How to Write a Book Review (2022)

This article “Writing the Academic Book Review”was originally written by Belcher to aid participants in a workshop sponsored by the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center in February 2003and to encourage book review submissions toAztlán: A Journal of Chicano Studies. Book reviews in the field of Chicano studies can be sent to the journal; for information, see thenew submissions page. The article was updated in 2015.Cite as Belcher, Wendy Laura. 2003. “Writing the Academic Book Review.” Los Angeles, CA: UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center. Last Modified 2015. Retrieved from https://www.wendybelcher.com/writing-advice/how-to-write-book-review/ on [month year]. See also the best-selling book of advice on writing, now in its second edition: Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing Success.

Why Write a Book Review?

Writing book reviews is not only the easiest and quickest route to publication, it is a good way to improve your writing skills, develop your analytical skills, learn how the journal publishing process works, and get to know editors. Since some libraries can’t buy books unless they have been reviewed and many individuals won’t buy books unless they have read a review, reviewing books can definitely advance your field. Indeed, scholars in smaller fields sometimes get together and assign books for review so that every book published in their field is reviewed somewhere. Just remember that book reviews do not “count” as much on a curriculum vitae as an academic essay. If you are doing more than two book reviews a year, you may be spending too much time on book reviews and not enough on your other writing.

Choosing a Book

Think about what kind of book would be most useful to you in writing your dissertation, finalizing a paper for publication, or passing your exams. Since book reviews do take time, like any writing, it is best to chose a book that will work for you twice, as a publication and as research. Alternatively, some recommend that graduate students focus on reviewing textbooks or anthologies, since such reviews take less background knowledge and editors can find it difficult to find people willing to do such reviews. Although the traditional book review is of one book, editors will often welcome book reviews that address two or more related books–called a review essay.

Choose a book that (1) is in your field, (2) is on a topic for which you have sound background knowledge, (3) has been published in the past two or three years, and (4) has been published by a reputable publisher (i.e., any press affiliated with a universityor large commercial presses).

Books on hot topics are often of special interest to editors. It can also be rewarding to pick an obscure but useful book in order to bring attention to it. To avoid complications, it is best not to review books written by your advisor, spouse, or ex!

To identify a suitable book in your field:

  • Look up the call number of the favorite book in your field and go to the stacks of your university library. Do a shelf search around the call number to see if anything similar or related has been published in the past couple of years.
  • Go to any book database—your university library on-line, Worldcat, Amazon.com, the Library of Congress—and search using two or three keywords related to your field (e.g., Chicano fiction, Chicana politics, Latino demographics, Latina high school education) to find books in your area.
  • Read magazines that review books before publication—such as Choice, Library Journal, or Kirkus Reviews—to get a sense for interesting books that will be coming out. You can get copies of books for review before they are published. Editors especially like reviews of just published books.
  • Read those academic journals that list books recently received for review or recently published in their area.
  • Ask faculty members in your department for recommendations.

Once you have identified several books, locate copies and skim them. Pick the book that seems the strongest. Do not pick a book that has major problems or with which you disagree violently. As a graduate student, you do not have the protection of tenure and may one day be evaluated by the person whose book you put to the ax. If you really feel strongly that you must write a negative review of a certain book, go ahead and write the review. Academia is, after all, quite oedipal and young scholars do sometimes make their reputations by deflating those who came before them. Just realize that going on record in such a public way may have consequences.

(Video) How to Write the Perfect Book Review

Choosing a Journal

Identify several leading journals in your field that publish book reviews. One way to do this is to search an on-line article database or something like Book Review Digest, if your library has access. Using several key words from your field, limit your search to book reviews and note the journals where the results were published.

Before starting to write your review, contact the book review editor of one of the journals. This is important standard practice; in particular because most journals do not accept unsolicited reviews. You do not want to write an entire review of a book and send it to a journal, only to be told that they don’t accept unsolicited reviews or thata review of that very book is to appear in the next issue.

So, send a short e-mail to book review editors at prospective journals(most journals have websites with such information) identifying the book you would like to review and your qualifications for reviewing it. This e-mail need not be longer than two sentences: “I am writing to find out if you would welcome a review from me of [Book Title], edited by [editor] and published in 2012 by [pubisher]. I am currently writing my dissertation at Stanford on the history of the field of [name of a field related to book].”

