The five dimensions of hotel reviews
Has it occurred to you that hotel reviews are often written in a story format, and that this is even more the case for negative as opposed to positive reviews? Scientist Camilla Vásquez researched the storytelling quality of hotel reviews (2014). It was intriguing to her that a lot of reviewers not only review objectively, but also have a desire to share their personal experiences. For example, customers will not only mention the hotel itself, but also their personal background information. They use a first person perspective and the past tense to talk about why they’ve traveled, their travel companions, and where and when their journey took place. Vásquez studied the storytelling nature of reviews, based on the theory of linguistic scientists Ochs and Capps. According to Ochs and Capps, a story typically consists of five elements: tellership, tellability, embeddedness, linearity and moral stance. With the help of a few examples, we will take a closer look at the different dimensions.
The first dimension is called tellership. It involves a number of people who allow the reviewer to take the spotlight. A review can be written as a monologue, but also as a story involving multiple characters. Reviews often mention the opinions of fellow travelers, either using indirect speech (e.g.: When we arrived in our hotel room, my friend told me she had never seen such a dirty bathroom before) or direct speech (e.g. Then my friend said: “I’ve never seen such a dirty bathroom before”). There are many reasons why reviewers compose their reviews this way: if the review contains negative feedback, the reviewer avoids being labeled as a ‘complainer’, because the negative feedback is being given by another person. Furthermore, it can reinforce the feedback given in the interview, because the reviewer is not the only person that had a certain impression. On the contrary, there were others who shared the same impression!
A second dimension is called tellability. That dimension is all about the review style and the impact the review has on the public. Some reviews attract more readers than others. Reviews are often considered more appealing or more interesting when the writer addresses the reader with ‘you’. The extent to which the reviewer describes the situation and the amount of details and personal information also impact the reader. The more details and personal information is shared with the reader, the more credible the review appears.
Next, we have the dimension of embeddedness, which refers to the context in which a review is told and to what extent it does or doesn’t match the context. Hotel reviews often appear on professional traveler platforms. The better the reputation of a certain traveler platform, the more credible the reviews posted there become. A review is never displayed on its own: other reviews of the same hotel exist. When one review significantly differs from the others, the credibility of the diverging review will suffer.
Linearity is our fourth dimension. Events can be told chronologically, but the order of the story can also be jumbled (e.g.: When we saw that the beds weren’t made and there was garbage everywhere, we went back to the reception desk – where we were received in an unfriendly manner earlier – to ask for another room).
The last dimension is called moral stance. It involves the opinion of the reviewer throughout the review. A review can be completely negative, but there are also people who don’t have a clear opinion about what just happened, and who present a mix of positive and negative elements (e.g.: We were treated poorly at the reception desk, but everything was in order when we got to our room. The room service was excellent and so was the food, even though we had to wait a long time for it to arrive).
Vásquez’s analysis demonstrates that the storytelling nature of hotel reviews has a lot to do with the reviewers’ attempts to come across as credible as possible. This is also the reason why negative reviews often tell more of a story than positive ones: there is more at stake when writing a negative review. For example, the hotel could respond and tell us we’re wrong. By explaining the events in detail, reviewers writing a negative review attempt to protect themselves by proving that the events really took place and that they are telling the truth!