Fiction vs. Non-Fiction Book Reports


(Updated on September 18, 2021)

A fiction book report is a summary and critique of a work of fiction.  Therefore, a fiction book report will always be summarizing and critiquing a novel, a novella, a short story, or a collection of short stories.  Fiction book reports are common assignments in both secondary and postsecondary education.

A fiction book report consists of three sections: an introduction, a plot summary, and a critique.  Though a nonfiction book report will also have three sections, it's important to note that the second section of a nonfiction book report will be markedly different from that of a fiction story review.  The second section of a fiction book report presents an overview of the plot of the novel or short story.  The second section of a nonfiction book report, however, will discuss the book's thesis statement and the way in which that thesis statement is defended or explored.  Fiction book reports and nonfiction book reports thus are often very different.

Fiction vs. Non-Fiction Book ReportsThe introduction of a fiction project should identify the author of the novel or short story, the title of the novel or short story, the year in which the text was published, and the type of fiction it's (i.e.  mystery, science-fiction, young adult fiction, adult fiction, etc.).  It is also appropriate for this paragraph to provide some background information about the author of the work and, if necessary, to fill the reader in on background information that may be necessary to understanding the plot.  For instance, if the work were historical fiction and were set in the Spanish-American War, it would be helpful if the report introduction provided brief background information on the Spanish-American War so that the plot summary could be more comprehensible.

After the introduction, the writer should present a summary of the work's plot, which is the action of the story: what happens and how it happens.  Therefore, the plot summary should provide the reader with the names and roles of the main characters, a description of the setting of the story, and an explanation of the primary action that evolves during the story.

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Following the plot summary, fiction book reports typically offer a few paragraphs in which the writer critiques the text.  This means that the writer offers his/her opinions on all aspects of the work, from content to style.  In terms of content, the critique will typically comment on the pacing of the story, the believability of the characters, and the level of interest of the plot.  In terms of style, the critique will comment on the writer's narration techniques, descriptive abilities, and overall writing talent.

A fiction book report will typically conclude with a brief paragraph in which the writer presents his/her summary opinion of the book; in short, this is the place where the writer offers his/her recommendations regarding whether the book is worth reading.

Non-Fiction Book Report

A non-fiction book report is a summary of and commentary on a work of non-fiction.  Any work of literature that's true is non-fiction.  Non-fiction book reports are different from fiction book reports because rather than presenting a plot summary, a non-fiction book report will rather present a description of the book's thesis and thesis defense.  A thesis is a book's primary point or argument.  The thesis defense is the information and examples that are used to persuade the reader of the validity of that thesis.

The introductory paragraph of a non-fiction project should provide the book's complete title, the full name of the book's author, the genre of the book, and the book's primary topic.  The genre is the type of book it is, and is determined by the book's style of writing and topic.  For instance, some non-fiction books are in the autobiography genre.  Other non-fiction books are in the history genre.  Some non-fiction books are self-help books.  Whatever the genre is, it should be clearly identified in the first paragraph.  This paragraph may also briefly describe the writer's overall impression of the book.  This should only be an overall impression, however, because the majority of the writer's critical commentary will come later.

After the introduction, every non-fiction project should present a detailed description of the book's thesis and the way in which that thesis is defended.  For instance, if the book were a history text that focused on how Josephine Bonaparte, Napoleon's wife, contributed to Napoleon's success as a leader, the writer of the story review would need to identify this thesis.  The writer wouldn't simply say that the book was on Josephine Bonaparte, because the focus of the book is on Josephine's contribution to Napoleon's success.  The project should then focus on how the author of the book develops this idea.  This is the thesis defense—the way in which the author attempts to prove the thesis.  This section will be the longest in all non-fiction book reports because in order to give a comprehensive idea of the thesis defense, the writer will likely need to discuss most of the book's main chapters and how they develop the thesis.  This will usually require the writer to present a summary of each chapter or main section so they can contextualize the thesis argument.

Non-fiction book reports close by presenting the writer's opinions on the book.  This should include the writer's assessment of the content, quality of research, quality of argument, and presentation.  All of these points should be discussed before the writer concludes the report by presenting his/her recommendations on whether others should read the book.