Another reason why you want to contact the book review editor is that they often can get you the book for free. Publishers frequently send books for review straight to journals or, if the book editor directly contacts them, straight to you. Of course, you don’t need to wait for the book to start your review if you have access to a library copy. If you get a free book, make sure to write the review. A book review editor will never send you another book if you don’t deliver on the first.

If the book review editor says yes, they would like a review of the book from you, make sure to ask if the journal has any book review submission guidelines. In particular, you want to make sure you understand how long their book reviews tend to be.

If the book review editor says the book is already under review, move on to your next journal choice or ask the editor if they have any books on the topic that they would like reviewed. You are under no obligation to review a book they suggest, just make sure to get back to them with a decision. It is perfectly acceptable to say “Thanks for the suggestion, I’ve decided to focus on writing my prospectus/dissertation.”

(Video) How to write a book review for kids

Reading the Book

It is best, when writing a book review, to be an active reader of the book. Sit at a desk with pen and paper in hand. As you read, stop frequently to summarize the argument, to note particularly clear statements of the book’s argument or purpose, and to describe your own responses. If you have read in this active way, putting together the book review should be quick and straightforward. Some people prefer to read at the computer, but if you’re a good typist, you often start typing up long quotes from the book instead of analyzing it. Paper and pen provides a little friction to prevent such drifting.

Take particular note of the title (does the book deliver what the title suggests it is going to deliver?), the table of contents (does the book cover all the ground it says it will?), the preface (often the richest source of information about the book), and the index (is it accurate, broad, deep?).

Some questions to keep in mind as you are reading:

  • What is the book’s argument?
  • Does the book do what it says it is going to do?
  • Is the book a contribution to the field or discipline?
  • Does the book relate to a current debate or trend in the field and if so, how?
  • What is the theoretical lineage or school of thought out of which the book rises?
  • Is the book well-written?
  • What are the books terms and are they defined?
  • How accurate is the information (e.g., the footnotes, bibliography, dates)?
  • Are the illustrations helpful? If there are no illustrations, should there have been?
  • Who would benefit from reading this book?
  • How does the book compare to other books in the field?
  • If it is a textbook, what courses can it be used in and how clear is the book’s structure and examples?

It can be worthwhile to do an on-line search to get a sense for the author’s history, other books, university appointments, graduate advisor, and so on. This can provide you with useful context..

Making a Plan

Book reviews are usually 600 to 2,000 words in length. It is best to aim for about 1,000 words, as you can say a fair amount in 1,000 words without getting bogged down. There’s no point in making a book review into a 20-page masterpiece since the time would have been better spent on an academic essay that would count for more on your c.v.

Some say a review should be written in a month: two weeks reading the book, one week planning your review, and one week writing it.

Although many don’t write an outline for an essay, you should really try to outline your book review before you write it. This will keep you on task and stop you from straying into writing an academic essay.

(Video) Book review writing | How to write book review | swami and friends book review

Classic book review structure is as follows:

  • Title including complete bibliographic citation for the work (i.e., title in full, author, place, publisher, date of publication, edition statement, pages, special features [maps, color plates, etc.], price, and ISBN.
  • One paragraph identifying the thesis, and whether the author achieves the stated purpose of the book.
  • One or two paragraphs summarizing the book.
  • One paragraph on the book’s strengths.
  • One paragraph on the book’s weaknesses.
  • One paragraph on your assessment of the book’s strengths and weaknesses.

Writing the Review

Once you’ve read the book, try to spend no more than one or two weeks writing the review. Allowing a great deal of time to fall between reading the book and writing about it is unfair to you and the author. The point of writing something short like a book review is to do it quickly. Sending a publication to a journal is always scary, sitting on the review won’t make it less so.

