

Instead of having star ratings some bloggers use their own emoji or GIF system. These are easy to understand at a glance and highlight aspects of a book that the reviewer enjoyed a lot. Laughing faces indicate hilarious books, crying faces for a sad read and love hearts for a great romance. I think this system is lovely! It is a much more personal system with the only real issue being how well it translates to other platforms.

Final Thoughts

The next time you buy a book please remember that the star rating is not everything! Take your time to read full reviews. There are SO many wonderful book bloggers out there who will always help you pick out your next read! Honestly, we LOVE to talk about books. If you are a reviewer I would love to hear your thoughts! Do you use the star system or an alternative? What do you take into consideration when giving your ratings? Readers, is there a minimum star rating required before you will pick up a book? It would also be wonderful to hear from any authors! How do you feel about the star rating system? It is a really interesting topic so please comment below.


Thank you for reading!


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47 Comments

  • 22nd January 2019 at 2:50 pm

    I really enjoyed reading this! I personally don’t pay attention to the star rating because I like reading lots of teenage fiction and they’re normally rated quite lowly!

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    • 23rd January 2019 at 10:12 am
      Dellybird

      Thank you for reading, I am so pleased you enjoyed it. I really wonder if it is a target audience issue that causes the books to be rated lower than you think they would be.

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  • 22nd January 2019 at 5:25 pm

    I liked reading this article . It’s so true, Rating system doesn’t hold true all the time .I always prefer checking 4-5 reviews of any novel or movie for that matter before going for it

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    • 22nd January 2019 at 5:38 pm
      Dellybird

      Thank you. It is always best to read full reviews whenever one has the time. You are right that it holds true for films as well as it is all subjective.

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      • 22nd January 2019 at 5:39 pm

        Exactly! My lastest book which I managed to get from library is Jojo moyes “Me Before You” and Nicholas sparks’s “Message in a bottle”. Reviews were good, am going to read this weekend

      • 23rd January 2019 at 10:15 am
        Dellybird

        Ooo enjoy! I look forward to reading your reviews. I have heard a lot about “Me Before You” but I am yet to read a Jojo Moyes book. Being a faster reader would be very helpful!

  • 22nd January 2019 at 5:30 pm

    I don’t like it either. I never know if someone’s star rating matches what I would use.

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    • 22nd January 2019 at 5:36 pm
      Dellybird

      Exactly! There are plenty of books with high ratings that I personally wouldn’t enjoy and the best way to find that out is to read a full review. Thank you for reading and commenting!

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  • 22nd January 2019 at 9:25 pm

    Great post!
    I personally don’t like the 5 star rating system, I much rather 1-10 as I think it gives a better understanding of how enjoyable a book is, I use 1-10 on my blog 😊

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    • 23rd January 2019 at 10:18 am
      Dellybird

      Thank you! You are right that the 1-10 system is much clearer. I’m still deciding the best thing to do for my blog. Gonna have to think fast as I have reviews to post soon lol.

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      • 23rd January 2019 at 10:20 am

        If I were you I’d go with the 1-10 but of course totally up to you! And yeah gotta decide soon if you’re doing book review posts! 😊

  • 22nd January 2019 at 9:33 pm

    Love this, Adele! ❤ Personally, my rating system is the most subjective ever and it’s catered only to me. I mean, if I LOVED a book, it’s a 5-star. If I HATED it, then a 1-star. We’ll never be able to meet everyone’s expectations because we’re all different, so the rating system, for me, is merely something for readers to consider. No matter what we rate, I believe they would still pick up a book that really interests them.

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    • 23rd January 2019 at 10:24 am
      Dellybird

      Yay, thank you! Yes, ratings should just be something to consider. I do hope that most people still pick up books with lower ratings because it is sad if that is the reason they miss out on a story that might be perfect for them. You now have me thinking about the difference between reviewing for ourselves and reviewing for other people. I swear this post could go on forever as people keep making great points.

