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Book Reviews

This packet details the steps necessary to produce a book review that may be required for work in various disciplines, including psychology and education. This packet is not intended to replace instructor guidelines and should not be used in that manner. The packet’s intended use is as a supplement to classroom instruction on assembling a book review. Therefore, it contains only general information that must be tailored to fit specific guidelines as required by your discipline and by your instructor. Note, these examples use APA documentation style; your instructor might require a different style.

This packet is subdivided into five sections:


I. General Information

Definition: Book reviews clearly discuss a reader’s opinion, or evaluation, of how successful a particular work is at what it is attempting to do. They are typically brief, between 600 and 1000 words, and provide a concise summary (Cuba 2002). However, a strong book review does more than strictly summarize a work – it points out the good and bad qualities of a work and justifies why these qualities should be considered good or bad. Most often, the audience and the book review author’s background dictate what kind of information will be included in a book review.

Purpose: A typical book review has two duties

  • Describing to readers what the work is about. This is the part where you will summarize briefly.
  • Evaluating the work to determine its worth. This is the part where you will analyze the author’s argument critically.

The goal of a book review is to place the work being reviewed within an established body of literature in a particular field and to help the reader to determine whether the book has true value in that field. A strong book review balances description and evaluation. To the reader of the book review, excessive description and absence of evaluation indicate that the book review author may not really understand the work being reviewed.

REVIEW

What are some of the duties of a book review?

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II. Process

  1. Determine if you clearly understand the work. If not, reread it until you do.
  2. Take notes when necessary. You can refer to them when writing your review.
  3. Evaluate after reading the work: How successful is the work in maintaining its thesis statement? How strong is the evidence used in supporting this thesis? Does the author use a logical approach to justify his/her argument? Is the author’s attitude objective or biased?
  4. Use the questions in step 3 and your instructor’s guidelines to help you develop criteria for evaluating the book.
  5. List the criteria that you will use to evaluate the book. The following examples were adapted from Indiana University Bloomington Writing Tutorial Services’ Web site (1996).

    If an author is arguing for a solution to a specific problem, then the review might be based on the following criteria:

    • Did the author clearly define the problem?
    • Did the author identify the causes of the problem?
    • Did the author approach the problem logically?
    • Did the author provide adequate background information?
    • Did the author offer specific and logical solutions to the problem?

    If an author is arguing in support of his/her personal theory on a specific topic, then the review might be based on the following criteria:

    • Did the author clearly define the theory his/her book is backing up?
    • Did the author use a sufficient amount of evidence to support the theory?
    • Did the evidence the author used seem valid and logical?
    • Does the author have enough background experience to write about the topic?
    • Does the book make a significant contribution to the field?
  6. Summarize the main points the book makes. How successful is the author at making these points?
  7. Write down your opinion of the book. What information led you to form this opinion?
  8. Review the main points you summarized in Step 6. Analyze each of these points based on the criteria you listed in Step 5.
  9. Write a conclusion that reemphasizes your evaluation of the work. Mention the criteria that were used to arrive at this conclusion.
  10. Write the final draft of the book review.
  11. Use the checklist provided to make sure that all main parts of the review are addressed.
  12. Check over the final draft for grammar and punctuation errors.

REVIEW

  1. What do you consider to be the most crucial step(s) in the process of your book review? Why? Justify your response(s).
  2. How do you plan to address them in your review?

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III. Format

Organize your book review according to your thesis statement rather than the actual chronological order of the work being reviewed. This method will lead to a stronger paper that directly supports your thesis statement. A book review should contain an introductory paragraph; a body section consisting of several paragraphs which summarize, give background information on and conduct an internal analysis of the work; and a concluding section consisting of one or two paragraphs.

I. Introduction gives complete bibliographical information on the book, presents the thesis of the book and also states your own thesis (your opinion or evaluation of the book).

a. Bibliographical information is organized according to your instructor’s guidelines. Usually you will include the bibliographical information either within the text of your paper or in a separate listing. See examples below. Note that both examples are written in APA style.

Example: Within Text
Philip C. Kolin’s Successful Writing at Work states that good communication skills are an essential part of any career today (Massachusetts: D.C. Health and Co., 1994).

