I. Bibliographic Information
Provide the essential information about the book using the writing style asked for by your professor [e.g., APA, MLA, Chicago, etc.]. Depending on how your professor wants you to organize your review, the bibliographic information represents the heading of your review. In general, it would look like this:
The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party's Revolution and the Battle over American History. By Jill Lepore. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010. xii, 207pp.).
Reviewed by [your name].
Begin your review by telling the reader not only the overarching concern of the book in its entirety [the subject area] but also what the author's particular point of view is on that subject [the thesis statement]. If you cannot find an adequate statement in the author's own words or if you find that the thesis statement is not well-developed, then you will have to compose your own introductory thesis statement that does cover all the material. This statement should be no more than one paragraph and must be succinctly stated, accurate, and unbiased.
If you find it difficult to discern the overall aims and objectives of the book [and, be sure to point this out in your review if you determine that this is a deficiency], you may arrive at an understanding of the book's overall purpose by assessing the following:
- Scan the table of contents because it can help you understand how the book was organized and will aid in determining the author's main ideas and how they were developed [e.g., chronologically, topically, etc.].
- Why did the author write on this subject rather than on some other subject?
- From what point of view is the work written?
- Was the author trying to give information, to explain something technical, or to convince the reader of a belief’s validity by dramatizing it in action?
- What is the general field or genre, and how does the book fit into it? If necessary, review related literature from other books and journal articles to familiarize yourself with the field.
- Who is the intended audience?
- What is the author's style? Is it formal or informal? You can evaluate the quality of the writing style by noting some of the following standards: coherence, clarity, originality, forcefulness, accurate use of technical words, conciseness, fullness of development, and fluidity.
- How did the book affect you? Were any prior assumptions you had on the subject that were changed, abandoned, or reinforced after reading the book? How is the book related to your own personal beliefs or assumptions? What personal experiences have you had that relate to the subject?
- How well has the book achieved the goal(s) set forth in the preface, introduction, and/or foreword?
- Would you recommend this book to others? Why or why not?
III. Note the Method
Illustrate your remarks with specific references and quotations that help to illustrate the literary method used to state the research problem, describe the research design, and analyze the findings. In general, authors tend to use the following literary methods, exclusively or in combination.
- Description: The author depicts scenes and events by giving specific details that appeal to the five senses, or to the reader’s imagination. The description presents background and setting. Its primary purpose is to help the reader realize, through as many sensuous details as possible, the way persons, places, and things are within the phenomenon being described.
- Narration: The author tells the story of a series of events, usually thematically or in chronological order. In general, the emphasis in scholarly books is on narration of the events. Narration tells what has happened and, in some cases, using this method to forecast what could happen in the future. Its primary purpose is to draw the reader into a story and create a contextual framework for understanding the research problem.
- Exposition: The author uses explanation and analysis to present a subject or to clarify an idea. Exposition presents the facts about a subject or an issue clearly and as impartially as possible. Its primary purpose is to describe and explain, to document for the historical record an event or phenomenon.
- Argument: The author uses techniques of persuasion to establish understanding of a particular truth, often in the form of a research question, or to convince the reader of its falsity. The overall aim is to persuade the reader to believe something and perhaps to act on that belief. Argument takes sides on an issue and aims to convince the reader that the author's position is valid, logical, and/or reasonable.
IV. Critically Evaluate the Contents
Critical comments should form the bulk of your book review. State whether or not you feel the author's treatment of the subject matter is appropriate for the intended audience. Ask yourself:
- Has the purpose of the book been achieved?
- What contributions does the book make to the field?
- Is the treatment of the subject matter objective or at least balanced in describing all sides of a debate?
- Are there facts and evidence that have been omitted?
- What kinds of data, if any, are used to support the author's thesis statement?
- Can the same data be interpreted to explain alternate outcomes?
- Is the writing style clear and effective?
- Does the book raise important or provocative issues or topics for discussion
- Does the book bring attention to the need for further research?
- What has been left out?
Support your evaluation with evidence from the text and, when possible, state the book's quality in relation to other scholarly sources. If relevant, note of the book's format, such as, layout, binding, typography, etc. Are there tables, charts, maps, illustrations, text boxes, photographs, or other non-textual elements? Do they aid in understanding the text? Describing this is particularly important in books that contain a lot of non-textual elements.
