Writing an academic book review
Writing a book review for an academic journal is a great way to start getting publications on
your CV. Here are some general guidelines that maybe useful, especially if you are writing a
review for the first time:
1. Select a journal within your field of expertise that you are familiar with. There may be
a list of books currently available for review on the journal website.
2. Contact the editor of the journal expressing your interest and in writing a review for
the journal. If there is a new book you would like to review, you can suggest it. For
the most part, however, editors will send you a book that they need to have reviewed.
3. Read the book, and take notes, clearly labelling what chapters they refer to. Write
down anything that you think is interesting or important, so that you can easily come
back to it later. Pay specific attention to the arguments made, the author’s purpose
and how the book contributes to current scholarship in the field. Consider how
original the work is.
4. When writing the review, pay attention to the journal's guidelines for review
formatting. If the editors did not provide you with a format sheet, read a number of
recent reviews in that journal to see how they work. Check for word length, general
use of quotations and relative balance of summary versus critique.
5. Structure – It may be useful to ask how does the structure the book, what sections is
it divided into? Most importantly, how does this relate to the author's arguments and
purpose? You could include brief summaries of the chapters or sections here. You
may also want to describe the theories and methodology used by the author.
6. Do not summarise too broadly. As an academic reviewer, remember that you are
writing for a very knowledgeable audience, particularly about the topic under
discussion. You will not need to introduce every concept in the discipline, as you can
assume that anyone interested in your review will already be familiar with the field.
7. Evaluation - Remember that most academic books are works of professional
conversation and shared scholarship. Even if a book is personally irritating to you,
your job as a reviewer is to introduce and evaluate the book for other professional
scholars. Be charitable in your summary, taking the book on its own terms. When you
introduce your own criticisms and reservations, articulate them in a way that other
professionals will find helpful. Make suggestions about how the argument might have
been improved, how the selection of primary and secondary sources could have
been more effective or what other works might address the same topics in better
8. What did you or didn't you like about it? Be critical, but courteous. Conclude with
some advice on whether and how other scholars should use this book in their own
research. Relate the work to other scholarship in the discipline. How does this work
add to, or argue against, other similar scholarship? What does this work add to the
Other places to look for books available to review are:
Higher Education Academy subject centres
SAGE Methodspace – you need to be a member to access this
Read more on the Emerald insight about their guidelines for authors:
These guidelines are based on the following articles: