SPR Q&A: How to Write a Book Review, Part 1

Book reviews are a staple of academic journals. They help to spread the word about new books on the market, provide valuable spaces for evaluation and critique of published work, and also give emerging scholars an opportunity to dialog with published works.

In the blog post below, Managing Editor of Book and Tool Reviews, Faith Blackhurst, gives her best advice for graduate students hoping to write a book review for SPR.

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How to Write a Book Review

  • Identify a book published in the last 1-2 years that is in your area of expertise/interest.
  • Learn about the author, including educational background, previous publications in the field, and what they could potentially contribute based on their expertise in the subject. Is the author especially equipped to tackle this subject matter? Why or why not?
  • Read the book, paying close attention to the structure and evaluating the assertions of the author as you go. Taking notes is a good idea so that you can refer back to important sections and ideas.
  • Write the review. Here are some tips:
    • Overview the structure and contents of the book for the reader.
    • Take into account the style, tone, and organization. Is it effective? Why?
    • Identify the strengths and weaknesses of the publication—NOT the author. Remember, you are evaluating their work, not them.
    • Weave in your evaluation of the author’s work as you summarize their points.
    • Maintain your authorial voice separate from the author’s ideas.
    • Think about how your background knowledge affects your reception of the book. Is there anything about the text that surprises you? Confuses you? Did the text leave something important out of the equation? Did it include anything superfluous?
    • Make a recommendation of how to best use the text and who would benefit most from reading it. Is it a reference text? Good for only specialized research? Useful for undergraduates, graduates, and/or professors? Does reading the book require extensive background knowledge, or is it easily accessible?
  • Identify a few journals that might be interested in publishing your book review. Consider the journal’s scope as well as your own qualifications and expertise in the subject matter. Depending on your experience, you may want to consider publications that cater specifically to undergraduate or graduate students—like Spanish and Portuguese Review!

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If you want to dig in even more, check out Part 2 of this series here. And if you are interested in writing a book review for SPR, leave a comment below or reach out by email to spr@aatsp.org!

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