Writing a Book Review
Learn all the elements of a successful book review
Format a book review
Adapt the SQ3R method for book reviews
Your professor has just assigned you a book review, and your first thought was probably, “A
book report? Am I in grade school?” A book review is not a book report. A book report is a short
synopsis of a book, but a book review goes into further detail and provides a critical evaluation.
“Reviewers answer not only answer the ‘what’ question but the ‘so what’ question about the
book” (University of Indiana).
Book report Book review
250-500 words 750-1000 words
States the title, author, and subject. States the author’s argument and
the reviewer’s opinion of whether
the author’s argument was
effective and successful.
Here is how you can apply the SQ3R method to book reviews:
4. Recite Remember
First survey the book by skimming the front matter, chapter elements, and back matter. This
process is like looking at a map before taking a trip; taking a few minutes to study the planned
route may save you time and trouble while you travel through the material in search of the
author’s perspective and theme of the text.
Read the back cover and any inside jacket information. Review the table of contents, and check
each chapter to see if it begins or ends with a summary that you can read. If there is a preface
and/or an introduction, read those as well. This will provide you with a strong foudation that will
help you read the full text more easily.
Prepare a list of questions to answer as you read the book. For a book review, these questions
Author: Who is the author? What is her field? If she is a professor or researcher, what
university is she affiliated with? If not a professor, what is her profession or area of
expertise? What else has she written? Has she won any awards?
Title: What is the title? How does it apply to the book? Does it effectively describe the
message of the text?
Subject: What is the subject? Is the author writing about a specific period or movement?
Is she concentrating on more technical aspects? Does the author cover the subject
adequately? Does she cover all the aspects of the subject in a balanced fashion? How
does she organize the material—topical, analytical, chronological, descriptive?
Thesis: What is the thesis or main argument of the book? If the author wanted you learn
one thing from the book, what is it? How does it compare or contrast to information that
you already know? What has the book accomplished?
Evidence: How does the author support her argument? What evidence does she use to
prove her thesis? Do you find that evidence convincing? Does the author use any
information that conflicts with other books you’ve read, courses you’ve taken, or
previous understanding you had of the subject?
Strengths and Weaknesses: What was successful or effective? What could be improved?
Was any information left out that could have enhanced your understanding?
Now that you’ve surveyed the text and created your questions, read the book one chapter at a
time. Try to answer the questions that you asked yourself during the questioning stage. If you
are reading a library copy, instead of marking the text with pen, pencil, or highlighter, you can
use sticky notes and page flags.
Write notes in the margins or on sticky notes
Mark unfamiliar terms with a page flag and define them
Circle, underline, highlight, or use a page flag to note key terms and concepts
If you are reading your own copy, avoid over-marking—if everything is highlighted, then
nothing will stand out
Usually the second R in SQ3R stands for recite, but for this exercise, you need to remember
your purpose, which is writing a book review. Go back, look at your questions, and write out
answers to them.
Usually in SQ3R, review means to study your notes in preparation for exams. In this case, it
means write the review. The elements of a good book review can be remembered by thinking of
the word ICE:
2. Concise summary
3. Evaluation & Conclusion
Your audience has not read this book, so you will need to provide some background information.
Identify the book by author, title, and sometimes publishing information.
Specify the type of book (textbook, biography, technical manual, etc.).
Give an overview of the book’s theme or main idea.
Your introduction should be about one-sixth of your entire review.
Now you will provide a synopsis of the book. This should be brief—about one-third of your
entire review—since the later evaluation takes priority. The summary should include:
A summary of the contents—similar to what you might find on the back of a book.
A description of how the book is organized.
The book’s thesis.
The author’s evidence.
Paraphrases and quotes.
Evaluation & Conclusion
The final and most important part of your book review is the evaluation and conclusion. This
will make up about one-half of your paper. Here you will answer many of the questions from the
Q stage of SQ3R such as:
Did the title it effectively describe the message of the text?
Did the author cover the subject adequately?
How does the information compare or contrast to information that you already know?
Is the author’s evidence convincing?
What was successful or effective?
What could be improved?
Has the author accomplished her goals in writing this book?
You will conclude this section by summarizing your opinions about the book. Close with a direct
comment on the book, and tie together issues raised in the review. Here is where you will make
your final judgment on the book and state if you would recommend it or not.