How to write a review

How to write a review

by Dương Lê Đức Minh (Faculty of Linguitics and Cultures of English-Speaking Countries)

I/ A review needs to present an insightful argument:

            Writing a review, similar to many other forms of academic writings, requires you to logically structure and argumentatively present your personal impression of books. An argument pertaining any books is your stance, your claim, or your understanding of such readings that helps formulating the thesis statement

The main argument is always demonstrated in the thesis statement. Having a clear and succinct thesis statement is imperative to a successful piece of academic writing, for such a statement is where readers expect to have an overview of your position and perspective on topics engaged in your essays. A poorly written thesis statement would certainly hamper readers’ ability to understand and evaluate the merit of any reviews.

Any academic argument, including that of reviews, mandate authors to provide evidence in order to persuade a readership. This means that you MUST support your argument by both research of relevant academic sources and analysis of germane textual evidence pertaining chosen novels or text books.

It is important to bear in mind that an academic argument is neither a negative confrontation against a topic, nor an emotional response based on one’s opinion. A persuasive argument should be able to know how and when to incorporate necessary evidence and analysis to demonstrate logical thinking and indicate critical engagement with novels or books chosen for the review. In that sense, knowing the ‘know-how’ in formulating an argument is utterly crucial.

Visit this website for more guidance and information on how to formulate and structure an effective argument:

Please pay attention to the section called ‘Academic Arguments Overview’ on the webpage.

II/ What is expected in a review?


  • In general, the introduction must have the following information:
  • The name of the author and the book title and the main theme.
  • Relevant details about who the author is and where he/she stands in the genre or field of inquiry. You could also link the title to the subject to show how the title explains the subject matter.
  • The context of the book and/or your review. Placing your review in a framework, such as academics, culture or historical period, signals the limited scope of the review, yet enables readers to perceive your critical approach to interpreting and perceiving the book. Perhaps you want to situate a book about the fundamentals of modern linguistics written by a group of western writers in our university academic curriculum to critically evaluate its positive and negative ramification in the process of teaching and studying linguistics for Vietnamese students. In other words, your chosen framework will determine your ‘take’, which could be a criticism or a laudation, of the book.
  • The thesis of the book. If you are reviewing fiction, this may be difficult since novels, plays, and short stories rarely have explicit arguments. But identifying the book’s particular novelty, angle, or originality allows you to demonstrate your personal impression and critical evaluation on the book. For example, in the introduction, you claim that the novel The Great Gatsby is a critique towards the fickle, yet perennially alluring American dream. In the body of the review, you must thus proceed to show how you arrive at this understanding of the novel’s profound message, and in what ways you think the author is successful or unsuccessful in delivering such criticism of the ‘American dream’ as a concept.
  • There are many ways for writers to introduce their main argument in review, but the thesis statement indicating such argument must always be situated in the introduction.


  • Summary of content:
  • For novels and literary texts: Since the review for this competition has a limit of 1000 words, you should not devote the majority of the textual space in your review to summarizing the content of the novel. The merit of your review is mainly evaluated on the quality of your argumentative structure and the execution of your logical, as well as, critical thinking. Of course, you should be able to indicate what the main events (or the plot) and protagonists are in the novels; however, be mindful of the fact that a mentioning of such details should complement your arguments, and not just for the sake of providing a summary. In other words, the summary should be brief, as analysis takes priority. In the course of making your assessment, you’ll hopefully be backing up your assertions with concrete evidence from the book, so some summary will be dispersed throughout other parts of the review.
  • For textbooks and academic materials: You should NOT try to summarize textbooks because there is no possible way to strike a balance between analysis and summary in a review of 1000 words. For textbooks, there are some aspects that may worth your analytical focus: the intended usage of the book (normally claimed in the preface), the structure of the book (by analyzing the table of content), and the content of the book (some sections, or the book as a whole, but NOT all sections or chapters in detail).
  • Analysis and evaluation of content:
  • Your analysis and evaluation should be organized into paragraphs that deal with single aspects of your argument. Topic sentences, which indicate supporting ideas or arguments, should be placed at the beginning of each paragraph. This arrangement can be challenging when your purpose is to consider the book as a whole, but it can help you differentiate elements of your criticism and pair assertions with evidence more clearly.
  • You do not necessarily need to work chronologically through the book as you discuss it. Given the argument you want to make, you can organize your paragraphs more usefully by themes, methods, or other elements of the book. If you find it useful to include comparisons to other books, keep them brief so that the book under review remains in the spotlight. Avoid excessive quotation and give a specific page reference in parentheses when you do quote. Even though you can state many of the author’s points in your own words, just be mindful that you only have a maximum of 1000 words to paraphrase, analyze and evidently substantiate your evaluation of the author’s views.
  • More specifically, here are some recommended, but not advised, analytical trajectories phrased as questions for a review:

+ For novels, short stories and literary texts: Does the text criticize or eulogize anything? How does it do it? Do you think the author is successful with such attempts with this book? Why do you think so? Do you think he is more/or less successful with his critique or laudation of issues presented the book? Who do you think the intended audience is? Do you think it will attract readers? etc.

+ For educational textbooks: What are the main topics investigated in the book? What are the topics that worth discussing the review? What methodologies used in the book? What are the ramification of using such methodologies in this book? Do you think the book is a good fit for learning this subject? Why and how so? Do you think students and lecturer can benefit a lot from using this book? Why and how so? etc.

+ For socio-political books: What are the main ideas (political ideologies and branches of philosophy) presented in the books? Do you agree or disagree with such ideas? Why so? What is the purpose of reading the book? What will you learn from reading this book? What social issues successfully/ or unsuccessfully engaged by the book? What contribution does the book make to an academic discourse? Do you personally think such contribution is necessary? etc.

+ For historical books: What are the historical periods mentioned in the books? What are the historical periods do you think worth focusing? How does the book contribute a historical discourse? Does the book misrepresent any historical events or figures? (Please provide valid evidence and citation of such evidence if the book does not present historical events accurately) Do you think that the book will attract a lot of readers? Why so? Does the book engage with certain historical controversy? And how? etc.

+ For theoretical books concerning cultural or literary criticism: What are the fields of inquiry (modernism, postmodernism, postcolonial studies, feminism, etc.) mentioned in the book? Does the book present any criticisms towards cultural issues or phenomenon? How does it do it? Do you think such criticisms are valid? Why and how so? Do you think the book contribute anything new to the landscape/discourse of cultural and literary criticisms? How so? etc.


 Sum up or restate your thesis or make the final judgment regarding the book.

  • You should not introduce new evidence for your argument in the conclusion. You can, however, introduce new ideas that go beyond the book if they extend the logic of your own thesis.
  • This paragraph needs to balance the book’s strengths and weaknesses in order to unify your evaluation. What do all your evaluation and analysis add up to?

 *The Concise St. Martin’s Guide to Writing: Download.