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How To Write A Book Review: An In Depth Guide

A woman reads as she prepares how to write a book review Every student has to know how to write a book review. In order for teachers and professors to be assured that their class actually reads their assigned materials, they ask students to learn how to do a book review.

If you’ve never done one before, you’re in luck! We’ll teach you how to write a book review, give examples, show you the structure, and everything else you need to know. By the end of this blog, you’ll know how to write an excellent book review.

Why Do Students Need To Write A Book Review?

Book reviews and book reports can often be used interchangeably in discussions but there is actually quite the difference between them Reading provides great exercise for the brain and greatly impacts its readers. Even today, the art of reading has evolved and you can gain every bit of knowledge not just from physical books but from ebooks and online sources. Throughout the years, learning through reading has remained unmatched.

Writing book reviews can be very beneficial for students. It allows them to practice critical thinking skills and essentially learn how to make commentary and give constructive criticism. It also serves as a great testament to how much students really understand the books assigned to them as reading materials.

A man reads a book as he drinks coffee

What Is A Book Review?

Writing a book review is no easy task, especially if you’re unprepared. So what exactly is a book review? According to the Writing Center, book reviews aren’t just exclusive to critiquing books. You could also critically evaluate events, other forms of literature, objects, and even phenomena. When students think of a book review, they can often think it’s a mere summation of the events that transpired in the book, but it’s actually a lot more complex than that. A book review requires its writer to make commentary, critiques, and even recommendations.

Here are some common features and parts of a book review before you begin with how to write a book review.

1. A concise summary of the content

It’s not all that it entails, but yes, you’ve got to make a short summary of the book. There’s no need to dive into details because the summary isn’t the whole point of a book review.

2. Critical assessment of the content

The writer’s critical assessment of the book will highlight the parts that impacted them the most. If you’re writing a book review, you can bring up chapters or even specific lines that you found moving, noteworthy, or even unnecessary.

3. The recommendation

When you make a review of a product, a movie, an article of clothing, or a fashion piece, it means you can either suggest it for others to try out because you personally enjoyed it or not. This is essentially the most important part of the book review…telling others whether you recommend it or not.

Book Review VS. Book Report

If you’ve been searching how to do a book review, you might also stumble on an article about book reports. Book reviews and book reports can often be used interchangeably in discussions but there is actually quite the difference between them. For one, they have different purposes and formats. The purpose of a book review is to allow the reader to critique and evaluate the book. The purpose of a book report on the other hand is to address the plot of a book in more detail.

Book reports are commonly assigned to students in the K-12 range and book reviews are for students above that range because it requires more critical thinking and advanced reading skills on the part of the student. Not only are book reviews written by college students, but it is also written by professional critics. A book review structure is quite different especially at the end when it calls for the writer’s recommendation.

A woman reads a book in a cafe

Book Elements

Before we dive deep into how to write a book review step by step, let’s review the different elements of a book. Understanding these terms and definitions will better help you when you start writing the book review.

1. Characters

Characters in books aren’t exclusively human. They could be mythical creatures, animals, or even personified objects. Non-living things aren’t usually considered characters in a story unless the author gives them complexity or some sort of character development.

Not all characters in a book are created equal. You’ll most likely relate to or root for the protagonist or the main character. The protagonist is usually the lead and the most prominent character in the story. Protagonists oftentimes have to overcome obstacles and struggles in the story that are caused by an antagonist. Antagonists are commonly known as the villains in the story. They provide drama to the storyline and are the antithesis to the main character.

2. Setting

The setting provides time and locational context to the book or story. The setting is where and when the story basically takes place. Examples of a setting could be New York, 1920, or Hogwarts in the beloved Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling. Whether fictional or real, the setting is where our characters reside and when in time their stories begin.

