What Is a Book Review?
A book review is a piece of writing that is aimed at evaluation of recently published books. As a rule, it contains a brief account of events and analysis of weak and strong points in the publications. It should not be confused with a book report that is a text of up to 500 words that retells the plot and presents characters or main ideas if a book is not fictitious. These reports are popular among K-12 teachers, as they are an easy tool for developing students’ writing skills and ability to distinguish important data from the secondary one.
On the other hand, writing a book review is based on the application of analytical and critical thinking skills and therefore, usually done by more experienced people. In fact, book reviews are used in three different contexts. First, they are often given to college or university students in a form of book review essay to cultivate these skills. In this case, a book under consideration is not necessarily a new one. Second, reviews are written by professionals for professionals in order to assess all the fresh literature in their field. In such a form, a review is a way to get published in a reputable academic journal fast. Finally, reviews of popular literature and fiction are very common and targeted at the public. They can be found at book review blogs and help to decide whether to buy a book or not.
Take a look through book review samples to get a clear picture of how to write one on your own:
These guidelines on how to write a book review are focused on academic settings. You will find it useful if you are a student or expert interested in book review structure as well as stages and techniques to compose it with no difficulties.
Step One: Select a Book
There are several things to keep in mind in the process of choosing a book for a review. First, remember that creating a unique book review takes much time, and not to waste it, you can pick up a book that is useful in completing your research project or taking an exam. It is great way to get the necessary information and make a publication, so why not to kill two birds with one stone? Second, you might be advised to choose an anthology or a textbook for a review. Beyond doubt, such an option is viable and acceptable, but it might be considered a lazy approach. Such literature requires less background knowledge, and thus, a review implies less effort.
Third, do not settle down on publications that are written by a person related to you or about which you have strong negative feelings. In the former case, i.e., when a book was created by your professor and supervisor, for instance, you might lack objectivity and be accused of bias. In the latter one, you might harm your future as you are only at the start of your academic career. Beginning with strong criticism of other people’s works might be poorly supported in academic circles. Unless you have very firm convictions and strengths to face the consequences, do not choose a book that you completely disagree with.
Fourth, select a book that was published recently. Such reviews are particularly appreciated. Just have a look at book review examples available online; they all about some fresh literature. Nevertheless, writing about relatively old book is fine too, especially if you want to attract attention it. Alternatively, you may choose two, new and old, books that are connected or touch upon a similar topic. Such a study is called a review essay, and its samples might be found on a book review blog. Finally, keep in mind that your selected book should be:
- Relevant to your field of expertise and connected with your academic interests
- Preferably published within the period on last three years
- Published by credible and renowned publishing house that is either commercial or affiliated with an educational institution.
Step Two: Read the Book
The key to how to write a college book review indeed well is to be an active reader. It means that you should take a piece of paper as well as a pen and be ready to take notes. Write down the most important ideas, the main arguments, key event and characters, if applicable, etc., in your own words. Note down your reactions to the writing style and ideas, strengths and weaknesses pointed out, page numbers were the most striking quotes can be found. By doing so, you are ensuring that the process of writing will be easy and almost effortless. If you read a digital version of the book, you are still advised to take notes rather than just highlight important passages. It will contribute to the quality of analysis. Lastly, you should read a few book review samples before you start in order to know what kind of information you should pay attention to while reading.
Even before you start reading a book, you may learn many things about the publication. Thus, have a look at:
- Author. Make a bit of research and find out who the author is, what his/her credentials are, what he/she is famous for, whether he/she received any awards, etc., so that later on, you could evaluate the writer’s authority to compose a book on a given topic.
- Title. Check it in order to determine whether it appropriately recaps the essence of the book and has any application in the text. Point out whether it is interesting, creative, original or, on the contrary, is rather conventional.
- Cover. Evaluate whether the book cover gives a hint about the content and engages an average reader. Does it contain any maps or charts that are crucial for the understanding of the book?
- Genre. Identify the genre of the book (fiction, non-fiction, sci-fi, etc.) and the target audience of the text. It might reveal a lot about the purpose of the publication.
- Structure. Assess the arrangement of the book: Are there chapters and sections that simplify perception of the text? Does the table of content correctly reflect this arrangement? In addition, pay attention to preface and/or introduction. Usually, exactly these parts of the paper provide much information about the book, particularly about its purpose and the author’s intentions.
As you read, you should attempt to answer the following questions:
- What is the principal argument of the book? (Note: To answer this question correctly is of paramount importance since author’s thesis is basically your book review topic).
- How is the major argument proven to be right?
- What kind of evidence is used?
- Are counterarguments considered and refuted?
- Are all the terms and concept correctly applied?
- Does the book make any contribution to the corresponding field?
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of the book?
- What are the connections of this book to other works in the field?
- What is the author’s style like?