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      • 23rd January 2019 at 10:34 am

        Omg I know what you mean!! I wanted to write something like this but couldn’t figure out how to argue one point when there are several!! Last year I made a poll (i lost said poll in my notifs sigh) on this and the top answer was that they wrote review for themselves, followed closely by those who write reviews for the authors and the readers. Dunno if that helps but I’m sure you can write a better article on this one than I can! 😂💖

      • 23rd January 2019 at 10:56 am
        Dellybird

        I’m sure that isn’t true! Though you a persuading me to do a follow on post in the near future… I will poke you if I do! Maybe we could do a new poll.

      • 24th January 2019 at 1:20 am

        I’d be happy to lend a hand! Just let me know when! <3

  • 22nd January 2019 at 10:03 pm

    I really liked this post Definitely threw up some really interesting issues: after all, if you’re not the intended audience then any rating you give might not give an accurate depiction of the book. As a vague guideline, they’re helpful… but I’d definitely be open to a more honest/ accurate way of rating books!

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    • 23rd January 2019 at 10:27 am
      Dellybird

      Thank you! Me too. It is very challenging to think of a new system that is more honest but I think there are certainly methods that could be more accurate.

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  • 23rd January 2019 at 9:54 pm

    Amazing post! Rating books is really hard and you are so right that rating system is not everything! I usually ad half stars at my blog and in the review but I wish I could also usu it at goodreads rating.

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    • 23rd January 2019 at 10:17 pm
      Dellybird

      Aww, thank you! It had about a million revisions :-p I add half stars when blogging too and in the written part of Goodreads. I wish you could do it in the star rating! I really don’t understand why you can’t.

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  • 26th January 2019 at 11:49 pm

    I don’t give star ratings because I think it’s a bit meaningless. My reviews are very much dependant on how I repsonsed to a given book at a given time but just because I enjoyed a badly written book about a space cowboy because it was a wild romo (for example!) it doesn’t mean that a four star rating reflects the it was awful but I love it anyway feel of my review. I’ve noticed that most of my reviews are turning into post mortems for others who have read the same books recently though. I guess a star rating is more appropriate for a teaser synopsis of the book that doesn’t give away spoilers?

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    • 28th January 2019 at 1:00 pm
      Dellybird

      Thinking about it as a potential teaser is really interesting. There are books that I love despite them being badly written. I haven’t tried to review a lot of them but it would be really hard to translate them into a star rating. I know that we’re not supposed to talk about reading certain books being a ‘guilty pleasure’ as it invalidates/doesn’t give credit to the book but they are the books that I would put into that category. Most of my partner’s space opera books would probably live there xD You can love a book without it being a work of art. Thank you for reading and commenting!

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  • 28th January 2019 at 2:40 pm

    Totally agree with this. It’s all subjective and while some people keep the precious 5 stars for nothing short of genius – if I loved a book I’ll 5 star it! The half star thing is annoying too as I recently reviewed on but it was better than 3 but not quite a 4 on GR. I went with 4 as 3 seemed unfair.

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    • 28th January 2019 at 10:31 pm
      Dellybird

      Good for you! I can’t hold off on giving 5 stars when I feel the book deserves it. I completely feel you with three seeming unfair but it not quite being a four. I honestly don’t know why they don’t implement half stars!

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      • 28th January 2019 at 11:19 pm

        This is why I don’t use them.on my blog. So confusing.

  • 2nd February 2019 at 9:43 am

    I have strong feelings about stars. 5 isn’t enough range and many systems won’t do half stars.
    If I have to star Im naughty as I tend to do it emotionally rather than by a set of rules- a book may get 5 stars even if it has with flaws because it moves something in me or it has a bigger message than my quibbles with it, equally a gorgeous plot or intriguing characters may drop to 3 stars for me because the pacing makes it difficult to get invested.
    I prefer to read opinions, but we are up against a click and scroll culture

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    • 2nd February 2019 at 10:14 am
      Dellybird

      We have very similar issues! I didn’t put a star rating on my last blog review and I actually feel much better for it. I can’t make anyone read a whole review, as you say we are fighting against a click & scroll culture, but I would rather they read even just the conclusion than base their view just on my star rating. Thanks for commenting, it is very interesting reading everyone’s personal opinion on star ratings 🙂

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  • 18th February 2019 at 5:49 am

    Really interesting post! I find the star system difficult as well! I rate a lot of books at 3 and 4 stars, but if you look at two books that I rated 3 stars the way I feel about them can be DRASTICALLY different. Personally I think 10 stars would be easier as it would have a wider scope and would be helpful for when books are “in-between”.

