For researchers and postgraduates, writing a book review is a relatively easy way to get published. It’s also a good way to refine your academic writing skills and learn the publishing process. But how do you write a good academic book review? We have a few tips to share.
1. Finding a Book to Review
Before you can write a book review, you need a suitable book to review. Typically, there are two main ways to find one:
Look to see which books journal publishers are seeking reviews for.
Find a book that interests you and pitch it to publishers.
The first approach works by finding a journal in your field that is soliciting reviews. This information may be available on the journal’s website (e.g., on a page titled “Books for Review”). However, you can also email the editor to ask if there are book review opportunities available.
Alternatively, you can find a book you want to review and pitch it to journal editors. If you want to take this approach, pick a book that:
Is about a topic or subject area that you know well.
Has been published recently, or at least in the last 2–3 years.
Was published by a reputable publisher (e.g., a university printing press).
You can then pitch the review to a journal that covers your chosen subject.
Some publishers will even give reviewers access to new books. Springer, for example, has a scheme where reviewers can access books online and receive a print copy once a review is published. So this is always worth checking.
2. Follow the Style Guide
Once you know the journal you want to write for, look for the publisher’s style guide. This might be called the “Author Instructions” or “Review Guidelines,” but it should be available somewhere on the publisher’s website. If it is not obviously available, consider checking with the editor.
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When you have found the style guide, follow its instructions carefully. It should provide information on everything from writing style and the word count to submitting your review, making the process much simpler.
3. Don’t Make It About You!
You’d be surprised how often people begin by summarizing the book they’re reviewing, but then abandon it in favor of explaining their own ideas about the subject matter. As such, one important tip when reviewing an academic book is to actually review the book, not just the subject matter.
This isn’t to say that you can’t offer your own thoughts on the issues discussed, especially if they’re relevant to what the author has argued. But remember that people read reviews to find out about the book being reviewed, so this should always be your focus.
4. Questions to Answer in a Book Review
Finally, while the content of a review will depend on the book, there are a few questions every good book review should answer. These include:
What is the book about? Does it cover the topic adequately? What does the author argue? Ideally, you will summarize the argument early on.
Who is the author/editor? What is their field of expertise? How does this book relate to their past work? You might also want to mention relevant biographical details about the author, if there are any.
How does the author support their argument? Do they provide convincing evidence? Do they engage with counterarguments? Try to find at least one strength (i.e., something the book does well) and one weakness (i.e., something that could be stronger) to write about.
As a whole, has the book helped you understand the subject? Who would you recommend it to? This will be the concluding section of your review.