Foolproof Guide to Writing a Book Review

, Staff Writer
Updated August 9, 2016
man writing a book review
    man writing a book review
    Digital Vision / photodisc / Getty Images

Writing a book review is easy if you have a clear guide to the process. With step-by-step instructions and important tips, you’ll be able to write a non-fiction or fiction book review - even if you’ve never done it before. A book review is not the same as a book report, so you’ll have to draw on your own opinions about the book.

Book Report vs. Book Review

It is important to know the difference between a book report and a book review. If your teacher assigns a book review and you turn in a book report, your grade will probably not be very good. The biggest difference between the two is that a book report is objective, while a book review is not. There are a few other differences:

  • A book report’s structure is simpler than a book review. It gives a brief retelling of the story and may include details about the plot, characters, and setting.
  • A book review, on the other hand, is an in-depth analysis of the text. A review will include an analysis of the author's intent, thematic elements, and symbolism.
  • A large part of a book report is a summary, but the summary only serves as context for a book review.

How to Write a Book Review in Six Steps

Before you begin your review, you should have a clear idea of the expectations. Your specific assignment will offer a guideline, but, in general, a good book review will:

  • Point out strengths and weaknesses in the book
  • Look at what the author intended to do and whether (s)he did it
  • Be between 50 and 1,500 words

1. Start by Assessing the Book

Before you begin writing, take some time to assess the book. If you made notes while reading, look them over. If not, flip back through the book and review. Don’t start writing yet, but ask yourself some important questions about the text and jot down notes:

  • What genre is the book? Is it fiction or nonfiction?
  • What do you know about the author?
  • What are some of the main themes in the book? Does the author convey them well? Does the book have a thesis or main idea?
  • How do the characters and events in the book relate to the theme? If the book is nonfiction, are there supporting details to back up the thesis? What are they?
  • Is there a primary conflict in the book? How does this develop over the course of the text?
  • What was the author trying to accomplish?
  • How do you feel about the book?

2. Create a Thesis Statement

Look over your notes and think about your answers to the questions above. What do you think about the book? Write a thesis statement that will be the main idea of your review. It will be an opinion. Consider these examples:

  • Jane Eyre is one of the most beloved Victorian novels because it transcends time and resonates with readers today.
  • Even though The Catcher in the Rye is part of many high school English classes, its themes may be better suited to college students who can look at Holden Caulfield’s actions from a more removed perspective.
  • Lord Charnwood's Abraham Lincoln is more than a biography; it’s also an effective exploration of 19th century politics.

3. Write an Introduction

You can start with a short quote or anecdote about the book or any other type of hook to capture the reader’s attention. Then be sure to include essential information like title, author, and kind of book. In the introduction, also cover the thesis statement the author used or the main theme of a work of fiction. Finally, include your own thesis statement.


4. Give a Short Summary of the Book

Next, create a summary of the book to give your reader some background. Talk about what happens over the course of the book. This should offer context, but it’s not the main part of a book review. Keep it to one or two paragraphs unless you’re writing a very long piece.

5. Provide Your Analysis

Now it’s time for the main part of your book review: backing up your opinion. Your thesis statement is your own view, but you’ll need to share why you think what you do. Look to your notes here; you already have the information you need. Add details from the text, such as the point of view of the book, the characters, and the important themes.

Also discuss the following as they relate to your thesis:

  • Cover the author's style of writing and look at his or her cohesion, clarity, flow of the text, and use of precise words.
  • Think about how you were affected by the book and if any of your opinions or feelings change because of it.
  • Decide if the book met its goal and whether you would recommend it to others and why.
  • Discuss the author's descriptions and narration, pointing out whether he or she explained facts or tried to persuade the readers of the validity of an issue.
  • Analyze whether the book suited its intended audience and if it was interesting

6. End With a Strong Conclusion

Just like an essay, a book review needs a strong conclusion. Restate your thesis statement and summarize by touching on the main points. You may include quotes or references here, but do not put in any new material.

Tips for Fiction and Non

Your approach to writing a book review will be different, depending on whether you are writing about fiction or nonfiction. Keep these guidelines in mind to help.

Fiction Book Reviews

When reviewing fiction, analyze the author's treatment of the characters, plot, setting, and dialogue. Specifically, ask yourself these questions as you write:

  • How interesting is the plot? Does it have many clichéd parts, or does it come across as original? Are there unresolved issues in the plot? Can the author sustain the plot throughout the book? Is the plot confusing?
  • How believable are the characters? Do you care about them? Can you tell them apart, or do they all sound the same, especially in dialogue?
  • How does this book compare to other books in the same genre?
  • How well does the author create mood through setting? Can the action be visualized?
  • If there is humor, does it work?
  • Is the narration consistent throughout?
  • What style of writing did the author use?

Nonfiction Book Reviews

When you write a review on a non-fiction book, you need to explore the way the material was organized and if the author's writing was focused. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Is the book interesting? Which parts are most interesting or informative?
  • How accurate is the information in the book?
  • How objective is the information in the book? Is it supposed to be objective?
  • How thorough has the author been in his or her research?
  • How useful is the information presented in the book?
  • How does this book compare to other books in the same genre?
  • Is the author trying to prove a thesis? If so, does he or she do it effectively?

Beyond the Classroom

Besides classroom assignments, book reviews are found in newspapers, magazines, blogs, and more. Learning how to write a book review is a great way to learn about reflective writing, and it’s a useful skill for anyone who enjoys reading.