Author Review Essay Outline

Write the introduction

Below are a few guidelines to help you write the introduction to your critical review.

Introduce your review appropriately

Begin your review with an introduction appropriate to your assignment.

If your assignment asks you to review only one book and not to use outside sources, your introduction will focus on identifying the author, the title, the main topic or issue presented in the book, and the author's purpose in writing the book.

If your assignment asks you to review the book as it relates to issues or themes discussed in the course, or to review two or more books on the same topic, your introduction must also encompass those expectations. 

Explain relationships

For example, before you can review two books on a topic, you must explain to your reader in your introduction how they are related to one another.

Within this shared context (or under this "umbrella") you can then review comparable aspects of both books, pointing out where the authors agree and differ.

In other words, the more complicated your assignment is, the more your introduction must accomplish.

Finally, the introduction to a book review is always the place for you to establish your position as the reviewer (your thesis about the author's thesis).

As you write, consider the following questions:

  • Is the book a memoir, a treatise, a collection of facts, an extended argument, etc.? Is the article a documentary, a write-up of primary research, a position paper, etc.?

  • Who is the author? What does the preface or foreword tell you about the author's purpose, background, and credentials? What is the author's approach to the topic (as a journalist? a historian? a researcher?)?

  • What is the main topic or problem addressed? How does the work relate to a discipline, to a profession, to a particular audience, or to other works on the topic?

  • What is your critical evaluation of the work (your thesis)? Why have you taken that position? What criteria are you basing your position on?  

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Provide an overview

In your introduction you will also want to provide an overview. An overview supplies your reader with certain general information not appropriate for including in the introduction but necessary to understanding the body of the review.

Generally, an overview describes your book's division into chapters, sections, or points of discussion. An overview may also include background information about the topic, about your stand, or about the criteria you will use for evaluation.

The overview and the introduction work together to provide a comprehensive beginning for (a "springboard" into) your review.

As you write, consider the following questions:

  • What are the author's basic premises? What issues are raised, or what themes emerge? What situation (i.e., racism on college campuses) provides a basis for the author's assertions?

  • How informed is my reader? What background information is relevant to the entire book and should be placed here rather than in a body paragraph?

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Critical reviews, both short (one page) and long (four pages), usually have a similar structure. Check your assignment instructions for formatting and structural specifications. Headings are usually optional for longer reviews and can be helpful for the reader.

Summarising and paraphrasing are essential skills for academic writing and in particular, the critical review. To summarise means to reduce a text to its main points and its most important ideas. The length of your summary for a critical review should only be about one quarter to one third of the whole critical review.

The best way to summarise is to:

  1. Scan the text. Look for information that can be deduced from the introduction, conclusion and the title and headings. What do these tell you about the main points of the article?
  2. Locate the topic sentences and highlight the main points as you read.
  3. Reread the text and make separate notes of the main points. Examples and evidence do not need to be included at this stage. Usually they are used selectively in your critique.

Paraphrasing means putting it into your own words. Paraphrasing offers an alternative to using direct quotations in your summary (and the critique) and can be an efficient way to integrate your summary notes.

The best way to paraphrase is to:

  1. Review your summary notes
  2. Rewrite them in your own words and in complete sentences
  3. Use reporting verbs and phrases (eg; The author describes…, Smith argues that …).
  4. If you include unique or specialist phrases from the text, use quotation marks.

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