Many of us become accustomed to writing book reports at a very young age. Elementary classrooms are often decorated with book report templates; Author, title, characters, setting, problem/conflict, main events, conclusion and so on. These common stepping stones are in place to prepare students for years of formal book reporting. The good news is that they do actually represent the necessary components of a book report. So if this is what a book report entails, what sort of things does a book review offer?
A book review is a critical review or analysis of a book that evaluates how well the book achieves its purpose. Ultimately, did the author accomplish what he or she set out to do? Did they efficiently convey their argument to the reader? Were you convinced by his or her evidences and support statements? Was his or her writing properly organized and how well did they compared to similar books in the same category?
In this article we will look at the key elements of both book reports and book reviews and how to avoid confusing the two. Overall more details will be provided for book reviews as this is where clarification is often needed.
What are the characteristics of a good book report?
A book report is primarily a factual account of the contents of a book. Your main goal would be to accurately summarize the information presented. You would need to provide the reader with the author's name, title, number of pages, publication data, author's thesis, main events or main ideas, organization of the book, and setting & characters (if applicable).
A book report should also give the reader a full picture of the book by including an equal summarization of each section. Lastly, you are allowed to, and should, insert some of your opinions or final thoughts regarding the book. Your opinion should be small in comparison to your summary but may highlight your recommendations or any particular things that you liked or disliked about the book. You may want to indicate your preferences to a particular genre or writing style as well. For example, do you normally prefer fiction books over nonfiction books? If this was a nonfiction book did that aspect influence your opinion of it at all?
Book reports are easy to prepare and straight to the point. Keeping your summary substantial and your final thoughts minimal should ensure you've prepared a suitable report.
So what is a book review and what should I be concerned about?
A book review can be seen as a more sophisticated approach to understanding and relaying the same information presented in a book report. It may be described as "sophisticated" because it requires a greater level of effort, thought, and analysis as compared to a book report. As a student grows so does his ability to think critically. The graduation from book report to book review enables an individual to take the information obtained in a book report and apply it to higher order thought processes such as analyzing, criticizing, persuading and evaluating.
At times the greatest challenge for students is establishing solid points of analysis and identifying what aspects of the book are worth exploring. Before attempting to probe any area of the book intensely students should have:
- a precise understanding of the author's main argument (this entails thoroughly reading the piece)
- a preliminary list of issues addressed in the book with appropriate evidences
- a clear position on whether or not to recommend the book to others and why.
*When explaining your position you can argue about many issues in favor or disfavor of the book. Examples include the author's voice and writing style. Was his/her voice clear? Did you enjoy the style of writing? What changes would you like to see and why?
After reading and identifying these key points you will hopefully be better prepared to provide a critical assessment of the book. Keep in mind your end goal is to persuade the audience and provide clear arguments in favor or not in favor of the book.
Evaluation areas to consider for a book review
In writing a book review you will also be looking for some of the same key points found in an evaluation rubric for a writing assessment
. For example, rubrics ask evaluators to consider:
- elaboration (support details)
- use of language.
Think of yourself as "checking" the author's work and reviewing it as you would be a peer or in some respects as a teacher would for a student. Though you should not be so much concerned about the technical setup of the book as you should be about how well of a job the author did in conveying the message and achieving the purpose of the book. Additionally, note any significant flaws in the author's general writing ability and highlight their strengths; for example, a strength would be any area in which the author did an exceptional job exhibiting his point to the reader.
Sample book review setup
- Introduction/Background: This section of your review is self-explanatory and should contain the title, publication information, author's name and background, category of writing he or she presents, a bit of history, the purpose of the writing, and your main thesis statement.
- Short Summary: In this brief section you will replicate what is done in a book report by simply summarizing the book. You want to keep it concise so try to only highlight the main events and noteworthy aspects of the book.
- Analysis/Assessment: This is the meat of your paper and the main reason for writing. As stated earlier, your purpose is to analyze and evaluate the book. Here you should provide a critical assessment of the book's central argument, evidences to support the argument, organizational structure, and how well it fulfills its objective.
- Conclusion: Here you should sum up what you have been suggesting throughout your review. Restate your opinion of the book in a concise sentence or two and provide a final statement of the book. Would you recommend it or not? How does it fit in on a larger scale as it relates to its impact and contribution to its genre and literature in general?
How to avoid turning a book review into a book report and vice versa
A lot of the confusion usually lies with the book review. Its not difficult for many people to write a book report
because it is primarily a summary. If asked to write a review the reviewer may extend the summary section a bit too far and include details that do not support his or her argument (to persuade the reader one way or the other). And likewise, when writing a book report the writer should be cautious of not inserting too much opinion and thus losing the main focus of the report which is to relay factual information. Maintaining the right balance between fact and opinion is one of the best ways to be successfully write both book reports and book reviews.