Avoiding Five Common Pitfalls

  1. Evaluate the text, don’t just summarize it. While a succinct restatement of the text’s points is important, part of writing a book review is making a judgment. Is the book a contribution to the field? Does it add to our knowledge? Should this book be read and by whom? One needn’t be negative to evaluate; for instance, explaining how a text relates to current debates in the field is a form of evaluation.
  2. Do not cover everything in the book. In other words, don’t use the table of contents as a structuring principle for your review. Try to organize your review around the book’s argument or your argument about the book.
  3. Judge the book by its intentions not yours. Don’t criticize the author for failing to write the book you think that he or she should have written. As John Updike puts it, “Do not imagine yourself the caretaker of any tradition, an enforcer of any party standards, a warrior in any ideological battle, a corrections officer of any kind.”
  4. Likewise, don’t spend too much time focusing on gaps. Since a book is only 200 to 500 pages, it cannot possibly address the richness of any topic. For this reason, the most common criticism in any review is that the book doesn’t address some part of the topic. If the book purports to be about ethnicity and film and yet lacks a chapter on Latinos, by all means, mention it. Just don’t belabor the point. Another tic of reviewers is to focus too much on books the author did not cite. If you are using their bibliography just to display your own knowledge it will be obvious to the reader. Keep such criticisms brief.
  5. Don’t use too many quotes from the book. It is best to paraphrase or use short telling quotes within sentences.

Other

For further advice about writing for publication, see Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing Success by Wendy Laura Belcher (University of Chicago Press, 2019).

Writing the Academic Book Review

I no longer teach this course , but you might want to think about teaching it, so I provide the information here.

This workshop aids students in actually writing and publishing a book review for a peer-reviewed journal. At the first session, students receive instruction on why graduate students should (or should not) write book reviews, how to choose a book for review, how to chose a journal for submission, how to read a book for review, how to plan and structure a book review, and five common pitfalls of reviewing. Students also form small groups to discuss the book each plans to review.At the second meeting, students bring a draft of their book review for exchange and feedback. At the third meeting, students arrive with a final version of their essay to submit to an editor for publication.

This workshop is sometimes offered by a particular journal with the editors serving on a panel the first night to provide students with specific advice for submitting reviews to their journal. I did such a workshop for Aztlán: A Journal of Chicano Studies, with the editors Chon A. Noriega and Alicia Gaspar de Alba.

Syllabus

Session 1, Week 1

  • Introduction to book reviewing
  • Selecting an appropriate book to review
  • Five essential elements of any book review
  • Typical errors graduate student reviewers make

Session 2, Week 10

  • Assignment: First draft due
  • Discussion of the writing process and challenges
  • Exchanging and critiquing first drafts
  • Some instructions on revising

Session 3, Week 16

  • Assignment: Final draft due
  • Discussion of the writing process and challenges
  • Working with editors and the publication process
  • Refreshments
(Video) How to Write a Book Review

FAQs

What are the 4 stages in writing a book review? ›

The four stages of writing a book review are: introducing the book, outlining its contents, highlighting parts of the book by selecting particular chapters or themes, and giving a detailed evaluation.

What makes a good book review? ›

A good review is about the book, not the author.

Focus on the writing, on the treatment of the topic, on the characters, on the storyline, on the research, on the facts, and so on. Don't make judgment calls about the author's faith, intelligence, relationships, parenting skills, parentage, or whatever.

What are the three main parts of a book review? ›

A book review comprises three critical parts: the summary and background, details about the author, and critical analysis. The layout of most book reviews is as follows: bibliographical information, introduction, thesis, supportive context, summary, critical analysis, and conclusion.

How do you start a book review essay? ›

Open with a general description of the topic and/or problem addressed by the work in question. Think, if possible, of a hook to draw your readers in. Summary of argument. Your review should, as concisely as possible, summarize the book's argument.

What is first step of book review? ›

An early paragraph saying what the book is about, and putting it in context. Information about the intended audience. A critique of the argument/content of the book. Remarks on the strengths and limitations of the book.

What is the first step in writing a book review? ›

The three main steps of writing a book review are simple: Provide a summary: What is story about? Who are the main characters and what is the main conflict? Present your evaluation: What did you think of the book?

What should you avoid when writing a review? ›

Knowing the following mistakes to avoid will make it easier for you to create an amazing movie review.
  • Giving out spoilers. ...
  • Retelling the movie. ...
  • Overused sentences. ...
  • Being too general. ...
  • Continuously comparing the movie to the book. ...
  • Not doing enough research. ...
  • Writing about irrelevant details. ...
  • Poorly written reviews.
7 Aug 2019

What does a book review contain? ›

A book review is a descriptive and critical/evaluative account of a book. It provides a summary of the content, assesses the value of the book, and recommends it (or not) to other potential readers. A book report is an objective summary of the main ideas and arguments that the book's author has presented.

