- Academic Research and Writing Tips / Tutorial

The Difference Between A Book Report and A Book Critique

The Difference Between A Book Report and A Book Critique

Have you ever handed in a carefully-written book critique and had it handed back to you with the comment, "This is a book report"? If so, you have probably either wondered if your professor is becoming senile or felt too embarrassed to ask what in the world the difference is. Either way, you can't go through the rest of your academic career praying that you never get assigned another one so you don't make the same mistake twice. There is a far better solution.

Book Report Critique

Learn the difference.

Yes, there is a difference between a book report and a book critique. And it's not just that you've been writing book reports since first grade, and you only just learned that book critiques aren't just for the New York Times. And that difference lies in what goes into each type of paper.

When you are writing a book report, you want to give factual information. Channel your third-grade teacher. What did she tell you to write in a book report? Most likely characters, setting and plot. Well, a few things have changed in the course of your academic maturation, but the basics remain the same. Of course, since you are no longer eight years old, "This book is about Peter Rabbit" will no longer fly. While you are still reporting on the book's contents, you must do so in an educated manner. You are expected to discuss the points the author makes and the importance of the work to itself and its topic.

If you are asked to write a book report about a nonfiction book, you obviously need not discuss characters and setting. Plot then translates into topic. What points does the author make? What angle does he or she provide on the topic of study? And also, how does the author make this point? Meaning, describe the structure and technique the author uses to communicate. There may well be other points that your teacher or professor requires you to make, but these will come in the form of your assignment. The above questions are simply a few areas of inquiry to get you started, and to point out the type of factual - factual, as opposed to opinion, in this case - information expected of a higher-level book report.

If you are writing a book report about fiction, and you are older than ten, then while the topics you address will resemble those of your earlier work, the actual statements made will be more advanced and intellectual. Naming the characters is no longer sufficient; you must describe them and how they relate to the other characters, and you should also say a few words about what they "mean." In Jane Eyre, for example, what is the importance of Mrs. Rochester? Why is she included? The same can be said for the other elements of the book, setting and plot. Not only what are they, but what do they do? And to close, a few paragraphs should be included about the work's meaning and importance, particularly in the context of your field of study.

A book critique, conversely, focuses on your own opinion rather than an objective description of the work. Although you do need to include a brief summation of the text, the focus should be your analysis of the content. You are expected to critique - hence the name - the statements set forth by the author. For nonfiction pieces, you typically will be critiquing the author's views on the topic, his or her methods of obtaining information and the way in which he or she draws a conclusion. In the case of fiction, you are in essence writing a book review, evaluating the effectiveness of the author's technique and style. In either case, the purpose of a book critique is not to reiterate the author's views but to critique, or make an educated evaluation of, those views. This critique is made in light of your knowledge of the subject and, preferably, what you have learned in the class for which you are writing.

Now you can write a book review or a book critique without dreading the professor comment that you did the wrong assignment. However, you still have to read the book. Can't help you there.