A global network of researchers

A Quick Guide on Crafting Book Reviews for Academics and Practitioners

By Rhoda Ladjer Akuaku | April 2, 2024  | Research skills

Book reviews are used as avenues to discuss new perspectives, highlight key contributions, and sometimes critique certain aspects of the work. They are usually written by academics, journalists, or practitioners in general as a way to discuss new books.

As an academic output, book reviews may not count for academic promotions. However, writing a book review can be rewarding in many ways...

Some academic journals publish book reviews in specific issues or volumes. Also, leading magazines, blogs, or newspapers dedicate some pages to book reviews. They are usually short write-ups of about 600 to 1500 words, aimed at critically discussing the books by pointing out their strengths and weaknesses and explaining why prospective readers may consider reading them.

As an academic output, book reviews may not count for academic promotions. However, writing a book review can be rewarding in many ways because it enhances analytical skills, provides an avenue to get free access to a book, provides publication and citations of book reviews, and provides an avenue for budding researchers to start analytical writing.  In this blog, I share a simple and practical guide on how to write a book review. 

Composing an assessment guide for the book review

Since a book review is a critical discourse of the whole text, the reviewer must stay as precise as possible, sticking to and tackling the most important and specific areas for assessment. A structured outline sets the reviewer at a good pace for a better review. Hence, creating an assessment guide with the various major points to critically consider can help you conduct an easy review without having to move back and forth with your analysis. Below are some suggested major points to consider when reviewing a book. 

The genre of the book: First, it is important to know the academic genre of the book under review. Books vary based on the different academic disciplines, and they come with some expected elements for consideration. The reviewer should be familiar with the specific field the book under review may be hailing from. This prepares the reviewer’s mind for the expected analytical skills necessary for critiquing by considering the particular elements to look out for and whether the author deviates from or sticks to that particular genre while making her arguments. 

The reviewer would have to be familiar with the specific field the book under review may be hailing from.

The topic under study: The topic is one of the key points to consider when reviewing a book. It serves as the most precise summary of the whole book, and hence the author’s arguments and findings must all fall in line with the topic he presents. To the reviewer, this is a perfect guide to critiquing all other aspects of the book. The reviewer might want to consider the following questions: Does the introduction capture anything about the topic? Is the author’s argument linked to the topic? Does the subject matter flow through the whole book? Is the same idea captured in the conclusion? These questions would make it easier for the reviewer to analyse them. 

The author’s argument: If, after reading a book or any piece of writing, the only comment a reader could make is “So what?”, it is an important indication that the author’s arguments are not clear enough. An author’s argument is what drives readers to want to know the findings or conclusions of her work. As a guide, the reader must consider what the author's arguments are, even if they are not clearly stated, as that is what informs her claims and findings. It is only based on her arguments that her findings could be judged. For this reason, the reviewer would need to figure out the arguments made in the book to be able to assess whether, at any point, the author deviated from them.

If there were any works conducted in that field, how has this author’s work differed from the others, and what new knowledge has it contributed to already existing literature?

Another angle to consider in your review would be how the author’s arguments differ from prior research, general knowledge, or the reality in a specific culture or society. If there were any works conducted in that field, how has this author’s work differed from the others, and what new knowledge has it contributed to already existing literature?

Potential biases: To present a bias-free book review, the reviewer may consider the author’s personal history and whether that influences her work in any way. It is advisable to read about the author and have fair knowledge about who she is, her race, gender or sexuality, political views and aspirations, and other intellectual concerns. This would help track any biases that may be present in the author’s findings.

However, it is also expedient that a reviewer keep herself informed of any potential biases in order to produce a balanced review. This is because reviewers may review a book based on their own perspectives and expectations.

Insights from a short interview with a recent book reviewer

In this section, I interviewed a researcher about his recent book review and presented some ideas from his experience that could help prospective reviewers.

Screenshot of the top banner of the AuthorAID Google discussion group. The images shows there are 3707 members. The text says: 'Welcome to the new AuthorAID discussion group. Discussion is welcome on topics related to research communication and publishing, research careers and funding opportunities; research methodology. If you are having any problems joining this group, please send an email to authoraid+subscribe@googlegroups.com Please ensure you follow our the guidance in our 'netiquette' code of conduct when participating on the forum https://www.authoraid.info/en/netiquette/ You can also start a new thread by sending an email to authoraid@googlegroups.com'
AuthorAID Google Group

Starting the process: The reviewer shared that a call for book reviewers by a journal book review editor was shared on AuthorAID google group and that drew his attention. However, he also noted that prospective reviewers can find this in the review sections of journals.

Getting the book to review: The researcher indicated that he contacted the author and was given the go-ahead to reach the publisher. After this process, he shared that he was given a free online version of the book for review. This, he argued, was because he was ready to review for free and to also share the reviewed version with the publisher to be attached to the original book for publication.

Doing the review: He shared that he read the book two times. First, he read to see which issues were covered. He read the second time and tried to understand why those issues were presented and why those he expected were not. He then wrote the review in 1000 words according to the journal’s requirements.   

The journal’s peer review process: The researcher also shared that he provided a total of four drafts for review. This, he claimed, was because of the different disciplines of the book and his own background, which resulted in a review that was too technical for the general public. He then rewrote and presented his arguments in simple words so that the public could read and appreciate the issues presented.

Lessons from the review process: He highlighted that he aims to write a book; therefore, reading somebody else’s book was an opportunity for him to build his skill set for future use. He also indicated that while reviewing, he noticed that some pressing issues in the Global South that were concerned with the topic were not presented in the book, though that could have made a substantial contribution. This, he claimed, was included in his review as a limitation of the book. 

Final Remarks

Despite the limited academic benefits of book reviews, they serve as important guides for users and writers and also help shape reviewers' skills to produce critically analyzed books for academic purposes.


Rhoda Ladjer Akuaku is currently the Secretary for the AuthorAID Ghana Hub and an alumni of the Aspire Institute, a programme founded at Harvard University. She is also a volunteer screener at the American Red Cross National Headquarters and a sustainability associate with the Dataking Research Lab. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English Education from the University of Ghana and is about to start a Masters of Science in Higher Education Administration and Policy at Northwestern University.

blog comments powered by Disqus