Writing Book Reviews: Advice from 4 Professionals

Writing Book Reviews: Advice from 4 Professionals

As part of many literature and reading courses, learners will be called upon to write a book review.  A book review is similar to a book report, yet differs in one crucial way: whereas a book report details the specifics of a book, a book review gives the reader's opinion of the book.  Therefore, book reviews are far more subjective in nature than story critiques.

Because of the subjective nature of book reviews, the instructor will not be grading the report on anything approaching the right/wrong scale that other student articles are often graded on.  However, the instructor will be able to tell if the writer of the book review has actually read the book.  Included in the assignment instructions might be specific guidelines as to what aspects of the book need to be evaluated as part of the book review assignment.

Although a book review should include a brief synopsis of the book, this synopsis should not encompass the entire review.  The following points might be included as part of a book review:
  • the expertise of the writer;
  • the main point(s) of the writer and whether or not the book supports/proves those points;
  • how the book compares to similar works by other authors.
A book review should include six primary components:
  1. Heading
  2. Introduction
  3. Background
  4. Summary
  5. Evaluation
  6. Conclusion
The heading of the book review should include the author and publishing information of the book being reviewed.  The introduction of the review should introduce the book and the writer's reaction to the reading.  A paragraph that details the criteria for judging the book follows the introduction.  The summary section of a book review briefly summarizes the events of the book itself.  And, the evaluation section is where the reviewer details his or her opinion of the book.  It's important that the reviewer use the evaluation section to give only his or her opinion and that the reviewer's opinion is kept separate from any opinions of the author.

Just like any report, a book review should include a conclusion.  The conclusion summarizes the points made in the report, both by the author of the book and the author of the report, and ties everything together.  In general, about half of the document should be devoted to specifics about the book, and another half to the opinions of the reviewer.  Of course, if the instructor gives more specific guidelines, the student should follow those first.

Viewpoint of Author #2

When learning how to write a book review essay, your main objective is to provide an overview of the most significant points that were raised by the author of a literary work.  A book review essay is not the same as a book report, however, as a book report simply summarizes the work and provides a brief opinion of the story.  A book review essay, on the other hand, attempts to engage in a critical discussion of the literary work.  

When asked to write a book review essay, the most important step is to choose a literary piece of work that is suitable for writing a review.  An edited collection, for example, can be difficult to review because the various contributors may have different viewpoints or may address different aspects of the same issue.  Therefore, it is usually better to select a piece of work that was written by just one author.  Similarly, older pieces are usually easier to review because you can discuss the significance of the work over time, a task that is more difficult to do with newer literary works.

When writing book review essays, you will usually follow the same general pattern.  First, you will write an introduction to the document.  In this portion of the report, your goal is to identify what you feel is the main thesis of the work and to preview your own critical response.  

After the introduction, you will then write a brief summary of the book.  The length of your summary will depend upon the overall length.  If writing an eight to ten page book review essay, for example, your summary usually should not exceed four pages.  If you are using more than half of your allotted words or pages on retelling the story, you are straying away from a book review essay and entering into the novel critique realm.  

When summarizing the book being reviewed, you should focus only on the central claims and arguments made in the text.  You should only discuss the information that is the most significant and that will help lead into the critical discussion, which is the next portion of the review article.

In the critical discussion portion of the book review essay, you will evaluate the contribution the text has made to the discipline area it is written in.  In order to complete this portion, you should ask yourself how the book advances the debate that is discussed in the text.  This requires you to identify the problems or controversies addressed in the text and assessing whether or not the book has made a valuable contribution to the field or simply whether or not the author has adequately supported his or her thesis.  You will need to use evidence from the text in order to support your argument.  This means you should refer the writing throughout the document.

Finally, your book review essay will need a conclusion.  In your conclusion, you should restate your thesis and summarize your critical analysis.  After all writing is complete, be certain to review the report for clarity and proper use of grammar and punctuation.

Viewpoint of Author #3

When writing a book review paper, you should provide a brief description and then engage in a critical analysis of the book, which may include evaluating the book's quality, significance, impact, and/or meaning. A book review paper differs from a book report in that a book report is meant to summarize and describe the story, while a book review paper is not a "retelling."

In order to properly write a book review paper, you will need to thoroughly read the book and take notes as you read. The notes that you write, however, will not be used to help summarize the book. Rather, your notes should be about your opinion, reaction, and interpretation of the book. In other words, you should be looking for the strengths and weaknesses of the book as you read it so you can write about your opinion when creating your book review paper.

When writing your book review paper, you should discuss the statement you believe the author is trying to make with the story. In addition, your book review paper should discuss how well you believe the author has communicated this message. In order support your opinion, however, you will need to present evidence from the story to support your opinion.

When writing book review papers, you will generally start off with providing basic information about each book, such as the copyright date, the title of the book, the author or the book, the type of book you are reviewing, the general subject of the book, and any special features included in the book, such as maps.

After summarizing the basic information in the book, your book review paper should state the author's purpose of the book. In the case of non-fiction books, the author may have written the purpose in the first chapter or in the preface. If the purpose is not stated in the first chapter, you can determine the purpose by asking yourself why you think the author chose to write on this subject. In addition, consider the point-of-view of the book and the type of information the author was trying to provide.

When developing your opinion of the book, you must ask yourself the following questions:
  • Who do I believe is the intended audience of the book?
  • What is the style of the author's writing (i.e., informal or formal)?
  • How well organized is the book?
  • How did the book affect me on a personal level (i.e. did it change my point-of-view on a certain issue?)
While writing a book review paper, you should also state the theme of the book, as well as its thesis. The theme is the general topic or subject, while the thesis is the generalization of the theme. Then, go on to explain how the author supports the thesis and provide your personal evaluation. Your evaluation should include your opinion about the book's accuracy, level of interest, thoroughness, and importance.

All book review papers should also include additional information about the author. This might include information about the author's qualifications, reputation, influences, impact on society, etc.

Viewpoint of Author #4

Students (especially students in English courses) will need to write book review essays as part of their curriculum.  A book review essay is also called a literary review.  However, book review essays are not book reports due to the subjective nature of essays.  Whenever a student needs to write book review essays, students need to be sure that they understand the requirements of the assignment so that they can write effective projects and perform comprehensive reviews.  

The first step that students need to take in order to write their book review essays is to be sure that they understand the assignment requirements.  Different professors may have different requirements, so it is always wise for a learner to obtain the specific book review essay requirements for a particular professor in advance.  

Some professors require learners to write their book review essays on just one book.  Other professors allow their students to select their own books for the book review essay project.  However, regardless of how a student selects a book, the student needs to be dedicated to reading and understanding the book.  Most students benefit by taking detailed notes while they read the book.  

When researching and writing the book review essay, learners should pay attention to a variety of variables, including themes, effectiveness, and other tools that an author has used in the book.  In most cases, learners will write their book review essays about how well the author conveyed his or her message and ideas using literary devices.  

Some students may also wish to analyze the context of a book within the context of the society in which the author lived in when he or she wrote the book.  In such a case, the student may need to perform some research about the author and his or her life and times.  Students may also want to write their book review essays as comparison essays by comparing two different works by the same author.  

It is important for students to be aware that they will often have flexibility with how they want to write their book review essays.  However, a book review essay is very different from a story review.  A book report is a simple document in which a student reiterates themes, ideas, and events that occurred in a book in an objective manner.  However, a book review essay is a subjective document in which a student analyzes these themes, ideas, and events and how they were conveyed using literary tools.

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