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Book Report Writing Guidelines

Book Report Writing Guidelines

Writing book reports is commonly associated with primary and secondary school assignments. But, they have also been known to work their way into college-level courses as well - right alongside the book reviews. Knowing what a book review is can help you understand what a book report is.

To clarify the difference between the two, it's helpful to think of the book review as the "grown-up" book report. The latter works primarily to summarize a story and is overall objective. A review is more critical, descriptive, and subjective. It provides only a small amount of summarized content and focuses mainly on interpretation and evaluation.

Both assignments work to present information about a particular book and provide relevant details regarding its structure and foundation. Each can help a reader decide whether they would be interested in a book or if it's research-worthy.

Some Facts about Book Report Writing

The basic guidelines of the whole "how to write a book report" debacle are simple. It should cover the author's main ideas, themes of the plot, setting, characters, etc. And for non-narrative pieces, it should focus on the chapter headings as well as properly summarize the main subject being discussed. These are the common facts about the book report writing in a nutshell. But along with these, there is a list of some not-so-common facts that should be taken into account.

They're not always listed in book report forms or outlines, but here they are!

#1 Other sources can be consulted and referenced

Usually, all you need is the book you're talking about and some writing tools. But at times, once the writing process has begun, you may feel a need to consult other sources for information. This is okay. It shows you are working to form a well-planned and crafted piece of writing instead of just guessing your way through the additional information.

When to use outside resources:

  • To obtain more background information on the author. This may include:
    • other famous works that the author has published,
    • the author's credentials, degrees, or experience in the field (if applicable),
    • why they decided to write the story (if known),
    • any support, aid, or assistance that was received in constructing the work.
  • To research important literary terms.
    A major part of a book report is obviously relaying to the reader the primary contents involved. To accomplish this goal, refer back to certain literary terms such as plot, climax, setting, and characters when explaining the details. If someone doesn't know the meaning of these terms, they can easily botch the report. Therefore it's very important to seek out additional reference materials when needed.
  • To learn a little more about the historical context in which the book was written.
    In some situations, it is extremely significant. Maybe, you're talking about a story that was written in response to a major historical event or during a unique time in history. I.e., the Great Depression, the Industrial Revolution, segregation, or the Civil War. This information is very relevant and may be noted at the beginning of your report.

Keep in mind that your report is not a research paper! So this information should be limited to only a few sentences. It has to give the reader just enough background information to understand the circumstances in which the book was written.

#2 Examine the intended audience along with the author's objective and purpose

In working to provide an accurate picture of the book, the reporter shouldn't just share the writer's main purpose. They have to also determine who their intended audience is. This may not always matter (for instance, if it is written for a general audience), but sometimes, it is important to note. It may help to justify the author's format or choice of words.

For example, high school students may only have a limited amount of knowledge on a particular subject. The book for them is going to be set up differently from one intended for professionals or the peers of the writer or researcher. For high school students, an author may set up charts, illustrations, small quizzes, or questions to make the discussion of the topic fun and engaging. But a piece written for a scholarly audience, for instance, may include a more complex vocabulary and less engaging content.

So a question you may have is, how will you know who the intended audience is? It's very simple - a few clues to look for are:

  • Word choice and jargon
  • Tone and writing style
  • Types of references made and examples provided
  • The author's introduction

By looking at any one of these areas, you can determine whether the author is writing to a general audience or a more specialized one. Perhaps they aim for educators, professionals, parents, teens, young adults, etc.

#3 Your main goal is to summarize - but opinions are also welcome

A book report is not an in-depth analysis of an author's writing manner, subject matter, evidential support, or something complex like a presentation. It is, in essence, a summary. Are you used to writing papers at the college level with a great amount of thought and analysis? Well, you may want to turn it down a bit for this assignment. Because of that, if you are not careful, you can easily turn your simple report into a complex critique - which is not necessary!

Lastly, it's also good to point out that when writing book reports, you have some room for an opinion as well. For example, it would be appropriate for the writer to recommend the book at the end of the report. Or, likewise, comment on whether they enjoyed the author's argument, plot, characters, or setting. A bit of opinion is not only welcome in the book report writing. It is also usually something that is expected by the reader as well.

How to Write a By-chapter Book Report

Writing a by-chapter book report is not an easy task by any means. A chapter-by-chapter report takes a lot of time and effort. The writer needs to have a lot of patience and perseverance to come up with an inspiring piece of work.

