Writing Book Reviews

This Guide covers the contents of a review and its' organization and writing. This guide will be of particular value to those reviewing non-fiction books. It will also be of some use in reviewing imaginative works such as plays, poems, novel, and short stories.




The following list provides guidelines for writing a book review. Although no review needs to contain all items included on the list, items, 2, 4, and 5 generally form the primary focus of most book reviews.

The General Field

  1. What is it?

  2. How does the subject of the book fit into it?

Back to top

The Book's Purpose

  1. Why was it written? What did the author hope to accomplish?
    Note: The title, preface and introduction are useful in establishing this information.

Back to top

The Book's Title

  1. Derivation, meaning, suggestiveness?

  2. Fitness and adequacy - or inadequacy:

    1. is the title ambiguous?

    2. does it create a false impression?

Back to top

The Book's Contents

  1. Type of book:

    1. Description (i.e., is it fundamentally pictorial, impression giving, moodcreating)?

    2. Narrative (i.e., is it fundamentally chronological, relating characters or events to some ultimate sequence in time)?

  2. What are the author's main ideas?

  3. How are they developed? (chronologically? topically? both? other?)

    Note: The table of contents, chapter headings, and sub-heading are useful in establishing this information.

Back to top

The Book's Authority

  1. Author's ideas:

    1. Key words/terms/concepts defined?

    2. Internal consistency of ideas?

    3. How well are the ideas developed?
      • Areas covered:
        • degree of thoroughness (elementary or scholarly approach)?
      • Areas not covered:
        • on purpose?
        • from oversight, bias or other failure?
        • degree of seriousness of these omissions?

  2. Author's use of sources:

    1. New sources?
      • if so, how gathered?
      • how reliable?

    2. Existing sources?
      • Primary sources seen in new light?
      • Critical examination of all relevant secondary sources (i.e., works by other writers on the subject)?
      • Satisfactory documentation (use of footnotes)?

  3. Author's background and qualifications:

    1. What are they?
      • race, nationality, origins?
      • influences-social, cultural, religious, political, etc.?
      • early formative experiences?
      • academic training?
      • present position?
      • affiliations-literary, scholastic, religious, political, philosophical, etc.?

    2. What effect do these have on the work?
      • book written with expertise?
      • bias?
      • both?

Back to top

The Author's Style

  1. Writing:

    1. Simple or technical?

    2. Clear/lucid or pompous?

    3. Economical/spare or wordy/verbose?

    4. Logical/reasoned or imaginative/emotional?

    5. Other?

  2. Suitability:

    1. to purpose of author?

    2. to subject?

    3. to readers?

Back to top

The Book's Format

  1. Size:
    1. suitability?
    2. convenience?
  2. Binding:

    1. appearance?
    2. durability?

  3. Quality of paper?

  4. Print type:
    1. legibility?
    2. appropriateness?

  5. Aids to understanding and utilization:

    1. Charts, graphs, maps, statistics, illustrations, photographs (current, clear, related to text)?
    2. index?
    3. bibliographies:
      • superficial or thorough?
      • annotated?

Back to top

Significance of Work in Field

  1. In comparison to author's other works (if any).

  2. In comparison to other writers in the area.

    Note: The book's footnotes and bibliography are useful in determining relevant past works. For those which may have been published since the book was written, ask at the Information Desk.

  3. Further work that needs to be done.

  4. Assess impact of book, considering the quality of the work.

Back to top


Once the book has been read, digested and reference has been made to the preceding checklist, and where necessary to other sources for information about the field of the book, the author, etc., then it is possible to begin organizing and writing the review.


Any book review should be preceded by the following information (in the order given).


- Title of the book


- to identify book

- Author's name


- Place of publication


- in case the reader wishes to order the book

- Publisher


- Edition


- suggests how up-to-date information is

- Date


- Paging


- to give an idea how detailed the book is, and to suggest something of its format - this might save possible repetition in review

- Special features
(e.g. maps)


- Cost (if known)


- more information for ordering

Back to top

The Beginning

An effective opening will catch the reader's attention immediately. Do not begin with something pedestrian such as "This book is..." Instead, try:

  1. Writing a brief anecdote or some human interest item connected with the book or its' author

  2. Taking as a point of departure one of the items on the checklist that seems important (e.g., the significance of the book in the field)

  3. Opening with at statement about projected treatment of the book (e.g., Certain features of this monograph make it worth reading...but these strengths are outweighed by...)

Back to top


A good review will involve description, evaluation, and whenever possible, explanation of why the author wrote as he/she did. This means it will often be necessary to relate different parts of the checklist one to the other (e.g., how the author's bias affected his/her selection and use of sources).

In the sense that the review involves relationships, it is like a little essay. However, it differs from an essay in that it never includes: chapters or other divisions; long quotations from the book or other reviews (although brief quotations may sometimes be used to illustrate a point); footnotes (if quoting from the book, put the page number in the review in parentheses immediately after the quote). Finally, never append a bibliography of works consulted to a review.

Back to top


As a general rule, do not trail off with comments about minor matters - e.g., typographical errors. Instead try to end the review with an assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the book. If possible, relate the assessment to the opening remarks of the review so that what results is a neat little package.

Back to top


If you have difficulty finding or using the materials listed in this topic guide, please ask for assistance at Information & Research Assistance (Reference) on Level 10 of the Library. Quick Reference Questions can be submitted electronically by using our Ask Us service.

 Maintained by
 Content Revised: September 18, 2015

Bookmark and Share