3. Plot

The plot is basically what transpires in the story of your book. When you make a summary in your book review, you’re describing the plot. There are 7 types of plots which are:

a. Tragedy

A tragic plot means an unfavorable or bad ending for the protagonist. It usually makes the readers sympathize with the main character. Aeschylus, a Greek author was named the father of tragedy and was one of the first tragic poets in ancient Greece.

b. Comedy

A comedic plot leads with humor and ends well for the hero or heroine. The goal of this type of plot is to make the audience laugh.

c. Hero’s Journey

The hero’s journey plot follows the protagonist in their journey or adventure into the unknown. His story includes overcoming obstacles, adversity, evil, and prevailing in the end.

d. Rags to Riches

The rags to riches story starts with the protagonist shown in oppressive living conditions. They are less fortunate to start and end up wealthy and successful.

e. Rebirth

If there are happy endings for protagonists, a rebirth plot shows the antagonist’s redemption arc. The story focuses on the villain’s backstory and showing their path to redemption.

f. Overcoming the Monster

Overcoming the monster plot specifically shows the protagonist or underdog defeating the villain of the story. The story starts out by painting the villain as an evil of some sort that is greater than the protagonist but ends in its defeat against the hero.

g. Voyage and Return

A type of story that shows the protagonist’s journey through a different world than theirs. Usually a different dimension, an alternate universe, or just a faraway place from the original setting. It ends with the hero returning to their normal life. A good example of this is Alice In Wonderland.

Freytag’s Pyramid

To understand the plot better, you can refer to Freytag’s pyramid. It was written by 19th-century German playwright Gustav Freytag, and it outlines in detail the structure of a plot. It consists of five main parts:

● Exposition – The exposition starts the story and its focus is to create the setting and background of the story.

● Rising Action – This part of the plot is when conflict starts to happen or when things go sour in the protagonist’s story. The hero either gets hurt, makes a wrong decision, or some mishap occurs that complicates the plot.

● Climax – The climax is the peak of the conflict. Most of the action that goes on in the plot is packed in this segment and the readers usually find out the fate of the hero.

● Falling Action – The falling action part of the plot is where the author ties up any loose ends in the story. It is also the most challenging part to write.

● Resolution – Or the conclusion paints the ending of the characters’ stories in the plot. Resolutions could go good or bad as we’ve discussed the various plots authors follow.

4. Conflict

Conflicts in the book’s story can also be called the opposition and struggle. A good and really captivating story must contain some sort of conflict because without it, the plot is boring and there’s no lesson to be gained after. Without it, the plot ends much quicker too. The conflict usually is between our antagonist and protagonist characters. This part of the book is what really hooks the readers and has them unable to put the book down.

5. Resolution

The resolution part of the book can go one of two ways, good or bad. See, not every story has a happy ending as we’ve learned that there are seven different ways a plot could go. And we never really know what happens until the end. The resolution is the end of the story where we find out what happens to our characters, whether they end up in a different setting, if they won against evil, or whatever the case may be. The resolution happens after the conflict has been resolved.

Student picks their favorite book from their collection

The Two Approaches For Writing A Book Review

According to the USC Libraries Research Guides, there are two ways you can approach how to write a book review for college. You can either do a descriptive review or a critical review.

Descriptive Review

Based on its name, a descriptive approach to doing a book review entails having to present the book’s structure and content in an objective manner. A descriptive book review tells the events of the book and the purpose it serves to its readers. Parts of a descriptive review include who the book’s intended audience is and categorizing the book according to its appropriate reading level.

Critical Review

Critical book reviews also describe the book to a certain extent but it also extensively evaluates it. In a critical book review, the book is evaluated in relation to other books similar in genre and there are elements of comparing and contrasting. A critical review adds the book author’s objective and whether they were successful in doing so. To compare and contrast with other books, a critical review should present evidence that supports the assessment of the book such as quotes or passages from the book itself and other material compared to it.

A student’s writing station

How To Write A Book Review

There’s no specific or rigid book review structure but there are core features that are essential. For starters, you should define the title of the book and the author, summarize the book, enumerate the key points in the plot, say whether you liked the book or not, and see if it’s comparable to other similar texts. The most important part of the book review is your opinion and recommendation.

Here is how to write a review step-by-step process that you can easily follow along.

Step 1: Read the material

You can’t make a thorough review without soaking up all the right information. If you thought there was a way around writing good book reviews without actually reading, you’re highly mistaken. What you can do to begin is skim through parts of the book and try to highlight the most important parts so you can have an initial idea of what the book will be about.

A great way to get started on reading the material is to skim the content first or to practice speed reading. Speed reading is a great way to expedite the process of writing a book review especially if you’re pressed for time.

You could also benefit from learning how to improve your reading skills and apply that for your next writing assignment!

You can also watch a previous episode of The Homework Help Show where you can find Techniques To Increase Speed Reading, Developing Reading, and More!

