Most people will likely tell you that “critic” and “reviewer” are terms that can be used interchangeably. This is particularly true when it comes to reviewing TV shows, music, movies and so on. Most people would refer to Roger Ebert as a movie critic, but they’d also just as easily say that he “reviews movies.” However, these terms don’t really have the exact same meaning.

The best way to explain this is to break the terms down into their root meanings.

A Critic Looks for Faults

A critic is someone who passes judgement, oftentimes drawing relevant comparisons to similar products, movies, or whatever happens to be the subject at hand. In doing so, someone who is “critical” is someone who is likely looking to find fault in that something. What is wrong with it? Why is it worse (or better) than suitable alternatives?

This is why guys like Roger Ebert end their “reviews” with a final “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” verdict. He is deciding how that movie (or whatever else) stands up against his expectations and his standards. It’s not so much about going over the finer details of the product being reviewed as much as it is offering a critique of the product based on the context of similar products or works.

A Reviewer Simply Looks Again

Take a look at the word “review.” What do you see? We see the prefix re-, meaning to do again. You might re-read a passage in a book or you might watch a rerun on TV. And then you have the root word “view,” meaning to look. In effect, to “review” something literally means to look at it again.

Using an example from the context of academia, a researcher may do a literary review on a certain subject. He is going through the existing literature, re-reading those reports to see if there is a common theme that emerges. He is not necessarily judging any of that material, but rather he is gathering the facts and likely repackaging those facts into a unified report.

When I do a product review, my first order of business is to give the reader an overview of the product. I talk about what it is and what it does. I go over the key features, so the reader can have a better understanding of the product. I endeavor to be as objective, fair and honest as possible. However, readers of today’s reviews have another expectation: an opinionated conclusion.

Blurred Lines

Strictly speaking, there is a definite difference between a critic and a reviewer. The reviewer is one who simply reviews the product or content, offering a summary of important points and drawing connections so the reader doesn’t need to do this. A critic, on the other hand, is more likely to compare the product or content against a pre-defined standard or set of expectations. The reviewer may not necessarily express an opinion, whereas the critic must have one.

This distinction is clearer in some contexts than others. When overseeing a trial, a judge may review the facts of the case and offer his verdict. He is not critiquing or criticizing the facts, comparing how “good” or “bad” they are compared to other facts in other cases. Instead, he’s reviewing those facts to make his final decision. Of course, the elements of a great review of a movie, smartphone or online service are an entirely different matter altogether. In that context, the difference between a critic and a reviewer may not be as clear.

For my part, I consider myself a product reviewer first and a product critic second. My job is to educate the consumer and highlight the noteworthy elements. I may draw comparisons and I may offer my opinion, but I ultimately want to facilitate the reader’s ability to make his or her own informed decision.