The Rounding Up or Down of Star Ratings

Posted April 9, 2015 by Stormy in Books / 29 Comments

Star ratings are pretty common in the bookish world. Goodreads and Amazon both use star ratings, as well as a good chunk–I would guess the majority–of book bloggers. The most common star system seems to be rating books from 1 to 5 stars, but what’s a reader to do when they want to use a half star rating?

I’ve been thinking about half star ratings quite a bit lately. Personally, I still like star ratings. I understand why some bloggers don’t and decide to make a more personal rating system, but for me the benefit of star ratings is that they’re universal and applicable to other places. I know when I give a book a rating that means I know exactly how I feel about the book, and can use that rating pretty much any place I might cross-post my review.

Some people have half stars built into their rating system, but I don’t. I know a lot of people want Goodreads to add such a feature, but for better or worse, the Goodreads system is still just solid stars. That doesn’t stop people from giving half stars in their rating, though, and I have to admit I’ve done this before. I don’t make a habit of giving half star ratings(most of the time it seems too unwieldy for me), but every once in a while a book just fits better as a 3.5 read than a 3 or a 4. Then the question becomes a matter of rounding.

I’ve seen a LOT of people talk about rounding up or down when giving a half star rating, particularly twitter. I’ve seen people say they always round up, they always round down, authors encouraging people to round up, etc. And I’ve come to realize that for me, rounding up or down isn’t a matter of principle. It’s a statement as to which way my feelings go on a book.

Here’s what I mean by that–sometimes when I give a half star rating, I round up. Sometimes I round down, but there’s always a reason. Take, for example, two books I read recently–Black Iris by Leah Reader and Make it Count by Megan Erickson. I mentioned in my reviews for both of these books that I thought the best rating for my thoughts was 3.5 stars. Still, I rounded down for Black Iris and rounded down for Make it Count.

My justification for that? I gave Black Iris a 3.5 because I had actual issues with the book. I thought the pacing was off and the symbolism was too over-the-top. There were things I really liked about the book, but there were also things I legitimately didn’t like.

I gave Make it Count the exact same rating–but I rounded up. Why? Because I didn’t have any issues with it–I just didn’t get the connection and enthusiasm I needed for a 4 star read in that type of story(contemporary romance). There was nothing I disliked, exactly, it just lacked OOMPH.

Looking back over the few reviews I’ve given with half star ratings, I think I do tend to round up more than I round down, but I definitely have rounded down in the past when I thought it warranted.

LET’S CHAT: Do you rate your reads? Ever give half-star ratings? If so, do you tend to round up or down?



29 responses to “The Rounding Up or Down of Star Ratings

  1. I use half star ratings on my blog, and will comment in the review on GRs with whatever my “actual” rating it, but I have to round it off and I go either up or down depending on my feelings for the book, and my gut instinct. I like to segregate reads with half stars, because for me there is a difference between 3, 3.5 and 4. But when my hands are tied and I HAVE to go up or down, then I’ll make a judgement call. For my personal records on the review archive of my blog though, I like to see the .5 star distinctions. R x

    • Stormy

      It sounds like most of us round up or down depending on gut instincts! I think 3.5 is the half star I tend to want the most. There’s just a large gap between a 3 star & a 4 star book in my mind.

  2. I personally feel this way more often as well, especially since I have started reading more books and really thinking about my opinions on them. Typically, I do the same thing you do. It just depends on what my problems were and how much of a stretch it would be to pump it up the next star on the Goodreads star scale. Very interesting topic!

    • Stormy

      Yeah, sometimes a book is a 3.5 not because of issues, but just because I wasn’t “feeling” it, and those most of the time get rounded up. But when I have actual issues, it’s more likely to get rounded down.

  3. I only use whole ratings as that means I can use the same rating everywhere and I like that. I don’t want to switch my rating depending on if they allo half stars or not. So to not use half stars seems the safe option.

    On the other hand there are some books for which I really want those half stars, so I just round those up or down instead. Like you which way I round up isn’t a matter of principle, but a statement as to which way my feelings go on a book. Although I more often round down when it comes to those 4.5 stars as I think with 5 stars I must be 100% sure they deserve that rating, but with 2, 3 or 4 stars it’s more flexible and depends more on my feelings. Great post!

    • Stormy

      Yeah that’s pretty much how I am. I think the 5 star system is the most universal. Though, I think I’m most actually like to round 4.5 up, and others down! Funny how we can have similar thought processes & then do something different. A lot of times I feel like if I’m rating a book 4.5 stars in my mind it probably deserves the 5 stars from me(since I don’t give out 5 stars very often).

  4. See, this is the reason that I don’t use rating systems. They’re too complicated for their own good, and I just think they’re too subjective to be that useful for a reader. Every book is different, and everyone will take something different from the experience of reading the same book. Why try to quantify something that is so subjective?
    Just my thoughts though – I don’t mind rating systems on other blogs (if I’m honest I kind of just ignore them).
    Beth x

    • Stormy

      Hmm yeah I get that. They are pretty subjective! For me, thought, I think it helps to actually curb my tendency to compare books to one another and let them stand on their own merit. Rating lets me measure a book against certain ideas–“I liked it, loved it, it was okay, meh”, and if I didn’t use ratings I think I would probably completely compare books to one another instead of those standards.

