Guidance on content

Some journals provide more advice. The Journal of the Medical Library Association, for example, provides potential book reviewers with lengthy notes on the aims and scope of the journal, together with a paragraph on what the content of the review might contain:

Reviews should contain a brief overview of the scope and content [of the book being reviewed] so that readers can determine the book's interest to them. Reviewing each chapter of a book is not necessary. For a research or historical work, please comment on its significance in relation to the focus area as well as to the field as a whole. For an applied or descriptive work, be sure to comment on its usefulness. In both cases compare the book with similar publications in its area and indicate its potential audiences, where relevant.

Other journals go further, for example:

The editor encourages reviewers to devote special attention to the political assumptions and discussions in the book under review.

(Law and Politics Book Review)

There are also - sometimes - suggestions about style:

We are seeking reviews that are incisive . . . integrative . . . balanced . . . and provocative.

(PsycCRITIQUES)

It is not required that every review contain at least one negative remark. Selective detail is refreshing. Encyclopaedic detail - as in a chapter by chapter outline - is rarely called for.

(American Journal of Physics)

One or two journals remark on the possibility that a reviewer, having examined a book, may not wish to review it. Such books should be returned for re-assignment. Others comment on ethical matters:

Professional ethics require that you do not review a book when an overriding sense of personal obligation, competition or enmity exists.

(Law and Politics Book Review)

Nature requires its book reviewers to sign certain disclaimers (e.g. that they have not been in dispute with the book's author) before their review can be published.

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