    I agree that reviews are more helpful than star ratings though. When I can’t decide on a book I read 3 reviews, an overly positive, an overly negative and an in between. The different opinions really help me decide if the book would be for me. Of course, this isn’t what I ALWAYS do, but sometimes it really helps.

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    • 18th February 2019 at 11:50 am
      Dellybird

      3 Stars is such a murky area! That’s a good idea to read one of each. Even the nicest reviews will pick up on problem elements so you can see if there is a consistent issue across all of them. Also an aspect that everyone really liked would be highlighted too. It is definitely a good way to decide what to pick up. I do tend to read quite a few reviews if I’m unsure about a book.

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      • 18th February 2019 at 11:21 pm

        Sometimes the things people hate are the reason I would like a book. Like if the reader didn’t agree with the character’s decisions morally, I might love it considering I love morally grey characters. Everyone has different tastes.

      • 22nd February 2019 at 2:42 pm
        Dellybird

        Exactly, it is all down to personal taste. I love morally grey characters too as they tend to be less predictable 🙂

      • 23rd February 2019 at 6:45 am

        Morally grey characters feel more authentic to me!

  • 1st May 2019 at 8:30 am

    I’ll always read the 3* and below ratings for a book before others, as I often find out more about the book and the reviewer from these.

    I rarely trust a book that only has 5* reviews.

    I prefer honesty and consistancy from a reviewer, as long as they rate using the same beliefs that they personally have, then it doesn’t matter to me.

    However I waver over a reviewer who only posts 5* reads, to me they become more rounded if they have a selection of visible ratings to their name.

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  • 1st May 2019 at 8:46 am

    I agree with pretty much everything you’ve said! I don’t like the stars either, but I guess we don’t have anything better. I also think 10 stars would be better because there’s so much more possibility then. Because 3 stars is a very wide category now xD and yeah, I also struggle with 5 stars, cause there are so many different kinds of 5 stars for me (and I also rate very emotionally). But I dislike the emoji ratings people do because if you don’t consistently read their blog, you sometimes have no idea what it means, or you think they read every book in the same emoji (because some just use one emoji instead of stars). There’s no consistency with emojis I guess. I don’t think we’ll ever be rid of the usual 5 star system, but one can at least dream of half stars xD

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  • 1st May 2019 at 9:44 am

    100& agree! More on the stars I pay attention more on the detailed written reviews because even if I were to rate books, it’s hard because not all 3 stars are the same.

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  • 1st May 2019 at 10:58 am

    This was an interesting & informative post! I don’t make use of stars in my reviews as I find it too simple and does not convey my thoughts on the book well. But some people don’t have time to read a lengthy review so I was considering creating my own system similar to the emoji system you mentioned.

    I do like that you mentioned about how we should consider our audience when writing reviews. It’s not something I’ve consciously been aware of but I think I would have a better time framing and rating my reads if I adopt that mindset.

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  • 1st May 2019 at 11:19 am

    Great blog post! I don’t usually pay too much attention to star ratings, but they can be useful.

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  • 1st May 2019 at 3:04 pm
    Elizabeth Gray

    Excellent article and very well thought out! I don’t use a star system when reviewing on my blog, but I know others who do.

