How to... write a book review Part: 1

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How to... write a book review

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The four stages of writing a book review

Book reviews are a special form of academic writing. They have well-known structures with familiar components. Here, James Hartley of the School of Psychology, Keele University, UK, consults with academics on writing the perfect book review and presents a potential checklist for book reviewers.

When writing book reviews colleagues use a variety of phrases that carry hidden meanings. Consider, "This is a surprising book" or "This is a useful book for the library". What these phrases really mean are, "This book is better than I expected" and "This book is not worth buying for your personal use".

When we are familiar with the format and the hidden meanings of sentences we know that we are reading a particular text genre – in this case a book review. Essentially we can always tell we are reading a book review from the language and the structure that it employs. Writers of book reviews typically progress through four stages, as follows:

1. They introduce the book by:

  • outlining the general topic
  • indicating who the book is for
  • placing the book in its field.

2. Next, they often outline the content of the book by:

  • giving a general view of its the organization
  • stating the topic of each chapter/section.

3. Then they highlight parts of the book by:

  • selecting particular chapters or themes for evaluation
  • critiquing the argument of the book.

4. And finally, they evaluate the book by:

  • commenting on aspects of the content
  • indicating how it meets the readers’ needs
  • remarking on its format, price, and value for money
  • making recommendations for purchase or otherwise.

When we examine book reviews we find that most, if not all of these components are present, even if they are not always given in the order listed. Some reviewers, for example, like to start with items from Stage 4 – evaluation – then move to Stages 1-3, and finally conclude by justifying their original opening evaluation.