Is a book review written in first person? ›

What is a Literature Review? Here are seven simple rules that cover the most common literature review mistakes, in no particular order. Refer to these rules before submitting any written work: Do not write in the first person (no I or we).

How long should a book review be? ›

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.

What is a book review format? ›

Classic book review structure is as follows:

One or two paragraphs summarizing the book. One paragraph on the book's strengths. One paragraph on the book's weaknesses. One paragraph on your assessment of the book's strengths and weaknesses.

How do you end a book review? ›

How to Finish a Review
  1. Evaluation. Not, actually, as important as you might think; it's going to be hard to get to your conclusion without having made it pretty clear what you think of the book. ...
  2. Summation. ...
  3. Culmination (narrative) ...
  4. Culmination (thematic) ...
  5. Culmination (yours) ...
  6. Slingshot. ...
  7. Speculation. ...
  8. Reframing.
18 Sept 2010

Which book review is best? ›

1. Goodreads. Goodreads is arguably the leading online community for book lovers. If you want some inspiration for which novel or biography to read next, this is the book review site to visit.

How do you write a book example? ›

How to Write a Book
  1. Establish a consistent writing space. If you're going to write a great book, you're going to need a great space to write. ...
  2. Hone in on your book idea. ...
  3. Outline your story. ...
  4. Do your research. ...
  5. Start writing and stick to a routine. ...
  6. Finish your first draft. ...
  7. Revise and edit. ...
  8. Write your second draft.
2 Mar 2022

What are the types of book review? ›

We will be covering four of the most common: endorsements, trade, reader, and editorial reviews. It is important to note that any one of these reviews can help your book become a success but using a combination of all four will give you the best chances.

How do you write a summary of a book? ›

4 Tips for Writing a Good Summary
  1. Find the main idea. A useful summary distills the source material down to its most important point to inform the reader. ...
  2. Keep it brief. A summary is not a rewrite—it's a short summation of the original piece. ...
  3. Write without judgment. ...
  4. Make sure it flows.
7 Jun 2021

How do you write a book review without reading the book? ›

4 Ways to Write a Book Report Without Reading the Book
  1. Use a summary website. There are dozens of websites and resources that offer complete summaries and critiques on major texts. ...
  2. Stay general, then use a few specific details. ...
  3. Use a writing service. ...
  4. Skim and question.

What are five of the 10 common mistakes to avoid in writing? ›

Use these handy tips to improve your writing so your work will be clearer, accurate, and more professional.
  • 1 Overuse of adverbs. ...
  • 2 Too many prepositional phrases. ...
  • 3 Ambiguous (“Squinting”) modifiers. ...
  • 4 Misuse of lie/lay. ...
  • 5 Ambiguous pronoun references. ...
  • 6 Comma splices. ...
  • 7 Run-on sentences. ...
  • 8 Wordiness (inflated sentences)
28 Nov 2019

Do book reviewers read the whole book? ›

A good reviewer will read the whole book before forming an opinion, but the pressure of time might mean that the reviewer does not finish a book that s/he doesn't like.

What are the common mistakes in literature review? ›

There are several mistakes that may happen while writing an effective literature review includes no proper lines like dispute statement, absences of appropriate research, indicating the sources incorrectly, the poor formation of paper, plagiarism checking.

What are the unique features of book review? ›

While book reviews vary in tone, subject, and style, they share some common features. These include: A review gives the reader a concise summary of the content. This includes a description of the research topic and scope of analysis as well as an overview of the book's overall perspective, argument, and purpose.

Does a book review need references? ›

If you have used a book review in your work, you will need to cite and reference it correctly.

How many pages should a book review be? ›

Standard length is 4-5 typed pages (approximately 1000-1250 words). You should use standard 12 point font and standard margins (1 inch on each side and one inch top and bottom of the page).

Can you use the word I in a book report? ›

In academic or college writing, most formal essays and research reports use third person pronouns and do not use “I” or “you.” An essay is the writer's analysis about a topic.