Fiction vs.  Non-Fiction Book Report Structure

Academic book report writing follows a fairly standard format whether that book report is for an English class or Economics course.  A book report isn't merely a summary of a book, but an analysis of the book's many components.  Therefore, successful book report writing will include two essential elements: (1) a brief summary of the book's plot (if it's fiction or an autobiography) or thesis (if it's non-fiction, other than an autobiography) and (2) critical commentary on the book's clarity and effectiveness.

When completing book reports, avoid dedicating too much time or space to the summary, as the main point of the project is the author's ideas and comments on the book.  The summary element of a novel critique should be no more than 1/3 the total length.  This summary should highlight the main points or actions presented in the book in order to provide the reader with an understanding of what the book is about.  It is customary when writing book reports about works of fiction to avoid giving away the ending so as not to spoil the action for another reader.  However, it should still strive to inform the reader of the plot without revealing the entire story.  For instance, if one were completing a summary of the story of Cinderella for a novel critique, it might be as follows:

After her father's death, the formerly well-to-do Cinderella is forced into a life of servitude by her stepmother and stepsisters.  Though she must labor unrelentingly and forego her former life of luxury, she resists bitterness and maintains a positive and hopeful spirit.  This attitude is rewarded when a fairy comes to Cinderella to grant her an opportunity to turn her rags to riches for one night in order to attend the kingdom-wide ball.  At the ball, the beautiful Cinderella meets the Prince, and they fall in love.  However, their bliss is cut short because Cinderella must rush away before the fairy's spell expires at midnight.  She exits the palace, leaving behind only her lovely glass slipper, having never told the Prince her name.  The bereft Prince embarks on a tour of the kingdom testing the slipper on the feet of all the eligible women to find his beloved.  The remainder of the story is devoted to his quest.Quotation Mark

Notice that in the summary above, the entire Cinderella story is encapsulated without giving away the end of the story.  Of course, all of us can anticipate the happy reunion of Cinderella and the Prince, but most books' endings will not be so apparent, and will therefore allow the writer to hold the secrets of the story while still informing his/her reader about the story's main points.  Notice also that the summary merely outlines the story without commenting on it.  The commenting aspect of book report writing comes in part two.

After the summary has been objectively reported, the writer of the document should present his/her ideas of the book.  This will likely include both positive and negative aspects, as it's rare that a reader will be 100% satisfied with every part of a book.  This section should identify the main themes of the book (if it's fiction) or the main arguments used to defend the thesis (if it's nonfiction).  It should then comment on how effectively these themes or arguments are developed, using evidence from the text.  This section should also comment on the book's presentation—it's grammar, spelling, formatting, etc.—and the author's style—her way of writing and using language.  When completing book reports, remember that the commentary section is more important than the summary.  The commentary should be roughly 2/3 of the report and should thoroughly address the critical components discussed above.

Fictional Mystery Book Reports

Many students, especially high school students, are required to write book reports about a book that they have read for a class.  The purpose of these assignments is to prove to a teacher that the student read the book, while also giving the student a forum to practice his/her writing skills and a method to summarize large amounts of information.

Students often enjoy reading fictional mystery books for their classes.  A fictional mystery project should follow the same format as any other type of story review.  However, fictional mystery book reports will have to add a new element: analysis of the effectiveness of the mystery.  Some students will find that even though a book is in the "mystery" category, the mystery wasn't very difficult to solve.  Other students will find that the techniques that an author uses to uphold a mystery throughout the book were extremely effective.  Therefore, in the fictional mystery book report, students need to provide an analysis of the way that the author presented and maintained the mysterious elements of the book.

In order to create an effective project, students need to begin by actually reading the book.  Many students think that they can take a shortcut by watching a movie version of the book or reading book summaries.  However, many teachers are aware of these techniques and will look for discrepancies in the student's story review.  After all, many films are adaptations of a book and don't follow the story directly.

After a student has read the book, he/she should begin the assignment with a rough draft.  The rough draft of the fictional mystery book report will be modified many times before the student turns the novel critique in for a grade.

The sections of a novel critique should include: a summary of the book, an overview of characters, themes, and ideas, and a brief conclusion about what the student thought of the book.  A fictional mystery project should also include the student's reaction to the mystery.  For example, the student should state whether or not he/she solved the mystery before the end of the book.  The student can also share information about how the author used foils to confuse or mislead the reader.

