The University of Mississippi

Guidelines for reviews of scholarly literature

A review shows that you understand the purpose of a scholarly book or article, that you understand the author's philosophy or point of view and possible bias. Reviews in scholarly journals begin with a heading (not indented) containing comprehensive bibliographic information on the work to be reviewed: at a bare minimum, author, title, place, publisher and date. The remainder of the review consists of expository prose, in paragraphs. The following are issues that should be addressed in nearly every review.

  1. A summary of the contents: what issues does the author address? Beware of making this summary proportionally too long, or of merely repeating the table of contents of the book. What do you know about the author's philosophy or approach to the subject, based on other work or reputation?
  2. What is the purpose of the work in question? What audience is the author trying to reach, and by what means does the author hope to persuade this audience? Frequently, but not always, authors offer a rationale for their work in a preface; otherwise, you must use your own powers of discernment.
  3. How effective is the author in achieving these goals? Are the arguments clear and relevant? Do they cite evidence from reliable and plausible sources? Do they adequately address objections or difficult data that might seem to contradict the author's thesis? Are the author's biases sufficiently subdued that he may be able to reach readers who do not share these biases? Are there any important issues that are neglected or ignored?
  4. You may, optionally, choose to offer personal reactions and opinions on the work, in addition to the more "objective" criticism prescribed above. This may reveal something of your own personality and biases, and may make your own work more vivid and satisfying to read.

Reviews are normally signed, at the end, with the reviewer's name and institution. When reviews are turned in as class assignments, it is helpful to place your own name at the beginning as well.