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Writing a Critical Review of a Nonfiction Book or Article

Heather Long
Critical Review

Writing a critical review of a nonfiction book or article requires a concise summary and assessment. The goal of a critical review is to provide the audience with the right tools to decide whether they want to read the nonfiction book or article. Writers may choose to build a career out of writing critical reviews because of the free products that publishers may send them, but writing reviews is also a great way to gain experience that can be valuable in other areas of freelance writing.

Beginning Writing a Critical Review of a Nonfiction Book or Article

Writers interested in critical reviews may begin by contacting the media departments of various publishers to request review copies. Be sure the work requested contains a publishing date within the last six to ten months. While some writers may attempt to get copies of very recent publications, an untested critical reviewer may experience some difficulty in that area.

Starting the Critical Review

Writing a critical review of a nonfiction book or article begins with reading it. Some reviewers like to read it through without taking any notes or breaks. Sampling a book is much like sampling food or wine, the taste begins with the first page and continues throughout the experience. You cannot review what you have not read or experienced. In some cases, the work may plod and become very difficult to digest. These are moments worth noting.

Items to Consider

When you have finished reading the work, answer the following questions:

  • What was the goal of the work? Was it clear? Did it lose focus or purpose?
  • Was the author successful in achieving that goal? Why or why not?
  • Were you moved emotionally by the work?

In all forms of writing, there are key elements that appeal to readers. Nonfiction books, unlike their fictional cousins, do not create colorful characters necessarily. The reader is left to decide whether the elements of writing were compelling, whether it is a book on Watergate, a former President, an athlete, or a trend in psychology. As a critical reviewer, you must answer that question. Did you find the writing compelling? Did it keep you engaged? Did you learn something you didn't know before? In the case of an autobiography or event, did it change your perception of the person or the event?

Avoid Big Reveals

When the former Press Secretary Scott McClellan's book came out in May of 2008, a large number of critical reviews were written. In some cases, huge chunks of the book were published with the reviews and revealed key turning points in the text. It's important to remember to tease the reader, not give away the store. A critical review may highlight a point of interest, but it should never give away the meat.

Writing a Critical Review

When writing a critical review, remember the rules of all good writing. The opening should grab the reader and intrigue them. The first three sentences will determine whether the reader will actually keep reading or skip on to the next article.

Highlight the points that are most interesting. In the case of Scott McClellan's book, the former Press Secretary worked for President Bush for many years and his disagreement with his former boss and the administration carries some weight due to his title. Find a way to work that weight into the review, whether it's a single point or multiple points.

Do not get bogged down in the language, be succinct in your choices. Get to the point without meandering around it or dressing it up in pretty language.

What portions grabbed you? What portions turned you off? Ultimately, a critical review is your opinion based on your judgment of the work in comparison to other work of the same caliber. So if you plan to review biographies, start reading now, the more experience you have; the better.

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Writing a Critical Review of a Nonfiction Book or Article