  5. My rating system is rather elaborate and even more precise than half-star ratings. Haha. I have a spreadsheet where I input my ratings for different aspects such as plot, characterisation, depth, originality, impact, etc. For those aspects I use half-ratings but then I average them out and end up with a rating with 3 digits after the decimal point. Those I then round to the nearest 0.25 half-rating. So when I have a half-rating, I look at my spreadsheet and mathematically round up or down according to the precise rating that I averaged out.

    For some people it might seem over the top and requires too much effort but I like being able to rank all the books I read that year to see which ones I liked better or which book just about edged out another. I can do that in my head but with the spreadsheet it’s so much quicker and has so far pretty accurately reflected my actual feelings towards the books I’ve read.

    • Stormy

      Oh wow, that’s very detailed! I don’t think I could do that, but I do understand the appeal of being able to actually rank all the books you read in a year. Generally, when I’m asked my favorite book at the end of the year I have trouble with that, except for rare years when there’s just a run-away winner, so I could see where that would be really useful.

  6. I’m with you – I round up or down depending on how I feel about the book. I rated When Joss Met Matt 3.5 stars, but on GoodReads, I rounded up, because I like the book and it makes me smile when I consider it. 3 stars are meh, 3.5 is pretty good, and I wasn’t “meh” about it, so I rounded up.

    • Stormy

      That’s pretty much how I work too, I think. It’s kind of a gut feeling. Like, “When I think about this book, am I happy, slightly frustrated, or just kinda apathetic?”

  7. I always love reading these posts from bloggers. Rating is definitely something we all struggle with, and it’s interesting to see how everyone’s brain works. I think I tend to round up more than down on GR, unless I’m in a particularly unforgiving mood.

    I just started following a German blog, and he uses a 10-point system. You’d have to figure out how to translate that to 5 stars for GR, etc, but it could make it easier to decide whether to round up or down. It seems like a lot of hassle though.

    • Stormy

      Thinking about it, I think on the rare occasions I give 4.5 stars, I tend to almost always round up on GR. I can only think of 1 book I gave a 4.5 that I rounded down to 4(and that was None of the Above by I.W. Gregorio) the 3.5 is the hardest for me. Is it a 3.5 just because it doesn’t have enough to push me into “really liked this” territory, or because I had actual issues? It’s definitely the one I struggle with the most.

      Oh man, I think a 10 point system would be way too hard for me(though I’ve seen a few bloggers use it & it really seems to work for them). I’m often indecisive enough with 5 stars, which is why I try to not get into the habit too often of using half stars.

      • I’m pretty sure most of my 4.5s get rounded up, too. I always figure I might as well, because I obviously loved the book, so what’s another half star. With 3.5s, though, if the book was fine but I didn’t REALLY like it, a 4 seems like too much of a boost. Rounding down to a 3 reflects at least some apathy toward a book. Like you said, though, it’s a struggle.

  8. Hmm, I hadn’t given this topic much thought and I haven’t seen much said about ratings since I’ve been a little inactive around the blogosphere. I actually do give half star ratings to books, but I haven’t always. It started a few years back when I was stuck with a certain book because it wasn’t close enough for a 5 but still not a 4. So I started doing half ratings. Since I started doing that, I noticed I hate trying to decide on Goodreads whether to round up or down. It usually depends on the books

    • Stormy

      Yeah it seems “it really just depends on the book!” is quite common for a lot of people. Glad to know I’m not alone!

  9. I use half star ratings on my blog, and I do run into issues because Goodreads doesn’t offer half stars. I don’t have a hard and fast rule on whether I round up or down, though. Like you I really think about how I felt about that book. If I gave it 3.5 stars, but still really, really liked it, I might move it to four on Goodreads. But if I gave it 3.5 but had issues it will probably go down to three stars.

    • Stormy

      Yup, I think it mostly comes down to if I had issues or not. I’ve never really had much trouble with anything other than a 3.5 stars. 4.5 I tend to round up because the only reason I didn’t give those 5 in the first place tends to be because they lack that OOMPH or “I love it so much!” factor”, and not any critical issues I had.

  10. I don’t employ half stars because I only rate on Goodreads and have to give whole star ratings over there, so I use the same rating on my blog. I’ve never analysed it but I’ll say about 5% of the books I read would really be half stars, so it doesn’t bother me too much. That said, there is the odd book that isn’t quite a five star read but it’s more than just a four star so yes, on those occasions I do round up.

    • Stormy

      I feel like the way you rate is the way I *want* to rate books, but I tend to waffle a little more than I would. I don’t give out half stars a whole lot, but I thought probably 15% of the books I rate I’d give half stars–so not a large chunk by any means, but definitely more than your 5%.

  11. Sas

    Hi there,

    I also stars for my ratings, 1 to 5. But I really like to give half stars, not only as an exception but on a regular basis. It’s just that – as you said – some books are neither a 3 or a 4 and I have to go the middle of them. I can’t really say if I use them for round ups or round downs, I think both.

    I have read that some people don’t like these half stars and I really don’t know why. Is it something bad? If I liked the book but not that much I can’t give a full star… whats the problem with that? 😉

    • Stormy

      Hah, I’m not sure why someone would be so adamantly opposed to half-stars! I follow a lot of bloggers who use them. I just don’t make a habit of it personally because I think it would give me too many options. I think I’d constantly be torn on ratings.

      • Sas

        I think I like half-stars especially because they give me many option. I sometimes really have trouble to decide how good the book was so I go for the middle 😉 So I don’t have to say it was good or bad and just say it was okay 😀

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