Book Reviews

Book reviews are a likely academic assignment in a variety of subjects. In writing a review, there are some things to keep in mind:

1. Provide all necessary factual information about the subject being reviewed, for example, book title, author, date, publisher, and price. Do this early in your review, in your first paragraph or as an inset before your first paragraph.

2. Provide background information, if you can, about the writer and his or her previously published books.

3. Follow a clear organizational logic (comparison/contrast, general to specific, etc.).

4. Support all assertions and generalizations with illustrative, specific examples from the book being reviewed.

5. Evaluate fairly, keeping your obvious personal biases in the background.

6. Write to the knowledge and ability of your particular audience. Modify your language according to the degree of familiarity your audience has with the subject (reviews imply that you are doing a service for someone).

There are no fixed rules about length or format when writing reviews. However, if you're in doubt, here are some safe guidelines to follow if no others are provided: allocate approximately one-fifth of your review to factual information and background, one-fifth to explaining the book's subject matter, two-fifths to an evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of the book, and one-fifth to a recommendation of the overall worth of the book.

Better than an arbitrary formula would be to look at published book reviews. The best place to find examples of critical reviews of books (and movies, plays, records, and products) would be in popular periodicals such as The New York Times Book Review, The Atlantic, Harper's, Esquire, Rolling Stone, Time, Newsweek, and Consumer Reports. Refer also to the professional journals in your field of study—in my case I'd look at reviews of English books, specifically in College English and Modern Fiction Studies, and more generally in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

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