Reviews and Reaction Papers

Article and Book Reviews

Some assignments may ask you to write a review of a book or journal article. Where book reports summarize the contents of the book, book reviews are a critical analysis of the book that describes, summarizes, and critiques the ideas in the book. Reviews are a means of going beyond the literal content of a source and are a tool for connecting ideas from a variety of academic sources. Reviews provide an objective analysis of ideas, support for opinions, and a means of evaluating your own opinions.

Some teachers like to assign book reviews to help students broaden their view of the subject matter and to give students practice critically evaluating ideas in the subject area. Teachers often require that students follow existing review formats modeled in the journals in their disciplines. If you are asked to use such formats, keep in mind that citations for books and journal articles differ from discipline to discipline. Find out which style guide is appropriate for the discipline in which you are writing. (Refer to the guide's discussion of style manuals for more information.)

Reviews enable you to interact with the author and agree or disagree with the author's ideas. A review enables you to examine your understanding of a subject area in light of the ideas presented in the reviewed book and interact with the author and his or her ideas. Also, a book review helps your teacher evaluate your understanding of the subject matter and your ability to think competently in your discipline.

Some questions to keep in mind when you are writing a book review are:

  1. What exactly is the subject of the book? What are the author's credentials for this writing on this subject? Is the title suggestive? Does the Preface contain information as to the author's purpose?

  2. What is the author's thesis? Is it clearly stated or do you have to dig it out of the facts and opinions? Does the author present the ideas in a balanced way? What are the author's biases?

  3. What organizational approach does the author use? Does the chosen organization support the author's thesis effectively?

  4. What conclusion or conclusions does the author make? Does the conclusion agree with the thesis or stated purposes? How does the conclusion differ from or agree with your course textbook or other books you have read?

  5. How has this book helped you understand the subject you are studying in the course? Would you recommend the book to your reader?

As you write your review, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Have I represented the author and the ideas presented in the book in a fair and balanced way? Does the ethical tone of my review prompt the reader to trust my judgment? (You may want to review the discussion on writing arguments.)

  2. Does my review reflect the interests of my readers and fulfill my reasons for writing the review?

  3. Have I demonstrated my understanding of the content of the article or book I'm reviewing? Have I clearly addressed the major issues in the subject area?

  4. Have I clearly stated my own biases as a reviewer?

  5. Have I clearly expressed my position about how much or little the author has contributed to my understanding of the subject in question and recommended or not recommended the book to other potential readers.

  6. Have I checked my review for organizational, grammatical, and mechanical errors?