Wednesday, January 14, 2015

How to Write a Review of a Non-Fiction Book

glasses resting on open book

Looking for tips on how to write a review of a non-fiction book that gets your book review noticed? Come along. Let's read, write, and share our favorite books.

Non-fiction books are full of information. These sources of how to do most anything, self-help for all occasions, and true-life adventures fill bookstore shelves. How do we know if a book is worth reading? The best way is to ask a few friends or to read a few book reviews.

Every book is unique and each book reviewer has a different view. This makes for a diversity of opinions and myriad approaches to writing a review of a non-fiction book. The challenge for you, as a book reviewer, is to find your special touch that brings readers to you when they want to add to their reading list.

Make your book reviews stand out from the crowd by asking yourself a few questions while you read.

What does my audience want to know about this book?

A book review for a non-fiction book is a critique, a constructive evaluation of the book. As the writer of a book review, your job is to give readers a quick glimpse inside the cover. Here are few things your readers may want to know:
  • The main point of the book.
  • Why you decided to read the book.
  • What they will learn by reading the book.
  • The book's strong points and weak points.
  • Why they should read the book.
And, you only have between 500 and 1000 words to give them all this information. So, be brief, concise, and only cover the major points. Those points that left a lasting impression on you. But, where do you begin? Begin by reviewing the cover.

What is my first impression of this book?

The saying, Don't judge a book by its cover, does not apply to book reviews. Publishers work hard to design book covers that attract attention and to write cover copy that genuinely describes the book.

As you explore the book cover and the introduction pages, evaluate these items:
  • The author's background and qualifications to write about the subject.
  • How well the title describes the book.
  • The information revealed in the author's introduction and the table of contents.
  • The description of the book on the book cover.
With your first impression firmly in your mind, read the book and determine if the book meets your initial impression. Did the book deliver on the promises made by the cover? What impressions did you form as you read the book? Pay attention to your feelings about the book and the impact the book is making on your life. And, take notes.

What points stand out as I read this book?

As you read, keep a notebook by your side to take notes. These notes will help structure your book review and help you remember important points and lessons you learned from the book.

Here are a few note-worthy points:
  • Is the writing style easy to understand? How well does the author get the point across? Does the author stay on topic?
  • Did you learn something new? Does the book deliver on its promise? How helpful or informative was the book?
  • Is the book innovative? Does it contain new and updated information? Does it make you think about the topic differently?
As you take notes, also take note of passages that summarize the theme of the book. Select one or two good quotes in your book review to reinforce your critique of the book.

How should I organize and format the book review?

Your audience is your priority when writing a book review. What do they need to know about the book to make a decision? What parts of the book will your audience find useful and informative? What parts of the book will be less than helpful? Organize your book review around your audience's needs.

Here are some general guidelines on how to organize a book review:
  • Start with a brief summary of the book and its benefits, new discoveries, and timely advice. Keep your summary to 1 or 2 short paragraphs.
  • Offer suggestions on how the book may be useful to readers. Does it solve a particular problem? Does it accomplish a specific task?
  • Provide your critique and evaluation. Describe the parts that you found most interesting or helpful. And, tell your reader what you didn't like about the book.
  • Close your book review by giving your honest opinion. Be brief and keep your personal input to 2 or 3 sentences.
Use these tips as a starting point for organizing your book review. The notes you took and the impressions you formed while reading the book will guide you through the writing process. Your audience's needs will also guide you. After you write the review, read it from your audience's perspective and edit as necessary.

What are some good examples of book reviews?

You'll find book reviews all over the Internet. Every bookstore, publisher, and blogger has book reviews of every genre and price range. My favorite place to find inspiration and new ideas is the New York Times Sunday Book Review.

What is the difference between a good book review and a bad book review? The Writing Center at University of North Carolina provides an example. The Book Reviews handout shows what it takes to write an expert book review. You'll also find more helpful tips that will help you get your book reviews noticed.

Posted by Coletta Teske
Coletta Teske

About This Contributor

Coletta Teske writes reviews on books, business management, writing, crafting, cooking, and gardening. She is also an avid recycler and shares her tips on recycling. She delights in upcycling an old object, recycling or transforming discarded items into a new treasure.

Note: The author may receive a commission from purchases made using links found in this article. “As an Amazon Associate, Ebay (EPN) and/or Esty (Awin) Affiliate, I (we) earn from qualifying purchases.”


  1. A really good book review can truly make a huge difference. I frequently buy books based on the book reviews I have read and recommendations. I really wish books had ratings like movies. I think that is why I prefer book review recommendations instead of just picking a book up based on the cover. Often a reviewer will tell me if a book is too explicit or uses profane language.

    1. Book reviews definitely have a place on the Web where we can't pick up a book in the bookstore and flip through the pages. Even though many retailers and publishers offer a preview of the introduction and first chapter or two, it just isn't the same.

  2. I agree with Cynthia Sylvestermouse in that I prefer to read a personalized review from someone who has actually read the book and discloses its content from a rating standpoint too.

  3. Thanks for a very good summary. I do write book reviews, mainly of fictional works - but with the odd non-fiction here and there. This was certainly very helpful for me.

    Also enjoyed the link to NC University - but I need to read that one over a couple of times, quite a lot to take in there.

    1. Thank you for visiting! Yes, the link to NCU is long, but it is very informative and their example of turning a blank non-fiction book review into an excellent review is very helpful.

  4. I know well-written book reviews can be very helpful when deciding to buy a book, especially if you are purchasing online without benefit of seeing the actual book. I've written a few fiction book reviews over the years, but will definitely keep these points in mind to refer to if I find a non-fiction book I wish to review. Thanks for these helpful hints, Coletta.

  5. very good summary of how to write a non fiction book review!


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