Clarity and Ethics

There’s been quite a lot of talk about the ethics of review sites just recently. I’m absolutely not going to get into speculating about who’s done what or not but I did prompt me to reflect on how I do things here.

When I started Pens! Paper! Pencils! I was quite happy if someone I wasn’t related to found the site. I won’t pretend I didn’t like the idea of one day getting sent free stuff but it wasn’t something I thought very likely. I was also very much writing for myself, both literally (almost) and metaphorically. So the issue of how trustworthy people might find my reviews were didn’t seem particularly important. (My early reviews were nevertheless my honest opinions even if they weren’t very good.)

Over time readership has risen and I’ve come to realise that what I write here can influence how people spend their money. That’s quite a responsibility. If anyone is going to make a purchasing decision based on what I write here it’s essential that I can be trusted to write an honest review.

I’ve also had some free stuff, sometimes because I’ve been asked if I’ll have a look and sometimes because I’ve approached companies who are making items I find interesting.

With that in mind, here’s how I approach reviews of items I’ve been sent for free.

I always make it clear to the manufacturer or retail outlet that I will write an honest review and they have to be prepared for a possibly critical write-up. I make it clear that I will use the item for a while before I write about it and I make it clear that it might be a while until a review goes on the site. (To be absolutely transparent, in the early days I didn’t always make it as clear to the manufacturer or outlet as I ought to have done but I always had this in mind. These days it’s absolutely clear.)

Every review that has been sponsored, either by a shop or a manufacturer, has been clearly identified as such. I don’t claim to be completely uninfluenced by having received a free item. I do claim that I try very hard not to be influenced. I don’t think I am but, you know, the subconscious is a funny thing. On my Recommended Products and Retailers page I am very clear where sponsorships have been involved.

(Note: some items, such as the Staedtler 308 Pigment Liner, I received free from a retailer. I haven’t identified those sorts of items individually on the recommendations page but I have identified the retailer as having been a sponsor. If you think I ought to identify the individual items too, let me know and I’ll think about it again. I do make it clear in the review that the item was received for free.)

I hope this makes sense and I hope it makes it clear how I’m approaching reviews. The vast majority of reviews here are positive but that’s because I tend to look for things I think I’m going to like. I can’t promise that you will like the same things I like or that you will be as happy with an item as I was but I can assure you that I take responsibility for spending your money very seriously indeed.


  1. Thanks for a very well written post. I think that this is a very relevant topic. One thing that I would add is that many people will read more than one person’s review of a given product before buying it. I have found your reviews very helpful, well written and balanced, so please keep them coming, as this is one of my favourite websites.

  2. Great post, Ian. I have to agree with you on all aspects! I am currently in that beggning stage that you were once in…not really sure how to write reviews, but making sure they are factual based on experience and my honest thoughts on the item. I have never taken it into thought about how a review could influence how someone spends their money. I will now, that is for sure. Thank you for your posts, honesty, and keep writing 🙂

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