A detailed summary of the chapters should form the basis of the report. It is imperative that you read the book to understand the author's intent, the main idea, characters, and other important aspects. To be able to write an effective by-chapter report, you have to focus on a single chapter at a time.

Reading and organization skills

Read the chapters one at a time thoroughly, noting down the important points, main events, characters, or any relevant quotes mentioned in the chapter. After having noted the important points, listing or arranging those in a logical order will help you in outlining the summary of the chapter. Make sure that the points are not repeated.

Remember that your focus should be the central idea of the chapter. Your opinions or conclusions should not be included. The summary of the chapter is usually its shorter version with only the main points and examples in it. So, remain impartial throughout the plot summary. It should help the reader understand the main idea of the chapter. Try to keep the summary of the chapter as simple and short as possible. Check it against the original chapter by reading the chapter again and improvise the summary if required.


Before starting, be clear about the format for writing that you intend to use. Simple formatting guidelines will contain the book title, author, a paragraph explaining the context or background information, a paragraph describing the characters, few paragraphs with the chapter summaries in order, and a final paragraph for conclusion. Another commonly used format is to have an introduction, the body of the book report (paragraphs with summaries), and a conclusion paragraph. While choosing the format, consider the length of the book report to meet the specifications, if any.


Try starting the report with an introductory paragraph that contains the title of the book and its author. Some information about the author can be added here. Write about the main idea and the author's intention with the help of a few highlights in your own words. But, do not express your opinion or views. Start with a sentence similar to the following one:

This report is based on the psychological horror novel Cujo, written by Stephen King in 1981.

Context and Characters

Use the paragraph after the introduction to write a brief background of the plot and the thesis statement of the book. While mentioning the background information about the plot, describe the main character of the story (or a few). A crisp description of how this character and the plot are related and how the characters transform over the plot is recommended. Especially if the report is based on a fictional book.

Body of the report

The part of the by-chapter book report that is the most important is the body. This is especially true as one has to organize several summaries of chapters into one in the body.

Typically, two to four paragraphs are used to build the body of the report. However, depending on the complexity of the book and the number of chapters, more paragraphs may be needed. You may wish to have one single paragraph for each chapter summary if the number of chapters is less. Or, you may choose to club two or three chapter summaries in one paragraph. The paragraphs have to be organized. The transition from one to another should have the flow of the story, maintained in a consistent manner. You can use the titles of the chapters if they contribute to the narration of the story. The body of the book report should be a shortened version of the story.

Finally, keep your audience in mind while presenting the chapter summaries, especially the ending. There could be an audience who might not have read the book. If you are writing a report for a non-fiction book, discuss the subject and the author's point of view on it. You don't need to present all the points made by the author in this case. Only significant arguments can be highlighted.


Review and restate the main idea of the book in such a way that helps the reader understand that you have read the book thoroughly. Though a report is different from a review in terms of critical analysis, the concluding paragraph is often used to express and support your opinions. You can talk about the points that you liked and tell why you liked those. You can discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the book in brief. Some of them might have enhanced your knowledge, so you may want to highlight them. Try to be more balanced in expressing your opinions. Be honest in mentioning whether you will recommend this book to others and why.

Edit and Revise

It is very important that you proofread the report after writing it. However, it is recommended that you do the proofreading after some time as that will help you spot the mistakes and required corrections easily. Read the paper twice to check for grammatical and spellings errors and correct them as required.

Difficulties in Writing a Book Report

Writing a book report should be a straightforward affair. However, some difficulties may arise if the proper structure or a report outline is not followed. Some difficulties of writing a book report may be found in a variety of factors, including these:

  • bibliographic information;
  • analysis of structure;
  • a summary of the content;
  • thesis statements;
  • classification on the basis of the author's intention;
  • classification on the basis of the kind of book;
  • and background information.

Bibliographic information

The bibliographic information should give details about the author. It is usually found in the title page under the bibliographic information. The author's name and title of the book, date of publication, edition, the number of pages, and subtitles, if this book had any.

Knowing how to correctly structure the bibliographic information is often a problem. When writing your bibliography, be sure that all the important information above is inputted. Bibliographic information gives your audience a solid footing of knowledge.

