Write Better Reviews with a Book Review Template

The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing by Mayra Calvani and Anne K. Edwards

Written for new and established book reviewers: “I’ve been reviewing novels for about a year. I wish I’d had this book when I started. …This book has found a permanent place on my reference book shelf.” –Wanda C. Keesey, author of Lost In The Mist. Currently only $2.99 on Kindle.

Note: Lots of people are coming to this page wanting to know how to write a book review for kids, so I wrote another article especially for kids (and their parents).

(NB There is a downloadable template at the bottom of this page – but if you are new to reviewing, please do read the article first!)

Writing book reviews can be an easy way for new writers to get some clips, or can be passion in itself. Either way, for the beginning reviewer, the task is much easier when a book review template is used. This organizes the review and keeps the thoughts and words of the writer on track. A template can be used for both fiction and non-fiction books in any subject area.

The steps involved in writing the review are not complex, so even a new writer should be able to follow them to provide a critical perspective on a written work. The review itself must make an argument. It is not a summary of the book but a commentary on it.

Through a book review, the writer creates dialogue with the author of the work and the audience reading the review. When writers create a book review, they may provide both positive and negative comment, pointing out where the work exemplifies and falls short in terms of organization, judgment, and knowledge.

Within the book review, the writer should clearly express an opinion of the work. The organization of this statement should follow basic academic writing by including a thesis statement that describes the purpose of the review, a body featuring supporting paragraphs, and a conclusion.

Reviews need not be lengthy to be considered adequate. In fact, most are quite succinct, rarely exceeding 800-1,000, with shorter reviews running from 250-450 words. All have several features in common, including a summary of book content (without giving away the end, if it is a work of fiction), critical assessment of this content, and a suggestion regarding whether the audience will appreciate the work.

According to Anne Edwards, writing in The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing, “Whether short or long, the favorite ‘formula’ seems to be an interesting lead/hook, a brief summary, and an evaluation.” (NB The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing is now available as a kindle book for only $2.99, though I don’t know how long this will last.)

How to write a book review:

1)      Do not immediately read the book. Instead, begin by looking at the cover illustration, summary on the jacket, and subject category chosen by the publisher. Review the physical aspects of the book to identify whether the work is designed for a collector. Details gained during this step reveal the target audience.

2)      Open the book, flip through it, and look at how the content is arranged. Identify how many pages and chapters it has, determine how large the paragraphs are, and quickly identify how much dialogue is included in the content. This provides information regarding the structure and readability of the book.

3)      Develop an outline for note-taking that includes questions to answer within the review. For example, if the book is a classic work, the review should explain what makes it so. Use the review to support or deny claims from the book introduction or summary such as whether the work really does represent the thoughts of a generation which it is representing. These arguments logically develop the review thesis.

4)      Read the book, paying attention to not only the words but also the experience of reading. This can be challenging, so stay focused. Write down what captured the most attention, what characters were most likeable and why, and at what points the book seemed to drag.

5)      After a complete read, go back and review the book, taking notes based on the outline developed. Describe what took place in each chapter and what effect it had on you as the reader. Identifying what captured attention and maintained it from one part of the book to another is important because it sets the framework for the remainder of the review. Explain the effect of the book, how it was achieved by the author, and the role each character played in the work. Then, focus on relationships like those between the content and form and between the characters. Not all of this will end up in your final book review, but it will help you in the process of writing it.

6)      Summarize the book in a clear but concise manner, but do not give away the ending, or other “spoliers”! This is the easy part and it serves as the basis for the review. Many reviewers stop after this step, not realizing that only half of their work is done.

7)      Now comes the difficult part: forming opinions about the work and capturing them in writing. Determine whether the book was good or bad and use your written notes to support this view. By explaining why certain aspects of the work were good or bad, your opinion becomes more persuasive. Provide specific examples while passing judgment.

8)      Explain the book in relation to other written works. Put it in context in terms of subject categories like fiction and non-fiction and break these down into science fiction, romance, nature, fantasy, or another sub-category. Relate the book to others that fall into the same classification, using this to explain the book as well as your opinion of it. Tell readers whether it is a groundbreaking work or imitation of another book. In addition, provide some background on the author, including how many other books the person has written.

9)      Tie everything together by restating the review thesis and providing a final judgment of the book. New supporting ideas should only be introduced if they extend the logic of the thesis and go beyond the content of the book to provide food for thought.

10)   Read the review and make sure it explains each primary aspect of the book. Identify the target audience for the review and ensure that the content is appropriate. For example, if those reading the review are new to this type of book, some additional background may need to be provided. Add and remove details as necessary, re-read to make sure the review is on target, and proofread several times.

Some writers feel uncomfortable preparing a book review because they have never written a book. Though writers need not be a Nobel Prize winning author or an expert in the particular subject, they must position themselves as knowledgeable for the audience reading the review. On the other hand, if you are asked to review a book in an area you are not familiar with, you always have the option of saying no.

If you choose to go ahead, you should make it clear at the outset that you are reviewing from the point of view of an outsider to the topic – those in the know will quickly see your inexperience if you try to do anything else. Insightful observations of the book are the foundation of a well-reasoned judgment of the work. The goal is to express opinions tactfully and support these with concrete evidence.

Opinions and recommendations are the focus of a book review and following the steps above will help you integrate these into the evaluation. The book summary should be a minor aspect of the review and the arguments made should be bolstered by specific details. These judgments should also be tied together to create an overall evaluation that supports the thesis statement of the review.

Use the  book review template below to help you structure your thoughts.

Download the Template

Choose from one of the following:

  1. Book Review MSWord Template .dotx (36 KB) this is a template for Word 2007, a .dotx file. Use this if you are familiar with using word documents and expect to use the template regularly.
  2. Book Review Template for Word 2007 .docx (33 KB) this is a Word 2007 document. It is not a Word template, so save it as a new file each time you use it.
  3. Book Review Template for Word 97-’03 .doc (61 KB) this ia a Word 97-2003 document. The ‘Click here to enter text’ fields will not work in this version, so simply highlight that text to write over it. You will need to save the document as a new file each time you use it.
  4. Book Review Template .rtf (50 KB) this is a Rich Text File. The ‘Click here to enter text’ fields will not work in this version, so simply highlight that text to write over it. You will need to save the document as a new file each time you use it.

  6 comments for “Write Better Reviews with a Book Review Template

  1. John Dara
    March 16, 2012 at 2:35 pm

    This concise write-up is very helpful to me as I’m getting more assignments to review books for public presentation.

  2. Kretch
    June 30, 2013 at 12:21 pm

    Thanks very helpful

  3. Lelatlhego Otukile
    September 24, 2013 at 6:14 pm

    Indeed very helpful .

  4. January 10, 2015 at 12:57 pm

    Thank you so much for such great information! I enjoyed your insight so much that I took your recommendation and purchased the book, “The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing.” keep up the good work! AndI’m following you!

  5. Linda
    February 1, 2015 at 11:01 pm

    Very nicely done and helpful to many. Thank you for sharing.

  6. Mia Lomax
    February 18, 2015 at 1:40 am

    Thank you. Very informative and well written. Concise and to the point.

Comments are closed.