FIRE: Forum for International Research in Education
GUIDELINES FOR WRITING A BOOK REVIEW1
The purpose of a review is not simply to report on the contents of a book (although this will comprise a small part of the review), but rather to evaluate it and provide a critical commentary on its contents.
Format of the Book Review
The format of a review is generally as follows, although you should always consult the FIRE Editor () about any specific requirements.
- Introduction: Identify the book you are going to review. The author, title, date and place of publication may be placed at the beginning of the essay in the form of a bibliographic citation. Then state what the author’s goal was in writing the book. Why did the author write on this specific subject? What contribution to our understanding of comparative and international education theory, research, policy, or practice did the author intend to make?
- Brief Summary: In the main body of the review, you should begin by briefly describing the content and organization of the book, along with the most important evidence used. Do not get bogged down in details here; this section is only intended to prepare the reader for the critical assessment to follow.
- Critical Assessment: Evaluate the book’s contribution to our understanding of comparative and international education theory, research, policy, or practice. There are several things you should look for:
- Identify the author's central argument, or thesis. The thesis is not the topic of the book but the specific argument that the author has made about her or his subject. Sometimes, the author states the thesis in the book’s introduction, sometimes in the conclusion. Feel free to read these sections of the book first to determine the author’s main argument. Knowing the main argument will help guide you through the rest of the book. Finding the central argument or arguments can be like finding the forest in the trees: it requires you to step back from the mass of information to identify larger themes. Sometimes a book, such as a general historical or theoretical survey, lacks an explicit argument or thesis.
- Identify the author’s theoretical perspective, conceptual framework, point of view, or purpose. This can be approached in a number of different ways. Ask yourself whether the author has a particular emphasis, such as economic, social, political, culture, or intellectual history. Is the book informed by a personal experience or political ideology? If the book describes a conflict, does the author, either explicitly or implicitly, favor one side over the other? Does the author state the purpose of the book in the introduction or conclusion?
- Look at the author’s evidence: what sources did he or she use? An overview of OECD educational policy based on OECD reports alone would be one-sided. This does not mean that any conclusions from such evidence would be invalid, but the author should demonstrate an awareness of any limitations imposed by the sources used.
At the end of your review, please include:
- Your name as you would like it to be published
- Institution affiliation
- A brief biographical note along the line of: [Name of reviewer] received her (degree) in (field) from….She is currently….Where she teaches/conducts research/practices in….Her interests include…etc.
All citations should be made parenthetically in-text, rather than as footnotes or endnotes using APA style. These references should take the following form: (Smith, 1999). If it is necessary to cite a particular page number, the reference should be in the following form: (Smith, 1999, p.27). A reference list should be provided at the end of the review for all citations. Examples of APA style may be found here: http://www.calstatela.edu/library/guides/3apa.pdf
1Closely adapted from the University of Washington, History Writing Center, Guidelines for Writing a Book Review, http://depts.washington.edu/histwrit/pdf/bkreview.pdf