Summary of content

Writing the summary of content shouldn't be too difficult if the writer took the time to read the book in question. When you've achieved the college level of your education, it's a piece of cake. A good summary should be able to tell readers what the book is all about without going too deep into it. The difficulty here is that some writers give too much information here in their bid to convince the audience they know a lot. To write a good book summary, the writer should concentrate on the salient points. You don't need to create a whole expository essay to give your readers an overview of the book.

Classification of the story

You need to classify the type of writing (book) you are creating a report on. Classification may be based on science, arts, crafts, literature, philosophy, and even law. There are several book classifications. Find out what classification your object or writing falls under and keep writing a report.

There is also a matter of classification based on the author's intention. To get over this difficulty, first, get a firm grasp of the message the author is trying to pass along. Try to understand the book from their point of view. Pay special attention to any emphasis made in any part of the book. This emphasis might serve as a pointer to the author's emotions. Now that you have an idea of where the author is coming from, make your classification based on this intention.

Writing the Report Without Reading the Book

Actually reading the book is a vital aspect of report writing. There are no two ways about it.

However, many of us sometimes face situations where we do not have enough time or patience to read the book in its entirety. Hence, we resort to methods or ways that can help us come up with a fairly good report without having to read the story.

Given below are tips and suggestions that are sure to help you in this perplexing task.

Attend the Classes

No matter the genre you have to write a report on, you must attend the classes if you aim to write an impressive report. Simple as that! Attending the classes helps you with an insight into the contents of the book, including some significant aspects which will inadvertently help you in writing.

Make Diligent Notes

Attending the classes alone is not of any help as you need to remember what is being taught in the class. It is imperative that you make notes that will be of help at the writing stage.


You should be prepared to indulge in thorough research. Going through the table of contents and index section will also help you get a brief insight into the contents of the book.

The foreword can also be of special help. More often than not, most authors stress the significant aspects of their story there. If the novel has a movie adaptation, it is a good idea to watch it to get an insight into the story, characters, and plot. You can also visit a library to find published critical analyses. The easiest but not so recommended method is to find a good plot summary of the same book and then rewrite it. The key here is to avoid any direct duplication from the source, otherwise, you will be charged with plagiarism.

Check the Author's Official Website

If research does not appeal to you, then the best way for you would be to visit the author's official website. Such websites have extensive discussions or notes on the author's work/works that are sure to help you with your writing endeavors. If the author does not have an official website or page, see if you can find sites that are dedicated to the author's writings. You can find quality facts, information, and notes that will facilitate you to come up with a decent report.

Ask a Friend

Are you one of those who don't like the idea of hard work in the first place and are looking for a serious shortcut? Then it is best to ask a friend who you know has read the story to narrate you the story and important points. It is not necessary that you tell the friend or acquaintance that you have not read it yourself. You can simply say that you were thinking about it and want to know that person's perspective.

Or, get a group of friends who are all reluctant to read the story. Then, split it into chapters to be read by each person in the group. Once all of you have completed reading the assigned chapters, each one can narrate the story to the whole group. This method is quite popular with students, as each one in the group benefits from it without spending days reading the entire thing.

Go Back to the Original for Quotes and Citations

Quoting directly from the textbook gives an impression that you have read it. Moreover, it is a sure-shot way of earning brownie points from your instructor. It's not easy to successfully use this method. You have to read the initial chapters and the foreword to get a fair idea of the important chapters and know where to find citations.

Analyze the Gathered Information

So first, have all the necessary notes and information that is required to start with the writing process. The next step is to spend some time analyzing and conceptualizing.

This is especially important if you are committed to writing a report that is inspiring and compelling. Anyone can write an average paper. It takes some outstanding analysis and conceptualization skills to come up with a report that will pleasantly surprise your professor/instructor/reader.

It must be mentioned here that there is no substitute for reading the entire book for coming up with a quality report. Reading will give you an opportunity to come across and absorb notes/points that others fail to do. That way, you will create an incredibly unique and impressive report. Except for the indispensable insight, it will also help you include personal analysis of the characters and plot. That will bestow your paper with the required vibrancy and freshness.

Students should attempt writing a report without reading the original story only when they are in a serious fix and lack alternatives. This is especially important! Alternative resources and methods can surely help you manage decently, sure. But they can never help you come up with an outstanding piece of writing that can take your readers by surprise.

Now you know how to write a book report and get an excellent score! We hope that you set out on your writing endeavors with new vigor and success. This is not some simple essay writing, so make sure to utilize as much creativity as you can. Our writing guide is always here for you to consult.

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