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How to Write Book Reviews

Typically, a book review evaluates newly written texts. It provides a short description of the main points and usually a brief evaluation of a work’s strong and weak points.

Sometimes, people get confused between reviews and reports. However, the two types of writing are not the same. A report describes the plot or happenings in a book where the main focus is providing an overview of the central plot and/or theme and the characters. Book reports are often given as assignments at K-12 level and they range in length from 250-500 words. Please refer to PrimeEssay.org’s website for more information on writing book reports. 

On the other hand, a book review is usually a college-level assignment, but they are also common in professional life, e.g., in scholarly journals, newspapers, and magazines. Typically, reviews range in length from 500 words to 700 words but they can be shorter or longer. Book reviews give a sneak preview of a particular book, whether the writer liked it or not, and information on how to buy it. 

What to Do Before Reading a Book

Before starting to read a book for review purposes, think about what needs to be covered. The tips below should help:

  • Information about the author: Say who the author is and mention any other works they have produced. Mention any accolades or awards they have won and what their typical style is. 
  • Describe the genre of the book: Is it fictional, non-fictional, a book for children, a romantic novel, etc.? Who was the book written for and what is its purpose?
  • Think about the book’s title. Is the title relevant and how is it applied within the content? Does it convey the book’s message well? Is it mundane or interesting?
  • What about the book’s table of contents, preface and/or introduction? Do these reveal anything to the reader? Is the introduction written by a “guest” author? Has the author or “guest” author provided any preconceptions, insights or judgments in these chapters? What organisational method has been used, e.g., chapters, sections, etc.?
  • Consider the book’s cover, jacket and print style. These sometimes act as miniature reviews. Is the jacket interesting or does it give any interesting information about the content? Does the book contain any pictures, graphs, charts or maps? Is the work enhanced or hampered by the typeset, page layout or binding?
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Things to Bear in Mind When Reading

When reading, give some thought to the structure of your book review i.e. how best to present any background information or the summary section. Make notes about the book, e.g., its main points, themes and characters:

  • Styles, themes and/or motifs: Are there any noteworthy styles, themes or motifs? What impact do these have on the storyline? How effective are they? Does the author use any specific style? What is it? Does it target every reader or just a few?
  • Does the book contain any characters? If so, do any of them take centre stage? What impact do they have on the storyline? Do you feel any empathy towards them?
  • What about the book’s argument(s)? How are arguments structured? Does the author support their findings and, if so, how? Is the purpose of the book met?
  • Look for the main ideas: Is the book’s key idea clear? Is there anything that makes it different, good, average or innovative?
  • Think about quotations: Does the book contain any exceptional ones? Is there any quote you can use to illustrate the essence of the book or the author’s skill?       

Points to Consider When You Are Ready to Begin Writing

Start with a brief summary of the book or provide some background information to it. A lot of reviews focus on the first few chapters or take the reader to the developing action. When reviewing non-fictional works, writers tend to describe the main point without going into much detail. 

The last part of a book review should present the reviewer’s opinion. Once you reach this stage, keep the following points in mind:   

  • Set out the background, keeping your readers in mind: Your audience will not have read the book, so introduce the principle players or characters carefully and intentionally. The way you summarise key points and/or key characters should determine the readers’ interest in them. Has the author succeeded in reaching his or her intended readers? Are readers likely to find the work too simple or will they get lost?
  • Dealing with minor characters: Focus only on the most important aspects of your chosen book. It is not possible to cover every idea and character. Are there any characters you do or do not agree with? Are there any other elements the author should have considered, dealt with, or researched?
  • Consider the book’s organisation: A book review’s purpose is to evaluate a text in a critical manner rather than merely retelling the story. Keep your summary brief to make room for evaluation. Decide on a balance between summary information and evaluation. Usually, 50-50 is an acceptable ratio. If in doubt, check with your tutor.
  • Consider how best to evaluate the work: Select some points for discussion. What did you like? Does the book compare well or badly with other works by this author or in its genre? Does the author introduce any important themes, terms or motifs, and are these effective? Did you find the book logical or emotionally appealing?
  • A lot of book reviews mention the price and publisher’s name; some even mention the ISBN number and year of publication. 

Final Revision

The following are a few points to consider when finalising your review: 

  • Check that all names are spelt correctly, e.g., names of the author, publisher and characters as well as any specialist terms.  
  • View your text from your readers’ perspective. Is the summary too long or short? Are your arguments sensible?
  • Have you included any direct quotations from the text, and should you? How do these help your argument(s)? Make sure your quotes are accurate.