Example: Separate Listing
Kolin, P.C. (1994). Successful Writing at Work. Massachusetts: D.C. Health and Co.

In this book, Kolin emphasizes that good communication skills are an essential part of any career today. . . . . . and the paragraph continues.

b. The paper’s thesis is also presented in the introductory paragraph and must contain the following:
  • The thesis of the book itself
  • Your thesis, which is your opinion/evaluation of the author’s success in achieving and supporting his/her thesis.
Example: Theses Functioning Together
Philip C. Kolin’s Successful Writing at Work states that good communication skills are an essential part of any career today (Massachusetts: D.C. Health and Co., 1994). Kolin uses this statement to introduce his goal of providing a practical introductory guide to students in business writing courses (the book’s thesis); the goal itself is effectively met through the book’s logical organization and clear explanations (your paper’s thesis).
c. The book’s intended audience may be briefly mentioned in the introduction.

Test your understanding of this section with Exercise 1.

II. Body Paragraphs are subdivided into 2 to 4 sections that comprise the bulk of the paper. The first section is a summary section that gives a concise overview of the work. The second section is a background section. This section gives information relating the book to other works in its field and names the criteria which the evaluation will be based on. The third section is the internal analysis section where the good and bad points of the work will be evaluated. The aesthetic analysis section is usually optional and includes comments on any graphics or charts that a work may exhibit. It traditionally follows the internal analysis section.

a. Summary gives an overview of the book’s main points and relates it to other books in the field. This section serves as a brief outline of the book and identifies the issues that are going to be discussed in the book review. Only the book’s main points should be discussed. The reviewer may use paraphrased information and occasional quotes to help summarize the work.

b. Background Information helps place the book in the proper perspective by explaining how the book relates to other works in the same field. This section also explains the criteria for reviewing the book and may review the author’s credentials and methodology. Check the preface, foreword or introduction to obtain this information.

c. Internal Analysis presents the information that will compose the longest section of the review. The criteria against which the work is being evaluated are stated and their importance should be justified. This is the section that will evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the book. In fact, this section is often separated into two subsections: strengths (if any) and weaknesses (if any). Arguments are supported with evidence from the work, including paraphrased and summarized statements with proper citation information.

d. Aesthetic Analysis comments on the style of the book, mentioning any maps, illustrations, pictures or charts. In this section, you will describe how graphics work with the text to enhance or distract from the overall experience of reading it.

III. Conclusion is usually only one or two paragraphs in length and restates the main points of the book review, establishes the book’s value to its audience and makes recommendations to the reader.

a. Restate main points of the work along with its basic strengths and weaknesses that were previously emphasized in the review.

b. Estimate overall value of the book. When doing this, keep this question in mind: Does the book succeed in meeting its original thesis?

c. Recommendations concerning the book’s value are made to the reader. Ask yourself if the work makes a significant contribution to the field and then considerately state your opinion.

Test your understanding of this section with Exercise 2.

REVIEW

How are you going to organize the strengths and weaknesses of the work in the body section of your paper?

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IV. Checklist

  • Recognize my audience prior to writing the review
  • Write for the previously-determined audience
  • State my evaluation of the work clearly
  • Do more than simply restate the main points of the book
  • Provide a brief summary of the work
  • Point out both the good and bad qualities of the work
  • Place the work within an established literature
  • Set my views off from those of the book’s author
  • Organize the review around the thesis and sub-thesis of the work
  • Support my arguments with evidence from the text
  • Use direct quotations only when absolutely necessary
  • Maintain a respectful tone, even when criticizing the work
  • Avoid overuse of statements that contain “I”

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V. Resources

Cuba, L. (2002). A short guide to writing about social science. New York: Longman.

Indiana University Bloomington Writing Tutorial Services. (1996). Writing book reviews. Retrieved May 30, 2002 from http://www.indiana.edu/~wts/pamphlets/book_reviews.shtml

Kirszner, L.G., & Mandell, S.R. (1987). The writer’s sourcebook: Strategies for reading and writing in the disciplines. New York: CBS College Publishing.

Writing Center at Tidewater Community College. (1998). Book or article review or critique guidelines. Retrieved June 25, 2002 from http://www.tc.cc.va.us/writcent/handouts/writing/bookrev.htm (Material no longer available at this link.)

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