- Who would find the book helpful?
- What themes does he/she primarily touch upon?
- How is this book different from others in this discipline?
- What is the novelty of the book?
Step Three: Create a Book Review Plan
The moment when it is necessary to learn how to write a book review, format it, structure the ideas and arrange them has come. First, mind the length. A typical book review should be between 500 and 2,000 words; however, striking these extremes is a bad idea. So, the best approach here is to write around 1,000 words. This limit will allow discussing only main points but in a developed manner. Besides, writing more makes no sense. It is better to focus on more important tasks, for example, your dissertation.
To make sure you review is focused, it should be based on previously designed outline. Of course, you may opt out of this phase of writing and look for some example of a book review essay instead, but it would lead to an incoherent style and flawed logical development of ideas.
Therefore, you are strongly encouraged to plan exactly what you are going to include in the following parts of a book review:
- An introduction with the book and its topic identified. Then, purpose of the book should be mentioned too. Finally, the thesis should comment on the main argument made in the publications.
- A summary of the book of around 1-2 paragraphs.
- A section with the analysis of the content.
- A section on the strong sides of the book.
- A section on the weak sides of the book.
- A paragraph with final evaluation and opinion about the text under discussion.
Lastly, a title of the review should be considered. The format of the title is one of the book review unique features. It should contain complete bibliographic information, price, and ISBN.
Step Four: Writing the Review
Start the writing process whenever you are ready but preferably as soon as possible after reading the book or, in other words, when your impressions and conclusions are still fresh. Furthermore, do not make it a long procedure. One of the benefits of book reviews writing for the purpose of publishing is that it can be done quickly and easily. In the end, no innovative research or voluminous review of a number of sources is required. So, try to profit from this simplicity and complete the text fast.
Be sure to follow your outline while writing, but if there is a need, do not hesitate to deviate from it. For those who decided to skip planning stage, the following explanation of sections might be helpful:
- Summary. After an introduction, the body starts. It should open with a summary section since a reader is unlikely to have read the book yet and needs to know some details to understand your conclusions. If the book is fiction, present the main characters and make an account of all major events specifically focusing on those that matter in your further discussion of the book. If the book is non-fictitious, sum up the main ideas and arguments, particularly those that might be interesting to your target audience.
- Analysis. In this part of the text, there is the need to answer those question articulated above, i.e., about the quality of arguments and evidence, credibility and authority of the author, the presence or absence of examples, the major themes discussed, etc. Here, you should make claims and support them using quotes from the book itself. Under no circumstances, this section should contain summarizing of the plot.
- Evaluation. In this section, you are finally allowed to be yourself and write what you think about the book. You should assess its overall quality as well as point out the strong and weak sides. You should also address the following: Was the purpose of the book achieved? Was the main argument proven correct? Is the book trustworthy? How can this book be contrasted or compared to other similar in this field of studies? What was the use of terms like? Is the book generally appealing? Who do you recommend it to?
Step Five: Revise
Even if you are persuaded that your book review turned out to be perfect at the very first attempt, be sure not to send it for publication right away. Otherwise, you might be very disappointed later on. Thus, if there is a possibility, give the review a chance to rest for a day or so and then come back to it in order to revise, edit, and proofread. Correct all the inconsistencies and bridge the gaps in ideas if there are any. Check whether the summary is sufficient to understand your review and whether it contains irrelevant details that should be eliminated. Have a look at analysis and determine whether your arguments are supported enough. Finally, read the paper several times to locate all grammar, spelling, punctuation, and stylistic mistakes. Double-check the spelling of terms, characters, if applicable, any other proper names, and the name of the author.
Common Mistakes to Avoid
- Do not focus on summarizing the text. It is not a book report but a review. It requires analyzing and introducing original ideas, which is impossible when the text is only about recounting plot twists and restating the author’s claims.
- When you summarize, remember that it is impossible to mention all the characters or author’s ideas in a review. So, you need to prioritize and focus on the most developed aspects in the book. Put the main argument in the spotlight and try to keep it there all the time.
- You should analyze, not criticize. It is not acceptable to tell that the book is poorly written, organized, developed, etc., if it just does not comply with the way you would discuss a given topic. If you do criticize, your arguments should be solid and based on facts. Thus, for instance, if you say that terms are improperly used, you should provide specific passage from the text to support your statement.
- At the same time, do not overuse quotes. A book review is primarily about your voice and your ideas. Besides, if you can choose between a direct quote and paraphrasing, always select the latter.
- If there is an aspect that the book does not address or does it not profoundly, do not focus on that too much and do not built your review around this idea. In the end, it is impossible to discuss everything well enough even if the book is 500 pages. If, for instance, the book is about interracial relationship, and those between Caucasian and Asian are not addressed, you should mention it but do not turn it into the major flaw of the book.
Order a Book Review
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