Academic Writing AdviceAcademic, Writing, Advice
ServiceScape Incorporated
ServiceScape Incorporated
2017

How to Write Outstanding College Level Book Reports

JBirdwellBranson

There's nothing quite like enjoying a really solid piece of literature. Hours can pass while you're diving into a new world that the author has created. Your enjoyment of your novel may dissipate slightly when you are trying to figure out how to write a college level book report about it—but it doesn't have to be that way. Analyzing (and maybe even critiquing) novels is a useful skill that will help you both in and outside of the classroom. In this post we will outline the best strategies of painlessly writing a book report. It's important to note that there is no one generic book report assignment. This isn't necessarily a step-by-step guide, but it can help get you started thinking about the specific requirements that your instructor has for you.

Know the assignment

When you start out your book report assignment, it's important that you know exactly what your instructor is requiring. Does your instructor want you to explore the book's theme and write a five-paragraph essay on it, or are you supposed to be writing an essay about a particular character? Read through the assignment sheet very carefully and make sure that you understand all of the instructions. If you have questions or are uncertain about something, be sure to ask your instructor.

Actually read the book

Even though it may be tempting to take a shortcut and watch a movie adaptation of your book or even to read the Sparknotes, definitely resist that urge. Not only will your report be more thorough if you read the book the whole way through, but reading and understanding themes and outlining a novel plot is an invaluable experience. You'll be able to understand books on a completely new and more appreciative level. When you are reading the novel for your book report, write down page numbers or passages that pertain to the assignment or that you think might be interesting to mention.

Try to really sink into what the author is trying to say by asking yourself the following questions:

  1. What is the main theme of the book? The theme is the meaning or the entire reason behind writing the book. An author doesn't typically write just to write something down. What motivated them to pen this novel?
  2. What is happening to the characters? Typically novels are told from the perspective (either in the first or third person) of the main character, though some novels have multiple perspectives. Is this character a good character or are they flawed? What kinds of obstacles is the character going through? What did they learn during the course of the story?
  3. What is the plot of the book? There are several different kinds of plots, and it's helpful to know what kind your chosen novel has in order to help you analyze it better. Some stories are quests: that is, the main character is on a journey to accomplish a goal (think Lord of the Rings). Some stories are overcoming obstacles—whether that's internal or external. What kind of plot does your novel have and why do you think the author chose that particular type?

Write a good introduction

After you've read your book thoroughly and you've thought about the characters, themes, plot, and some good quotes, you'll be ready to start writing the book report. Like any other paper, a good book report needs an explanatory introduction that is easy to understand. When writing the introduction, be sure to include the title of the work, the author, and a sentence or two on what you will be overviewing in the report. Even though it may not be required to have a thesis statement in your book report, writing one in your paper might keep it more focused and help you narrow down what you will be writing in the body paragraphs.

For example, if we were writing an introduction about a book report over Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, we might write something like this:

In Harper Lee's iconic coming of age novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, Lee confronts the audience with the idea that systemic racism was rampant in the U.S. court system in the early 20th century in the South. She illustrates this idea with the unfair trial of convicted rapist Tom Robinson, whose lawyer Atticus Finch handily proves is innocent, yet is still sentenced with a crime he did not commit. Through the eyes of the young main character, Scout Finch, the audience is able to learn about these injustices with the innocent eyes of a child.

As you can see, we mentioned the name of the book, the author, and we also outlined what we would be discussing throughout the body paragraphs in the book report. Not only will this let the reader know what this report is about, but it'll also help you stay organized when you are writing the paper. Note that nowhere in this paragraph does it say that we really liked the book. Whether or not we liked the book is irrelevant in the report. What the book report is trying to do is to objectively understand a book's relevance and importance wit themes, characters, motifs, etc. (Though of course it's perfectly okay and encouraged to like the book that you are reviewing.)

Implement the ideas in the body paragraphs

The meat of your book report will be in the body paragraphs. These paragraphs will expand on the ideas that you brought up in your introduction paragraph and allow you to introduce the novel in depth to your reader.

Summary

Though no two book report assignments are the same, it's likely that your instructor is going to want to see some summarization in your book report. Your summary of the novel shouldn't be too lengthy (this is a report after all, so it's typically quite short). If your instructor has assigned a five-page book report, don't summarize the book in four and a half pages. As a general rule, commit about 1/3 of the paper to a summary just so you can make sure the reader understands your analysis of it without having read it.

Analysis

Once you are done writing the summary of the novel, then you can get into your actual analysis of it. You may remember that we brought up systemic racism in the U.S. court system in the South in our essay on To Kill a Mockingbird. In our summary, we would then explore those ideas that we brought forth to the reader. How does Lee illustrate this idea throughout the novel? A good way to show how the author is making this point is through direct quotations from the book that you believe are a good showcase.

In your analysis, you should also be discussing theme (or what was the author's purpose behind writing this book) and character. No two analyses are the same, which is what makes book reports and literary criticism so interesting. Everyone will read the novel through their own personal lenses and experiences and come up with a completely different interpretation of what the author intended for us to come away with.

Again, it's crucial to keep looking at your instructions for your book report so that you know exactly what you need to be discussing. Even if you write a brilliant report over the theme of systemic racism in the court system in To Kill a Mockingbird, it won't do you any good when you were actually supposed to write about the relationship between Scout and Atticus Finch and why it mattered. Paying attention to instructions is one of the biggest keys to success in writing a book report.

Conclusion

As with all other conclusions, focus on wrapping things up neatly. Though you may be tempted to just say in the conclusion that you either loved or hated the book, this doesn't make for a very interesting paragraph. When you are writing your conclusion on your book report, think about why this novel matters. If you didn't like it, think about why you didn't like it. Think about how well the author gets his or her point across. Should this book be read widely to gain a critical understanding of a subject? Why or why not? Would you recommend this book to others? The genre of book reports generally seeks out the opinion of the writer, so make sure that you let your voice be heard.

Revising

Like any other paper that you write, it's crucial to go back through and revise if you are turning in the final copy. It's extremely rare that you'll write something that doesn't have any mistakes or reworking to do. Once you have written the first draft, take a short break to get your eyes off the paper for just a bit. Come back to the paper after the break with a set of fresh eyes and try to read through it for grammar and spelling mistakes (spell check doesn't get everything!) and then once again for content. Make sure that everything makes sense and is very explanatory. After all—you have to assume that your audience hasn't read your book yet so you want to make sure that you are explaining it well enough to someone who has never read a sentence of it and still be able to understand.

If you are uncertain about sentences or even entire passages of your book report, ask a friend or your instructor to take a look at your work. Sometimes it helps to get an outside opinion since you've been closely working with the text.

Book reports teach us more than just how to write a report

Though we do a lot of research and studying about subjects that may not be applicable after college, book reports may be one of the only exceptions to that. Novels, no matter how abstract the concept, teach us about human behavior and life through plots and characters. Understanding how to break down an author's intent on their stories will absolutely be relevant to your life. Having the curiosity and the skills to understand a novel with a more complex understanding will undoubtedly enrich your reading experience.

Remember than an effective book report will have an introduction that mentions the book title, author, and include the points you will be making throughout the body paragraphs. Your body paragraphs will expand on those ideas that you brought up in the introduction, using quotes from the book, analysis, and summary to aide you.

Finally, be sure that once the book report has been written that you are carefully looking at spelling, grammar, and the content of your paragraphs. Get a friend, your instructor, or even a professional editor to look at your book report to make sure you are on the right track.

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