NOTE: It is important to carefully distinguish your views from those of the author so as not to confuse your reader. Be clear when you are describing an author's point of view versus your own.
V. Examine the Front Matter and Back Matter
Front matter refers to anything before the first chapter of the book. Back matter refers to any information included after the final chapter of the book. Front matter is most often numbered separately from the rest of the text in lower case Roman numerals [i.e. i - xi]. Critical commentary about front or back matter is generally only necessary if you believe there is something that diminishes the overall quality of the work [e.g., the indexing is poor] or there is something that is particularly helpful in understanding the book's contents [e.g., foreword places the book in an important context].
The following front matter may be included in a book and may be considered for evaluation when reviewing its overall quality:
- Table of contents -- is it clear? Is it detailed or general? Does it reflect the true contents of the book?
- Author biography -- also found as back matter, the biography of author(s) can be useful in determining the authority of the writer and whether the book builds on prior research or represents new research. In scholarly reviews, noting the author's affiliation can be a factor in helping the reader determine the overall validity of the work [i.e., are they associated with a research center devoted to studying the research problem under investigation].
- Foreword -- the purpose of a foreword is to introduce the reader to the author as well as the book itself, and to help establish credibility for both. A foreword may not contribute any additional information about the book's subject matter, but it serves as a means of validating the book's existence. Later editions of a book sometimes have a new foreword prepended [appearing before an older foreword, if there was one], which may be included to explain how the latest edition differs from previous editions.
- Acknowledgements -- scholarly studies in the social sciences often take many years to write, so authors frequently acknowledge the help and support of others in getting their research published. This can be as innocuous as acknowledging the author's family or the publisher. However, an author may acknowledge prominent scholars or subject experts, staff at key research centers, or people who curate important archival collections. In these particular cases, it may be worth noting these sources of support in your review.
- Preface -- generally describes the genesis, purpose, limitations, and scope of the book and may include acknowledgments of indebtedness to people who have helped the author complete the study. Is the preface helpful in understanding the study? Does it provide an effective framework for understanding what's to follow?
- Chronology -- also may be found as back matter, a chronology is generally included to highlight key events related to the subject of the book. Do the entries contribute to the overall work? Is it detailed or very general?
- List of non-textual elements -- a book that contains a lot of charts, photographs, maps, etc. will often list these items after the table of contents in the order that they appear in the text. Is it useful?
The following back matter may be included in a book and may be considered for evaluation when reviewing the overall quality of the book:
- Afterword -- this is a short, reflective piece written by the author that takes the form of a concluding section, final commentary, or closing statement. It is worth mentioning in a review if it contributes information about the purpose of the book, gives a call to action, summarizes key recommendations or next steps, or asks the reader to consider key points made in the book.
- Appendix -- is the supplementary material in the appendix or appendices well organized? Do they relate to the contents or appear superfluous? Does it contain any essential information that would have been more appropriately integrated into the text?
- Index -- there may be separate indexes for names and subjects or one integrated index. Is the indexing thorough and accurate? Are elements used, such as, bold or italic fonts to help identify specific places in the book? Does the index include "see also" references to direct you to related topics?
- Glossary of Terms -- are the definitions clearly written? Is the glossary comprehensive or are there key terms missing? Are any terms or concepts mentioned in the text not included that should have been?
- Footnotes/Endnotes -- examine any footnotes or endnotes as you read from chapter to chapter. Do they provide important additional information? Do they clarify or extend points made in the body of the text? Should any notes have been better integrated into the text rather than separated?
- Bibliography/References/Further Readings -- review any bibliography, list of references to sources, and/or further readings the author may have included. What kinds of sources appear [e.g., primary or secondary, recent or old, scholarly or popular, etc.]? How does the author make use of them? Be sure to note important omissions of sources that you believe should have been utilized, including important digital resources or archival collections.
VI. Summarize and Comment
State your general conclusions briefly and succinctly. Pay particular attention to the author's concluding chapter and/or afterword. Is the summary convincing? List the principal topics, and briefly summarize the author’s ideas about these topics, main points, and conclusions. If appropriate and to help clarify your overall evaluation, use specific references and quotations to support your statements. If your thesis has been well argued, the conclusion should follow naturally. It can include a final assessment or simply restate your thesis. Do not introduce new information in the conclusion. If you've compared the book to any other works or used other sources in writing the review, be sure to cite them at the end of your book review.