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  • 1st May 2019 at 8:42 pm

    I use the 5 star rating system on Goodreads and Amazon, and then call out in the body of my review if I’d really rate it with a half star. I might round up or down depending, so one 3.5 star book might show up on GR with 3 stars, while another 3.5 star would show up with 4, depending on which direction I’m leaning in that middle ground. And then on my blog I post ratings out of 5 stars that includes half stars. I think a 3 for me is “OK”, and a 2 is “didn’t really care for it.” I don’t rate things 1 star often because to ME a 1 star is “I hated this book,” and I typically DNF if I dislike it that intensely. I created a separate, exclusive shelf on Goodreads so I could mark a book as DNF without having to mark it read or give it a star rating, and so try to write why I DNF’d a book. I might rate 1 star if I DNF’d because it was really problematic for some reason and I feel like people should know that, but sometimes a book just isn’t for me (like in your example of reading outside your usual genres), in which case I’ll DNF with no star rating, and call out in my review that I DNF’d because I just wasn’t feeling it.

    Great post 🙂

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  • 1st May 2019 at 9:17 pm

    This is a great post and you brought up some interesting points that I hadn’t thought of like targeted audience of book and if it is my usual genre. Because my star ratings depends on my enjoyment so if it is not a genre I am used to or particularly like that it might get a lower star rating than if it was a favourite genre. It is really interesting I think star ratings if used are best taken in account with the review so you can understand why it was rated as such. But I know that you look at stars first and make a snap judgement of the book. This is a really interesting discussion and you made all your points really well and thoughtfully!!! 💛

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  • 2nd May 2019 at 12:49 am

    Great post! I really liked reading your opinion on the stars and what your readers (comments) also think.

    I use stars on my blog because, as you said, it’s common. But I really do find myself worrying about that star rating. I use a pro plugin that let’s me give stars to the features (ie writing, plot, development, etc) and then tallies them up for me in an overall star rating. But I overthink each star. Yeah, I’m a bit overzealous. The plugin does allow me to choose points, percentages, thumbs, etc, but when I tried that, I went even crazier, lol.

    You mentioned that some people leave stars for things they haven’t read yet. I’m so glad you said it! I can’t stand that. Another problem I often see (mostly on hotel reviews) is when people leave a great review, but somehow only give it a star. I don’t really hate that, some people just may not see the option. But, I do feel bad for the hotel.

    Oops, didn’t mean for my reply to be so long. But, I really liked your post… gave me a lot to say 🙂

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  • […] Book Star Ratings – loved this post from Delly Bird all about star ratings, and why they’re inaccurate. […]

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  • 4th May 2019 at 3:31 pm

    I dont give them on my blog but I hate the lack of half stars on GR.
    I’m not precious either and I find save 5 stars for the most amazing. I’ll give 5 if I really enjoyed something. I’m not the type of reader who looks for holes and faults unless they are obvious

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  • 19th May 2019 at 7:56 am

    i love this post so much because it’s honestly talking about an issue that’s been bugging me for so long! i always don’t know whether to rate (especially books for review) based on my own opinion or an amalgamation of my own opinion and the audience the author is trying to reach! i hate rate systems sometimes!! great post! xx

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  • […] check out the post on Dellybird as it is great and covers some things that I didn’t think about like what it depends on. I am […]

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  • 6th August 2019 at 4:05 am

    I love this post so much because I think star ratings are both super clear and super confusing at once. I know what they mean to me – that part is clear – but I know other people view them differently – that’s the unclear part.

    I think that all rating systems have their flaws, but the good thing about a star rating is that even though ratings can mean different things to different people, the average rating can tell you a lot about a book. If I book has a 4.23 on Goodreads, that tells me that people liked it because it’s impossible to get a rating that high without most people giving it 5 stars, an unequivocal sign of approval. Same things for low ratings. When a rating is more in the middle on Goodreads I like looking down at the star breakdown so I get a better sense of what people think about a book.

    I’m a bit of a stats nerd, and so I like having clear numbers to work despite the flaws the system has. I do wish that we could have half stars though!

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    • 6th August 2019 at 9:07 am
      Dellybird

      Yes half stars please <3! When books on Goodreads have a decent number of reviews then you do get a good indication of where people feel the book ranks. The odd troll won't make much of a difference with how the book scores etc. When there are only a handful of reviews it can be a little trickier without further reading.

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