Writing a top-notch book review – tips for reviewers
A good book review does more than simply tell the reader whether you liked the book or not. It does more than simply give a summary of the book. A good book review offers a critical perspective on the text through a knowledgeable written commentary. Your job is to be persuasive; to make an argument for the merits or faults of the text and to support those arguments with examples and evidence. And remember, a book review is like any other piece of writing; it contains a hook to loop the reader in, a main point or two, supporting evidence, and a conclusion.
A good book review will do the following three things:
Provide a concise summary of the content. In one short paragraph give a quick outline of the book’s major ideas, themes or content. This is not a blow-by-blow reveal-all summary. Think of the summaries you find on the back covers of books; enough to pique your interest and give a general sense of the content, but not enough to give away the plot. Make sure you don’t post spoilers in your summary, especially if the book is a work of fiction. Whether or not you liked the book is irrelevant here; an unbiased summary is all you should provide.
Provide a critical assessment of the content. Here is where you state your opinion of the work in question, but in a way that is thoughtful. Point out where you find the work exemplary or deficient in its ideas, knowledge, judgments or organization. Back up all your assertions with examples from the text. Do you agree or disagree with the author’s ideas? Why or why not? Be careful never to attack the authors themselves, and avoid knee-jerk responses about the author’s merit such as “I love author X. Everything he writes is awesome” or “Author X is a horrible writer, and this book is another in a long series of disappointments.” Keep your focus on the author’s writing and strive to make a reasoned, persuasive and defensible argument for or against the work in question.
Suggest whether or not the audience would appreciate it. Based on the information and arguments you have provided, would you recommend this book to others? Whether or not you recommend a work, try to avoid a tone of excessive praise or excessive disappointment. Make your recommendation, support it, and be done. Remember, you are trying to write a persuasive review to influence people’s actions. People rarely respond to arguments that don’t seem well thought out or to reviews that are simply someone venting their feelings about an author or their work.
If you follow these simple steps, and avoid the book review pitfalls listed above, your reviews will stand out in the crowd. And with this, the knowledge that your review is actually helping others to make a good judgment about whether to read a work or not. As a book reviewer, you have a lot of power to influence people’s actions. Now that you have the right tools, you can use that power effectively and responsibly. Happy reviewing!
How about you? Do you have tips for writing a solid book review that you’d like to share? Do so in the comments section below.