Write an Online Book Review

Image by Jellaluna (CC by-NC 2.0)

If you’ve been following our posts through the fall, you’ll know that we’ve been encouraging students (and teachers!) to give an ebook a try. You can review where and how to download a free ebook and how to use the Kindle and Kindle apps in our posts from September 11th, 18th  and 25th.

Writing an online book review is a natural follow-up to downloading and reading an ebook. And it’s a great short writing activity. A review has features in common with the opinion piece that Ontario students must master for the OSSLT. It’s relevant and meaningful, and it gives students the opportunity to publish their work.
A book review can be positive or negative, but in both cases, it should be balanced and fair. Ranting about a book’s shortcomings or fawning over how brilliant it is are not helpful ways to let a reader know whether a book is worth reading or not. And this is ultimately what a good book review does: it convinces and persuades. It helps readers decide if they should spend their precious time with a particular book.
The following tips will guide you through the process of writing an online review that is fair, honest and balanced. Share these with your students, or try writing a book review as a class.
1. Read a number of online book reviews. There’s no better way to learn how to write in a genre than to read that genre. Look on Amazon.com or Amazon.ca. You’ll find customer reviews following a book’s description and product details. You can also find customer reviews at Smashwords.com, although many books on this site haven’t been reviewed yet.
2. Pay close attention to these features of an online review:
  • Online customer reviews are short – usually about 200-300 words, so keep it brief.
  • Some “reviews,” at one or two sentences, are more like blurbs or endorsements. Give the reader more detail than this. 
  • They have a casual tone and may use informal language. Online reviews are usually written in the first person, and may address the reader directly: “This book will make you afraid to turn out the lights.”
  • They have a non-standard structure. What you’ve been taught about paragraph and sentence structure doesn’t apply when writing online. You will probably write your entire review in one paragraph, maybe two. Or, you may have a few one-sentence paragraphs.

 3. State your strongest opinion first. Because online customer reviews are short (to match online readers’ short attention spans), you need to hit the reader quickly with your most compelling point. Is this one of the best books you’ve ever read? One of the worst? Do you recommend the book? Yes, no, or maybe.
4. Provide a very brief description of the book. Is it a romance, mystery or adventure? Part of a series? Would readers have encountered these characters before? Engage readers and jog their memories to help them decide if they like this kind of book.
5. Say something about how you responded to the book. Were you glued to the page? Did it make you cry? Laugh? Shudder in fear? Maybe you couldn’t put it down. Maybe you wanted to hurl it across the room. Saying how you physically reacted to a book can be very persuasive. 
6. List a couple reasons you would recommend the book (or not), and give examples. Readers want to know why you are making a judgment, and they want proof, too. Here’s an example. Why (you don’t like it): “There’s way too much description of the countryside.” Proof: “In places the author goes on for three or four paragraphs describing the shape and colour of the hills beyond town. I tuned out.”    
7. Close with your main point – again. Readers have short attention spans and short memories. Leave them thinking about your most compelling idea.
8. Proofread your review before you submit it. It’s a good idea to ask someone else to proofread it, too. Look for things like spelling errors and typos, poor grammar and missing or incorrect punctuation.
A helpful, well written review is appreciated by both the reader and the author, and making the effort to polish your work makes you more credible as a reviewer. It may catch the attention of readers who will look for more of your reviews in the future, or it may be chosen as a spotlight reviewon the Amazon site. 

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