Writing a Book Review
This resource discusses book reviews and how to write them.
Contributors: Allen Brizee
Last Edited: 2017-11-15 10:34:49
Book reviews typically evaluate recently-written works. They offer a brief description of the text’s key points and often provide a short appraisal of the strengths and weaknesses of the work.
Readers sometimes confuse book reviews with book reports, but the two are not identical. Book reports commonly describe what happens in a work; their focus is primarily on giving an account of the major plot, characters, and/or main idea of the work. Most often, book reports are a K-12 assignment and range from 250 to 500 words. If you are looking to write a book report, please see the OWL resource, Writing a Book Report.
By contrast, book reviews are most often a college assignment, but they also appear in many professional works: magazines, newspapers, and academic journals. They typically range from 500-750 words, but may be longer or shorter. A book review gives readers a sneak peek at what a book is like, whether or not the reviewer enjoyed it, and details on purchasing the book.
Before You Read
Before you begin to read, consider the elements you will need to included in your review. The following items may help:
- Author: Who is the author? What else has s/he written? Has this author won any awards? What is the author’s typical style?
- Genre: What type of book is this: fiction, nonfiction, romance, poetry, youth fiction, etc.? Who is the intended audience for this work? What is the purpose of the work?
- Title: Where does the title fit in? How is it applied in the work? Does it adequately encapsulate the message of the text? Is it interesting? Uninteresting?
- Preface/Introduction/Table of Contents: Does the author provide any revealing information about the text in the preface/introduction? Does a “guest author” provide the introduction? What judgments or preconceptions do the author and/or “guest author” provide? How is the book arranged: sections, chapters?
- Book Jacket/Cover/Printing: Book jackets are like mini-reviews. Does the book jacket provide any interesting details or spark your interest in some way? Are there pictures, maps, or graphs? Do the binding, page cut, or typescript contribute or take away from the work?
As You Read
As you read, determine how you will structure the summary portion or background structure of your review. Be ready to take notes on the book’s key points, characters, and/or themes.
- Characters: Are there characters in the work? Who are the principle characters? How do they affect the story? Do you empathize with them?
- Themes/Motifs/Style: What themes or motifs stand out? How do they contribute to the work? Are they effective or not? How would you describe this author’s particular style? Is it accessible to all readers or just some?
- Argument: How is the work’s argument set up? What support does the author give for her/findings? Does the work fulfill its purpose/support its argument?
- Key Ideas: What is the main idea of the work? What makes it good, different, or groundbreaking?
- Quotes: What quotes stand out? How can you demonstrate the author’s talent or the feel of the book through a quote?
When You Are Ready to Write
Begin with a short summary or background of the work, but do not give too much away. Many reviews limit themselves only to the first couple of chapters or lead the reader up to the rising action of the work. Reviewers of nonfiction texts will provide the basic idea of the book’s argument without too much detailed.
The final portion of your review will detail your opinion of the work. When you are ready to begin your review, consider the following:
- Establish a Background, Remember your Audience: Remember that your audience has not read the work; with this in mind, be sure to introduce characters and principles carefully and deliberately. What kind of summary can you provide of the main points or main characters that will help your readers gauge their interest? Does the author’s text adequately reach the intended audience? Will some readers be lost or find the text too easy?
- Minor principles/characters: Deal only with the most pressing issues in the book. You will not be able to cover every character or idea. What principles/characters did you agree or disagree with? What other things might the author have researched or considered?
- Organize: The purpose of the review is to critically evaluate the text, not just inform the readers about it. Leave plenty room for your evaluation by ensuring that your summary is brief. Determine what kind of balance to strike between your summary information and your evaluation. If you are writing your review for a class, ask your instructor. Often the ratio is half and half.
- Your Evaluation: Choose one or a few points to discuss about the book. What worked well for you? How does this work compare with others by the same author or other books in the same genre? What major themes, motifs, or terms does the book introduce, and how effective are they? Did the book appeal to you on an emotional or logical way?
- Publisher/Price: Most book reviews include the publisher and price of the book at the end of the article. Some reviews also include the year published and ISBN.
When making the final touches to your review, carefully verify the following:
- Double-check the spelling of the author name(s), character names, special terms, and publisher.
- Try to read from the vantage point of your audience. Is there too much/enough summary? Does your argument about the text make sense?
- Should you include direct quotes from the reading? Do they help support your arguments? Double-check your quotes for accuracy.
A book review is a critical assessment of a book. It describes and evaluates the quality and significance of a book and does not merely summarise the content.
- Author's content and purpose
- Up-to-datedness of the information
- The sources used to justify the author's stance
- What issues does it raise?
- What issues are omitted?
- The effect of the book
- Your recommendation
Book reviews are frequently written by publishers, editors and newspaper/journal reviewers as part of the publicity process for a book shortly after publication or republication.
They are also written by experts, academics, journalists, organisations with vested interests and students to develop an understanding of the place of a particular book within a broader context of its subject area and its genre.
This comparative component to a book review requires knowledge of both these areas. As a student you will be expected to demonstrate that you have examined the book from several angles. The points you raise (both positive and negative) need to be supported with evidence just as for other forms of academic writing.
Writing a book review
Write some questions based on the list above:
- Why has the book been written?
- When was it written?
- What is the scope of the book?
- Who is the intended audience?
- How accurate is the author's content?
- How (well) is evidence used?
- Are there any omissions?
Find out about the author:
- Other works (if any)
Locate some other sources on the same content/issue and/or the same genre to provide you with background and other views.
Pay attention to introduction and preface as this is where authors often present the reasons for their book, their perspective and those of any other contributors.
Look at table of contents and book structure. This gives you a quick overview of the contents; looking at any pictures/diagrams, tables/graphs, in the chapters shows you some of the strategies the author has used to get the meaning across. These contents may give a clearer indication of the intended audience as well. For example the information in tables may be very technical, indicating interpretation will be easier for those with some prior knowledge.
Do not skip abstracts and summaries. These are a quick way to get an overview of the book (from the author's point of view).
Take notes and highlight major points, the sources used, and the logic of the argument presented.
Note whether the information is new. Is the author refuting earlier works, building on another author's ideas or rehashing an earlier piece of work?
How easy is it to understand the author's point of view? If it is difficult, what is the reason?
Use your notes to evaluate the book. You need to use your other sources too. Decide what recommendation you would make to readers about the different aspects. Include its readability.
Structuring the book review
Most book reviews are between 100-500 words, though an academic review may go up to 1500. Check with the lecturer if you are not sure how long your book review should be.
At the start, put the complete bibliographic information:
Title in full, author, place of publication, publisher, date of publication edition, number of pages.
A published review will usually include price and ISBN number and your lecturer may require you to do this too.
Your introduction will usually include:
- your overall impression of the book
- a statement about the author
- a statement on the purpose of the book
- a statement of the significance of the work
- a comment about the relationship between this work and others by the same author, the same subject and the same genre
The body of your review develops the points you want to make:
- greater detail on the author's thesis and a summary of the main points
- evaluation of strengths, weaknesses, contribution or bias
- the evidence that is the basis of your critique
The conclusion (last paragraph) includes:
- your final assessment
- restatement of overall impression
- (re)statement of your recommendation
No new information should be included in the conclusion.
Reference list: this is put at the end as usual, using the referencing style requested by the lecturer.
Sample book review
This book review is included here with the permission of both the author, Heather Kavan, senior lecturer in Business Communication, and the editor of Stimulus, the journal in which the book review was published.
Download Sample Book Review (39KB)
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Last updated on 22 August, 2016