Book reviews, when well-written, offer a critical perspective applicable to the assigned text. These reviews will make an argument either for, or against, the topic at hand. They will provide readers with reasons to agree with, or dispute, the author’s position. Most importantly though, a book review is not simply a summary, but a commentary on the text itself. Therefore, we are offering you this piece as a means in which to learn how to write a good book review.
Where to Begin?
Book review writing may not come easily for you. Chances are, you are wondering where to begin. Do not allow the initial steps of the assignment to overwhelm you. In fact, the introductory paragraph of your review can be accomplished in a relatively simple fashion. All you need to do is start off by telling the readers what the book is about. This should not take more than a few sentences to accomplish. Do not give too much away though. You want the readers to wonder where the story line is going.
Transition from that brief description to what you liked and disliked about the book. This is the section of your review in which you can open up and offer your personal commentary and opinions. If you struggle with how to put those opinions in the proper format, it might help to answer these questions:
- Which characters did you like best and least? Why?
- What kind of emotional responses did the book elicit in you? Laughter? Tears?
- Was this a page turner? Why?
- What made the characters believable? And if they weren’t, why?
- Was there anything that frustrated you about the storyline? What was it?
- Did you enjoy the topic or was it one that did not grab your attention?
- What are your thoughts on the ending?
While your readers will certainly find great value in your personal opinions on the book, its theme, and characters, your professor might want a more serious evaluation. This is where the argument side of your review comes into play. You will need to carefully delineate your stance and be sure that the argument you present is readily understood by the readers.
Next, organize your paragraphs to be sure each one takes on a different aspect of the argument. In order to maintain clarity and proper flow, you might want to consider creating an outline. This will help you place your argument points in the correct order. This way you can differentiate your elements of critique.
One thing to note here, is that your arguments do not have to take on a chronological flow. You can organize your paragraphs based on themes, book elements, or even methods. If necessary, you can compare your book’s text and topic to other books that follow similar ideals. Just don’t let the other books take center stage in your paper.
A big thing to pay attention to here is that you do not employ the use of too many quotations. Trust your own ability to rewrite the author’s words and points. But, when you feel the need to quote something, be sure to cite it correctly. You do not want to be accused of plagiarism.
Wrapping it All Up
In this part of your review you will be wrapping it all up. You will reveal your final position on the book. There will be no place to introduce new evidence here. You should have presented all the supporting arguments in the previous segments and paragraphs. Therefore, the conclusion will simply consist of a blatant statement about your final judgment for or against the book or its position.
You will need to ensure that the conclusion provides a well-defined balance between the book’s strengths and weaknesses. Nothing is either all good or all bad. If you take only one view of the book, your professor will see you as a biased commentator and not someone who thoroughly and objectively reviewed the text. That’s a view you do not want the professor to have.
Review Before Submitting
Unfortunately, this is the section of the book review process that people have a tendency to take less seriously. They negate the import of editing and revising. Even professional writers have to go back and reread the pieces they compose prior to submitting them to their publishers.
In truth, reviewing your own writing will be far more beneficial to you than just handing in your first draft. Take the time to read the piece out loud. This will help you ascertain any grammatical and typographical errors that may have occurred in the writing process.
Additionally, if you have the ability, it is highly advisable to read the piece to someone else. This will enable you to ensure that the piece flows in an understandable way. And, it will help you address any potential questions the readers might have.
Once you have determined the problem areas, it is in your best interest to return to the piece and revise. And, at this time there are a few things you should take a look at as one final review of your paper. Ask yourself the following questions before the paper leaves your hands:
- Did I criticize this book?
- Does my review reflect the book I read, or the one I hoped it would be?
- Does my tone come across the way I mean it, or should my verbiage be more precise?
- Have I challenged the underlying assumptions and backed my challenges with properly cited sources?
- Is by argument balanced? And, will it be valuable to potential readers?
- Did I treat the author fairly and avoid harsh judgments?
If the answers to these questions come across in a manner that places you at ease, it is probably time to turn the paper in. But, for good measure, you should read it one more time. That is how you guarantee that you have written a good original book review.
*This is a guest post. The opinions expressed are that of the author’s and do no necessarily reflect my own.