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Understanding and Crafting a Well-Structured Book Review

Ahh, the book review. From writing the dreaded book report in grade school to the more in-depth and complicated study of characters and settings (what did the author mean by having them wear a green scarf instead of a blue hat?), we’ve all had to look at a book and try to find its value.

The book review is a way to dive past the words of a book to explore the book’s value in an essay form. We’ll discuss the best ways to do this so you can write the next great American book review.

The Difference Between a Book Report and a Book Review

Although we often use these terms interchangeably (and they both start with re), they accomplish different purposes.

A book report is an objective summary of a book’s main ideas and arguments. It’s supposed to give readers an idea of what they’ll be going into when they start reading the book and whether it will be useful or interesting to them.

book review‘s a descriptive and critical account of a book. It goes a step further than a report by addressing a book’s strengths and weaknesses and critically analyzing the details and themes. This review looks at the potential value to a reader while providing a summary.

Book Review Structure

Like many of the essays you’ll write during your college career, the book review features a five-paragraph structure that requires certain pieces of information to be included in each paragraph. Remember, including this information is important, but so is making each paragraph flow into each other in a fun-to-read way so the sections really work together.

First – Title, Reference Information

So although this should be a section of its own, we won’t count it as one of the 5 paragraphs. The first thing you’ll include is all the bibliographical information on the book, including:

  • Title in full
  • Author
  • Place
  • Publisher
  • Date of publication
  • Edition statement
  • Pages
  • Special features (maps, color plates, etc.)
  • Price
  • ISBN


This is where you introduce the book more naturally, including why you chose to read it. This is also where you identify the thesis and whether the author achieves the book’s stated purpose.

Book Summary – 2 Paragraphs

The book summary is a brief, maximum 2-paragraph recollection of the most important points from the book. This is also called supportive context or a summary that helps you prove your thesis. Fill your summary with the parts of the book you’ll point to in your critical analysis to say, “See? That’s why I think this.”

Critical Analysis

Now’s the time to bring out your inner scientist to dissect the summary and prove your point. This is where your insightful opinions of the book come into play, your views of why the author made one choice over another, and how that affected the book overall.


Now, summarize everything very briefly (no more than 2 sentences). Reiterate your thesis and how it stands up after your critical analysis. Try to finish on a strong sentence to leave a good taste in your reader’s mouth.

How to Write a Book Review Step By Step

Writing a book review has a few more things to consider than your regular essay because there’s a source material you have to critically analyze. To do that effectively, follow these steps for an awesome book review:

  • Read and take notes on the book.
  • Analyze the book’s strengths and weaknesses.
  • Research the author and the book’s background.
  • Consider how the book compares to other works.
  • Outline your book review.
  • Continue writing as you would any other essay.

Things to Remember When Writing a Book Review

Past Tense

Remember, you’ve already read the book. You’re writing in past tense about a book you’ve already read.

This is a Review, Not a Summary

You’re not just summarizing this book. Avoid the pitfall of writing a review that’s all “So first he did this, and then he did that, which led to them finding the people who helped them do this.” A summary is important to help give your reader context for what you’re talking about, but that’s not the whole of the review. You also have to analyze the book, evaluate it with a critical mind, and find its value while relating it to your thesis.

Review the Whole Book

We know you hated how it ended, and it left a sour taste in your mouth, or you thought the beginning was boring and filled with too much intricate background history. However the book is more than just those parts you love or hate. It’s a whole book and it’s important to review it based on a full account of the entire thing rather than just a small sliver.

Comparisons are Okay

You can include comparisons to other relevant texts or genres within a book review if it further pushes your point forward. Don’t compare books by saying, “I liked this one more than Lord of the Flies because of ICK.” Instead, use comparisons to highlight points and features of the book you’re reviewing to make your point better.

Be Consistent

Although we don’t expect you to like every part of every book, you do need to try to be consistent in your tone and stance throughout the review. Don’t change your opinion completely halfway through your review because that will give your reader whiplash. Instead, use the review to show why your opinion is correct.

Be Passionate and Emotive

A book review is a critical account of a book, which means that you’re allowed to have feelings about what you read. Use descriptive and emotive language to show your reader the book’s value. What was great about it and how did the themes and details in the book affect you and your opinion of what was happening?

Remember to balance this with critical insights and intelligent understandings. It isn’t a diary entry where you complain about the bad decisions a character made, but it is a place where you can talk about what those bad decisions mean for the book as a whole and how the themes affected you.