As part of a postgraduate degree you may well be asked to write an academic book review.  This is a different sort of essay writing experience.  Here are 10 key points to bear in mind when preparing a great review:-

  1. What would you expect from a book review?  Remember that the purpose of a book review is to help your reader decide whether they would like to buy or borrow this book.  You are not going to summarize the book, but you will mention key points so that possible readers know what to expect.

  2. Read book reviews.  Get familiar with the sort of material that you are being asked to create.  Look at the book review sections of journals in your topic at the university library.  The London Review of Books often has reviews written by well known academics and is another good place to look for inspiration.

  3. The review will include a structural breakdown – an explanation of how the book is set out and whether this works.  Did the author construct the book in a confusing way?  Did they decide to start with the most recent findings and work backwards, creating an reverse chronology in their book?

  4. Your choice of book for the review is key.  The choice is often left up to you.

  5. It can be useful to choose a book that has been reviewed by eminent academics.  You may disagree with their conclusions – and this is absolutely fine.  If you do disagree, and can argue your case well, this will demonstrate a freshness of approach.  Read the book before you read their reviews so that their opinions do not cloud your judgement.
  6. Demonstrate your understanding of the historiography in the field.

  7. Explain the methodology that the author has used and the sources they have chosen.  Have they limited themselves by only choosing one type of resource?  Is their methodology the best approach that could have been used with this material?

  8. You can comment on the style of writing.  If the language is heavy, the sentences overlong and difficult to understand you can point this out.  Perhaps the author likes using a lot of quotes in Latin and Greek but expects their reader to understand and doesn’t provide a translation.  You can mention this in your review.

  9. A bibliography is not essential for a book review, but can demonstrate that you have read around the topic and understand the wider implications of the book you have written reviewed.

  10. Any quotes you use from the book must be relevant to your review.  If you take the quotes out, does it make any difference to your work?  This should be something you ask yourself with all your essays.  If the quotes are just padding then leave them out.  You want every word to be of value in your work.

The book review assignment is often useful preparation before you tackle your masters dissertation.  Have you reached this stage in your studies?  Have you any tips for others considering this level of study?  Please leave a comment and share your advice below.