How to Write a Scholarly Book Review for Publication

These notes are based on Lee, Alexander D., et al. "How to write a scholarly book review for publication in a peer-reviewed journal: a review of the literature." The Journal of chiropractic education 24.1 (2010): 57.

I took the notes some while ago and a lot's happened since - on review, I have to say I found it all useful to think about but the bit I found most useful was Table 1 with the strategy overview all in one place...

1.     Stakeholders and purpose of book

Overall aim: A well-balanced, engaging, and informative critique. Primary audience is journal’s readership – book review is excellent vehicle to inform readers about new books in the marketplace – evaluation may guide their reading preferences.
Book reviews can be used to determine worthiness for future editions, more books from the author, promotional materials, market research for future titles, librarians for future holdings etc.
Book reviewer can act as entrusted critic informing readership of seminal works and warning of inaccurate scholarship. Also, chance to stay current – excellent first publication experience for novice writers.
Read other book reviews in your journal of choice. Specialist knowledge is required for a specialist audience.
The majority of experts on book reviewing recommend that interested potential book reviewers contact the book review editor of a journal to express their interest. This should be followed up by sending a curriculum vitae with a cover letter outlining one’s area(s) of expertise and the area(s) in which one would like to serve as a reviewer. It may be wise to send a portfolio of previously published book reviews and scholarly articles. Unsolicited reviews, while not common, may be accepted by some journals if they are well written. If one is interested in writing an unsolicited review, most authorities advocate contacting the editor(s) of the journal in question prior to writing a review.

2.     Appraising the Book

A.    Pre-Research

2.1   Research the author’s qualifications and previous contributions

Determine author’s authority.

B.    Setting and Perspective for Appraisal

2.2   Skim book

Orient self to organisation, layout, visual appeal.

2.3   Read Preface and Introduction first

These sections will define the intended readership and state the books aims and objectives – which should be evaluated from the point of view of the intended readership: are the contents appropriate for the intended readership?

2.4   Scan Table of Contents

Are all relevant topics included? Any key topics overlooked?

3.    Reading and note-taking

3.1   Use the worksheet provided in Lees et al (2010) - and see link below.

3.2   Read the book carefully, taking accurate (referenced) notes

Evaluate for accuracy, completeness, readability and relevance. Key questions to consider:

  • What makes the book unique?
  • Is the book useful to the intended readership?
  • Was the book successful in achieving its aims and objectives?
  • How does the book compare to its competitors?
  • What contribution does the book make to the field?

The answers to these questions will help the reviewer describe the distinguishing features of the book and place it within its field. Considering that a book review is a personal account of a book, it is important to note one’s personal reactions to the book.

C.   Writing

3.3   Writing for the journal

Journals are reluctant to provide a prescriptive format for book reviews – and preferred are reviews that are informative, engaging and constructively opinionated – prescription would stunt creativity.
Get to know the journal’s format requirements and book review policy before writing the review. There is perhaps a house style.

3.4   Writing Strategy

Motta-Roth’s findings of four main rhetorical moves identified in scholarly book reviews:

  1. introduce the book
  2. outline the book
  3. highlight parts of the book
  4. provide a general evaluation of the book.

These four moves were often associated with the start of a new paragraph. Table 1 shows a common strategy used by many experts:

3.5   Writing critical comments

Be respectful to the authors when reporting mistakes, shortcomings or weaknesses – use descriptive comments and not conclusions, allow readers to make their own minds up. Provide a substantiated reason for the criticism – and make it constructive, suggestions for improvement. Use the book appraisal worksheet (Lees et al, 2010).

I couldn’t find the ‘Book Appraisal Workshop’ referred to in the article, so have extracted from the appendix – I’m sure the authors wouldn’t mind, as they originally made it openly available. Of course, if they do, I’ll just take it back down again J

Book Appraisal Worksheet Download

Desirable and undesirable characteristics of book reviews