Step 2: Summarize the content

To start your book review outline, start with summarizing the content. You can do this by taking notes as you read. Note taking comes in the forms of highlighting certain quotes and asking questions. Note taking while you read the book is continued until the end of the book.

The point of a summary is to condense the content so you don’t have to worry about trying to rewrite the whole book or adding every little detail in the summary. A good summary gives the readers of the book review a basic understanding of the book you are critiquing. When writing the summary, keep it brief, make sure it flows well almost following the same structure or sequence of events in the book, and don’t forget to highlight the main ideas.

To learn more, you can benefit from watching a previous Homework Help Show episode on Strategies For Effective Note Taking.

Step 3: Make an evaluation

The evaluation step of the book review is where you note the most impactful parts of the book. You can discuss the central thesis and main argument of the book, as well as explore the author’s purpose for writing it. You can expound further by adding whether you believe the author was successful in conveying their message.

In your evaluation, you can identify the book’s weaknesses and strengths. You can also add your opinion on whether or not the book was well written. In a book review outline, the evaluation mainly contains your perspective as the reader.

There are many questions you can explore when analyzing the book, which are:

● What is the overall message in the book?

● Does the protagonist win in the end??

● How does the main conflict start?

● Is there a message in the book that is comparable to the experiences in society?

● What symbolism did the author use?

● How does the story develop?

A university library

Step 4: Evaluate in relation to similar books

Another way to evaluate the book when learning about how to write a book review is to compare it with similar books. When comparing and contrasting literary works, you can list the similarities in theme, settings, dialogue, and more. You can also list how the book differs from books of the same genre.

Step 5: Suggest or make a recommendation

After reading, summarizing, and making your thorough evaluation of the book itself and comparing it to similar books, you can now make your recommendations.

Assuming that you’ve properly done the first 4 steps, you can now make suggestions. Was there any part of the book that could have been improved? Did the resolution satisfy you as the reader or could there have been a better ending? Maybe the author could have used better language, developed certain characters more, and done things differently. These are all things you can add to your suggestions. After suggestions, you can now make your recommendations to other readers.

The most vital part of a book review and the very reason it is written by professional critics is so other readers in the community can have a better idea of whether the book specified is worth reading. Book reviews value the opinion of critics and their purpose is to help the writer of the book review to strengthen their critical reading skills and help other readers find books they enjoy.

If you want to learn more about how to write a book review, you can read our past blog: Writing A Book Review Essay That Will Make The Grade.

A clean layout of a book and a cappuccino

More Tips To Write A Book Review

1. Read the foreword and preface of a book

The preface is the introductory part of the book, usually found in the first few pages, and tells the reader how the book came to be. The preface is also written by the author of the book and they can also acknowledge all those who helped in the conception of the book. A foreword on the other hand is written by someone other than the author. The foreword also precedes the preface and it tells the readers why they should read the book.

The foreword and preface of a book aren’t always present, sometimes there’s only one or the other. They might not contain much information about the plot and the book but there are details that could be relevant when you’re making an evaluation so make sure you read these parts of the book as well.

2. Examine the front and back matters of the book

The foreword and preface aren’t the only parts of the book’s front. Other important parts of the book that are found at the very beginning are table contents, the author’s biography, acknowledgments, chronology, and a list of non-textual elements.

Reading these parts is important because you can evaluate whether all the content was present in the book as it was enumerated in the table of contents. You can also analyze whether the chronology was correct.

The back matters of the book include the afterword, appendix, index, glossary of terms, endnotes, and bibliography. These are equally important parts of the book as the front matters because they can also be included in your analysis and evaluation. You can note whether the definition of terms was clear in the glossary, whether the appendix was well organized, and whether the afterword or endnotes provide any additional information or context to the book.

3. Consider some information from the author

Your book review is not only limited to critiquing the book but you can also examine the author. After your summary, you can also include a brief summary of the author’s past work, history, nationality, political persuasion, education, and other details. You can explore whether the author could have had personal biases that explain why the book is written the way it is. You can explore questions such as the possibilities of the book ending or going a different route had the author been part of a specific organization or have come from a certain background.

To have a complete analysis of the book and the author, you can ask questions such as:

● How does the book reflect on the author?

● What message is the author trying to convey?

● Does the author’s background affect the themes in the book?

● Does history affect other authors’ work?

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