When learners write fictional mystery book reports, they need to be critical of the writing style and techniques an author has used.  For this reason, such projects often require more analysis and critical thinking than other types of book reports.  In other types of projects, students simply summarize a book and state why they liked it or didn't like it.  When a student reads a fictional mystery book, he/she needs to constantly be critical of methods the author uses to mislead the reader into thinking something else.  These methods should be described in the mystery story review.

Student Book Reports: Fiction or Non-Fiction?

A student book report is a student-composed summary and assessment of a single text.  Student book reports can be assigned at all stages of education, from elementary school through college.  Of course, the expectations for the document will vary depending on the academic level at which the report is being composed.  Most students become familiar with book reports in high school, and are surprised when their college book reports don't receive the same grades as their high school reports.  This is because college book reports are intended to be more focused on analysis than summary, and must demonstrate a much more complex level of thought.

Every student book report consists of three primary sections: an introduction, a summary, and an analysis.  In the introduction, it should identify the title of the book, the name of the author, the topic of the book, and the book's genre.  The genre of a book is the particular type of book it is.  Some books are history books.  Other books are self-help books, memoirs, poetry volumes, etc.

Following the introduction, a student project should present a summary of the book.  This will differ depending on whether the book is a fiction or non-fiction book.  The summary of a fiction book should be a plot summary, meaning a description of the action of the book and the way that action is presented.  A summary of a non-fiction book, however, is idea-centered rather than action-centered.  This means that the summary should identify the book's thesis, or main point, and then discuss how that thesis is developed, defended, and explored.

After the summary, student book reports should present detailed analysis sections.  In a college-level book report, this should be the longest and most developed component.  In the analysis, the writer should discuss how well the book accomplished its aims within its genre.  For instance, a report on a fiction book should discuss how well the author developed the plot, the characters, and the themes of the book.  It should also examine elements of the book's style to assess how the writer writes and how well.  The analysis of a non-fiction book should assess the quality of the author's thesis and its defense.  This should be done through a discussion of the type of evidence used, the type of research used, and the quality of inferences and conclusions drawn by the writer.  A non-fiction project should also assess the writer's style by discussing the clarity and quality of the work.

Student book reports should typically close with the writer's determination of whether or not the book can be recommended and, if so, to whom.

Types of School Book Reports: Fiction vs.  Non-Fiction

A school book report is a relatively short composition that presents a summary and analysis of a single book.  School book reports are common assignments in primary and secondary education, and are also occasionally required in college courses, as well.  A school book report is different from a book review.  Book reviews are more focused on analysis than book reports, and book reviews almost never feature the use of the first-person voice ("I" and "me").  In most school book reports, it's appropriate for the student to write in first-person.

There are two primary types of school book reports: fiction book reports and non-fiction story critiques.  A fiction book report discusses a fictional text such as a novel or a collection of short stories.  A non-fiction book report will discuss a text that reports on actual events, such as a historical text, a memoir, or a how-to book.  Fiction and non-fiction book reports should be approached differently.

A school book report on a fictional text will have an introduction that identifies the book's author and title and provides a general idea of the style and topic of the book.  Next, the novel review will present a summary, which—for a fictional book—should discuss the major characters of the book and the primary conflict between those characters, but shouldn't reveal the ending of the book.  The summary should provide a good idea of the relationships between the characters, a detailed explanation of the time and place in which the book is set, and an overview of the major action of the book.  After the summary, the document should close with the writer's opinions on what audiences in particular may enjoy the book, the most positive and most negative aspects of the book, and whether or not he/she would recommend the book to others.

A school book report on a non-fiction text will also have an introduction, a summary, and an analysis section.  The introduction will indicate the title, author, and genre of the book.  The summary will discuss the major points of the text and how they're explained or defended.  This will require the writer to identify the theme(s) or thesis of the text and then examine the ways in which the theme(s) or thesis is explored.  After the summary, the novel review will present a detailed analysis section in which the writer assesses the quality of the book, its ideas, and its exploration of its theme or thesis.  This should be a text-focused analysis, meaning that the writer should do this by providing detailed examples and quotations from the text.  The project should end with the writer's recommendations on whether or not others should read the book.

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