Book Reviews. Writing@CSU. Colorado State University; Book Reviews. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Gastel, Barbara. "Special Books Section: A Strategy for Reviewing Books for Journals." BioScience 41 (October 1991): 635-637; Hartley, James. "Reading and Writing Book Reviews Across the Disciplines." Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 57 (July 2006): 1194–1207; Procter, Margaret. The Book Review or Article Critique. The Lab Report. University College Writing Centre. University of Toronto; Reading a Book to Review It. The Writer’s Handbook. Writing Center. University of Wisconsin, Madison; Scarnecchia, David L. "Writing Book Reviews for the Journal Of Range Management and Rangelands." Rangeland Ecology and Management 57 (2004): 418-421; Simon, Linda. "The Pleasures of Book Reviewing." Journal of Scholarly Publishing 27 (1996): 240-241; Writing a Book Review. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Writing Book Reviews. Writing Tutorial Services, Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. Indiana University.
Research reports and papers can be streamlines and improved with a few handy Google tools. Here’s a workflow your students can use. (Public domain image via Pixabay.com)
The traditional research paper has been around a long time. We all likely have a memory of sweating over one at the last minute.
They’re still a staple in K-12 schools and in universities.
We don’t use formal academic papers and reports that much in real life. Often, they’re sources for more academic papers and reports.
I’m a huge advocate of reinventing the research paper/report. I’d like to think of infographics as “Research Report 2.0”, and there are plenty of other creative options for them. I wrote a blog post about 10 creative alternatives to research reports and papers that may give you some ideas.
If you still need students to do research papers and think it’s a vital skill, Google has you covered. When used in unison, several of its tools let you do that academic work more effectively and efficiently.
Here’s the Google way to do research reports and papers in 10 steps. And please feel free to add your own nuances, changes or additional steps in the comments below!
1. Get started quickly. Instead of having students go to Google Drive to start a new document, try one of these two ideas:
- Add a link to this URL to the assignment: docs.google.com/create. That URL automatically creates a new document in the Google account you have active.
- Create documents for your students that you have access to. Create a new document in YOUR Google Drive. It can even be a blank Google document if you want. Then attach it to your Google Classroom assignment and choose “Make a copy for each student.” When that document is created, the student will be its owner, but you’ll automatically be given editing rights.
2. Take organized notes in Google Keep. Google Keep is like index cards or sticky notes. They can be color coded or organized by label (kind of like the tabs on filing folders). It’s an amazing way to help students gather information and keep it in one place.
Some suggestions for student note-taking in Google Keep:
- Have students create a label for your assignment. They assign that label to every note pertaining to your assignment.
- Use color coding to organize notes within that label. If students have four main topics in their papers, each topic gets its own color. That way, if students open just notes with your assignment’s label and sort by a certain color, they’ll only get the notes related to that part of the paper.
3. Add notes with other tools. Students don’t just have to go to the Google Keep site on a computer or Chromebook to use Keep. Here are some other options:
- If it helps them, students may want to add notes with a mobile device and the Google Keep app (Android / iOS).
- If they’re finding articles in academic journals, news sources and other places, the Google Keep Chrome extensionwill be useful. Students navigate to the page with the article and click the Google Keep Chrome extension button in the top right of their Google Chrome web browser. It will automatically create a new Google Keep note with a link to the article. Students can add extra info, a note title without leaving the page.
4. Use split screen. Sometimes, it helps to have research open on one half of the screen and a place to take notes (like Google Keep!) open on the other half. Tab Scissors and Tab Glue are great Chrome extensions to make that happen.
- Tab Scissors will split the tabs you have open in your browser into two browsers side by side. It splits your open tabs at the active tab. That means that whatever tab you have active (that’s displaying on your screen), that’s where Tab Scissors will split them into two.
- Tab Glue brings the two split windows back together in one window.
5. Don’t copy words. Gather ideas. It will be tempting for students to highlight, copy and paste text from their sources into Google Keep. I would encourage them to avoid that at all costs. If they copy/paste text into their Keep notes, they’ll have to make sure it’s in their own words when it’s written into the assignment. (And it’s probably much easier to write it in their own words while creating notes in Keep.)
6. Use Google Scholar to find more scholarly works. If students need to include published research, journal articles or other more academic sources, Google Scholar (scholar.google.com) is a great resource. Not everything is available for free with full text, but there’s LOTS of great stuff there.