Why is it important to write a book review? ›

They Are An Indispensable Resource For The Reader

Not only do reviews give you the lowdown of the story, genre and tone of the book, you also get a valuable impression of its quality.

What are the two approaches in book review? ›

There are two approaches to book reviewing: Descriptive reviews give the essential information about a book. This is done with description and exposition, by stating the perceived aims and purposes of the author, and by quoting striking passages from the text.

What is your best basis in creating titles for a book review? ›

A book review title should be based on your total impression of a book.

What are the stages of writing a book? ›

How to Write a Book
  • Establish a consistent writing space.
  • Hone in on your book idea.
  • Outline your story.
  • Do your research.
  • Start writing and stick to a routine.
  • Finish your first draft.
  • Revise and edit.
  • Write your second draft.
2 Mar 2022

What are the four parts of a book? ›

What are the parts of a book? TEMPLATE. Design and content make up the entirety of the book, including the title, introduction, body, conclusion, and back cover.

What is a book review format? ›

Classic book review structure is as follows:

One or two paragraphs summarizing the book. One paragraph on the book's strengths. One paragraph on the book's weaknesses. One paragraph on your assessment of the book's strengths and weaknesses.

What are 5 key features of summary writing? ›

There are five key steps that can help you to write a summary:
  • Read the text.
  • Break it down into sections.
  • Identify the key points in each section.
  • Write the summary.
  • Check the summary against the article.
23 Nov 2020

Which step usually comes first in writing? ›

INTRODUCTION: Prewriting is the first step of the writing process.

What are the writing skills? ›

There are several types of skills that combine to make someone a strong writer, including:
  • Research. Before you write a single word, you need to do your research about the topic you're writing on. ...
  • Planning and/or Outlining. ...
  • Grammar and Clarity. ...
  • Revising and Editing. ...
  • Communication Skills.
9 Apr 2021

How can I start writing? ›

8 Great Ways to Start the Writing Process
  1. Start in the Middle. If you don't know where to start, don't bother deciding right now. ...
  2. Start Small and Build Up. ...
  3. Incentivize the Reader. ...
  4. Commit to a Title Up Front. ...
  5. Create a Synopsis. ...
  6. Allow Yourself to Write Badly. ...
  7. Make Up the Story as You Go. ...
  8. Do the Opposite.

How do you start writing a book for beginners? ›

How to start writing a novel
  1. Set aside proper, regular time to write. ...
  2. Don't expect your words to come out perfectly straight away. ...
  3. Loosen up your writing and relax. ...
  4. Explore your ideas. ...
  5. Ask yourself 'what if' questions. ...
  6. Get to know your characters. ...
  7. Alternate between plotting and writing. ...
  8. Work out your structure.
16 Jan 2020

What is the very first page of a book called? ›

Front matter (or preliminaries; shortened to "prelims") comprises the first section of a book, and is usually the smallest section in terms of the number of pages.

What are the focus in reviewing a book? ›

First, a review gives the reader a concise summary of the content. This includes a relevant description of the topic as well as its overall perspective, argument, or purpose. Second, and more importantly, a review offers a critical assessment of the content.

What's the beginning of a book called? ›

A preface, prologue, and foreword are all a part of a book's front matter, the introductory pages of a book before the main text—often numbered with Roman numerals—that include the title page and table of contents.

What are the unique features of a book review? ›

Main characteristics of the book review can be divided into several aspects, such as the representation of the plot of the written work and its details, attraction of the people's attention, and choice to help them to make their own decision.

Is a book review written in first person? ›

What is a Literature Review? Here are seven simple rules that cover the most common literature review mistakes, in no particular order. Refer to these rules before submitting any written work: Do not write in the first person (no I or we).

How do you end a book review? ›

How to Finish a Review
  1. Evaluation. Not, actually, as important as you might think; it's going to be hard to get to your conclusion without having made it pretty clear what you think of the book. ...
  2. Summation. ...
  3. Culmination (narrative) ...
  4. Culmination (thematic) ...
  5. Culmination (yours) ...
  6. Slingshot. ...
  7. Speculation. ...
  8. Reframing.
18 Sept 2010

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