How to write a book report and a book review
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A book report presents the content and structure of a book as objectively as possible, without comparison. It provides not only a summary of content but also an analysis of structure. The purpose of the report is to give enough information about a book to help decide whether it will be of use or interest to the reader.
A book review is a descriptive and critical or evaluative account of a book. Like the book report, it provides a summary of content and an analysis of structure, yet you will also assess the value of a book and recommend (or not recommend) the book to other readers.
Reports and reviews are concerned mainly with the one book presented, relying upon only a few standard reference works for brief and relevant comments on the author and on any special circumstances about the writing of the book. Book reports and book reviews are not research papers. The research paper is based on material from as many sources as are needed to back up its topic.
The kind of information that should be given in both a book report and a book review is covered in points 1-7. Point 8, Critical Comments, needs to be covered in book reviews.
Give the author's name; full title of book including subtitle; editor, if any; place, publisher and date of publication; edition, if necessary; and the number of pages - all this in bibliographical form under the title of the report.
Supply any information about the author which shows their credentials for writing in this field or which reveals any influences, which may have affected the author's point of view. Note any interesting circumstances that led to the writing of the book.
Classification on the Basis of the Kind of Book
The book is non fiction, but classify it further according to its subject area, such as history, philosophy, travel, biography, autobiography, psychology, anthropology, etc. Clues for this classification may be found in the title, subtitle, table of contents, reviewers' comments, author's preface, and introduction.
Classification on the Basis of the Author's Intention
The author's intention may be apparent by the way the author treats the subject. Is the material meant for specialists, students, or the general public? Is it limited to a narrow area or is it a survey of the subject? Several areas may provide clues: appendices, bibliographies and general indexes usually accompany scholarly works; prefaces and introductions often contain an author's explicit statement of intention; the content and style of expression will be a good indication of the intended audience.
Subject and thesis statement
What is the book about? Tell your reader not only the main concern of the book in its entirety (subject) but also what the author's particular point of view is on that subject (thesis statement). If you cannot find an adequate statement in the author's own words or if you feel that the stated thesis statement is not that which the book actually develops (make sure you check for yourself), then you will have to compose a thesis statement that does cover all the material. This statement must be brief (a sentence or a paragraph), accurate and comprehensive.
Analysis of Structure
The thesis statement will clearly indicate the major idea of the book, but you must also point out the organization of subsidiary ideas, and how they relate to the thesis statement and to one another. The chapter headings and sectional divisions will reveal most of the outline of the book; however, on reading the book, you may see another plan, with somewhat different divisions. If so, make your own plan, showing clearly the order and relation of the parts. Whether your own or the author's it should include the thesis statement, major parts, their division into sections and the main points in these sections (summary of content).
Summary of content
The summary is based on your reading notes, follows the author's order, and is drastically reduced to the chief ideas which advance the author's argument. It may be presented with the analysis of structure or discussed separately.
Although the book report is mainly concerned with content and structure, it may contain some critical comment or your opinion about the book; check with your professor whether such comments are required.
Critical comments should form the bulk of the book review. State whether or not you feel the author's treatment of the subject matter is appropriate for the intended audience. Ask yourself:
- Has the purpose of the book been achieved?
- What contribution does the book make to the field?
- Is the treatment of the subject matter objective?
- Are there facts and evidence that have been omitted?
- What kinds of data, if any, are used to support the author's thesis statement?
- Can the same data be interpreted to alternate ends?
- Is the writing style clear and effective?
- Does the book raise issues or topics for discussion?
Support your evaluation with evidence from the text. In conclusion, you may want to state whether you liked or disliked the book.
Books on writing book reports and book reviews
- Buckley, J. (1998). Fit to print: the Canadian student's guide to essay writing. LB 2369 B83 WEB
- Drewry, J. E. (various editions). Writing book reviews. PN 98 B7D7 WEB VAN
- Lindholm-Romantschuk, Y. (1998). Scholarly book reviewing in the social sciences and humanities. H 61.8 L56 1998 VAN
- Teitelbaum, H. (1982). How to write book reviews. REF PN 98 B7T45X WEB VAN
Useful Web sites
- Writing Book Reviews (Writing Tutorial Services, Indiana University)
- How to Write a Book Review (Dalhousie Libraries)
- Book Reports and Book Reviews (Student Development Centre, University of Western Ontario) [PDF file]
For more information, ask a librarian