7. Organize material in a document. Here’s where the magic starts. Since Google added Keep to its core G Suite tools, Keep and Docs work together on one screen.
To open the Keep notepad in Google Docs, go to Tools > Keep notepad.
When you do, your Keep notes are displayed in a sidebar. From there, you can add a new note, search your notes and scroll through your notes. But that’s not the best part.
You can drag notes directly from the Keep notes sidebar into a Google document.
One way to execute this:
- Have students create the headings for the different parts of their paper.
- If they’ve been color coding their notes, they can start dragging each color into the appropriate heading. (i.e. If they have four topics and if topic #1 is blue, they can drag all their blue notes under that heading.)
- If they’ve been writing their notes in their own words instead of copying/pasting (see “Don’t copy words. Gather ideas.” above), most of the work in writing their paper is done for them. Instead of staring at a blank screen and starting from scratch, they just need to massage the words into a cohesive message and fill in holes with the appropriate missing information.
8. Add images responsibly. Google Docs has an image search built in that pulls Creative Commons and public domain images from databases on the web. These images are licensed for use by students. When they find an image and click on it, they can see the source of the image (see below). This is a great place to track down the image, make sure it’s licensed as Google suggests, and gather the attribution information to include with the image. (See more: How to get and use free images — the RIGHT way — in class)
9. Create charts in Google Drawings, Sheets or Forms. Visuals solidify new ideas in our minds. Plus, by creating visuals, students get a firmer grasp on the content they’re learning. Here are two ways students can create their own visuals:
- Create charts and infographics with Google Drawings. Drawings gives students a blank page where they can add text, images, shapes and lines. It’s great for making flowcharts and graphic representations of new ideas. Check out this post for more ideas on creating infographics with Google Drawings.
- Turn data into a chart with Google Sheets. Students may find census data or any other data set on their research topic. They can turn that data into charts to help the reader grasp the ideas in that data. Use this support page to learn how to create charts. Those charts can easily be grabbed via screenshot and added to a document.
- Use survey/poll data from Google Forms. Students can run an informal poll and report the results in their reports. Create a survey with Google Forms. Share a link to it and let others respond. It’s easy to share the survey link via social media, parent email, school newsletter, etc. Once the results are in, Google Forms creates charts of the data in the “Responses” tab. Take a screenshot of those charts and add them to the report.
10. Cite your sources easily. I have clear memories of thumbing through a style manual in college to appropriately cite sources in my papers. Those days are gone (or can be gone if we let them). Several tools can help students:
- Google Scholar — If the source can be found on Scholar, click the “Cite” button to generate citations for MLA, APA, Chicago, Harvard or Vancouver.
- Explore — If your source is found in a standard Google search, the “Explore” button in Google Docs can generate a footnote.
- EasyBib — EasyBib (www.easybib.com) is an online citation generator. Add a URL from an article, book, video/film, journal, database or more, and EasyBib will create a citation for you.
Voila! Your report or paper is now complete.
Of course, don’t forget that it’s easier than ever to share student work widely with a big audience. Consider letting students publish their work on a website, share it via social media or more.
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Matt is scheduled to present at the following upcoming events:
|Date||Event / Event Details||City / More Info|
|+||03/16/2018||Lake Shore Central School||Angola, NY|
|+||03/30/2018||Taylorville CUSD||Taylorville, IL|
|+||04/11/2018||Switzerland County School Corp||Vevay, IN|
|+||04/21/2018||Great Expectations||Edmond, OK|
|+||04/25/2018||Connect Conference||Niagra Falls, CA|
|+||06/01/2018||MSD of Martinsville||Martinsville, IN|
|+||06/04/2018||Granbury ISD||Granbury, TX|
|+||06/05/2018||Columbus City Schools||Columbus OH|
|+||06/06/2018||School City of Mishawaka||Mishawaka, IL|
|+||06/12/2018||2nd Annual Learn, Explore, Adopt and Deliver (LEAD) Conference||Cleveland, OH|
|+||06/19/2018||Tyler ISD||Tyler, TX|
|+||06/21/2018||Barr-Reeve Jr/Sr High School- Washington Community Schools||Washington, IN|
|+||08/09/2018||St. Joseph Grade School||South Bend, IN|
|+||08/14/2018||Tech Camp||Portage, Michigan|