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Book review writing skills

January 18, 2012

I was recently asked by one of our English teachers if I would speak to her 9th grade classes on the skills necessary for writing book reviews.  Although I read lots of reviews, I only recently started writing them, so my skills are still developing.  However, here are some of the skills that I think are paramount to writing a good book review:

  • Knowledge of your book:  it’s really difficult to write a review of something that you don’t really have a good working knowledge of.  While skimming the book may be tempting, especially if you have a stack of books to review, it makes for an incomplete book review at best.  (On a related note, it’s also difficult to write a review of something you read awhile ago, so don’t procrastinate!)  Taking notes (annotating) helps in this area – remember to record those “aha” moments you have while you are reading. 
  • Know your audience:  this seems pretty basic, but it is important.  It makes a difference if I am writing a book review for my students or a book review for a professional journal or website.  I also write differently (and review different books, for that matter) for the online reading group that I belong to.  Different things are important to different audiences:  for students, they want to know why they should read a particular book, what makes it interesting or exciting.  For colleagues, they might want to know what books to recommend to particular students, what books deal with specific topics.  For my online reading group, which is made up of all women, there’s an emphasis on what’s new in certain genres.  This also impacts writing style – I tend to be more professional in tone with students and colleagues, and can be more informal with my reading group friends.
  • Concision:  writing book reviews is a delicate balance of fitting in all the information you need without cluttering it up with too much information.  Reviews should include descriptions of the main characters and the setting, and then a brief description of the plot or premise of the book.  It’s really important not to give away the ending – any review containing spoilers should be clearly labelled as such.  
  • Editing:  as with any writing, editing book reviews is very important.  Spelling errors, grammatical errors, and poor sentence structure all detract from the main point of the review.  They also detract from a writer’s overall credibility – would you really trust the review of someone who doesn’t take the time to read through their own writing? 

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