Learning how to write a book report

By Mark Winter
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shocked child looking at a pile of books
Writing a good book report requires summarizing a lot of information in a very small space
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Teachers in elementary, middle and high school all require book reports; learning the basics of a good book report is important.

If you've been assigned to write a book report, before you begin, it is important to include any specific requirements your teacher outlined. Also, if you can select any book for your report, choose one that you think will interest you. It will make your assignment much more enjoyable!

  • Take thorough and careful notes as you read the book.
  • Use Post-it flags to mark pages that contain important passages or quotes.
  • Gather your reading notes and the book and have them by your side as you write your report.
  • Ask yourself, "What would I want to know about this book?"
  • Look through your notes and decide, based on the length of the book report and your answers to the above question, what is essential to include and what can be excluded.
  • State the main point of the book: Why did the author write the book? Or for fiction, give a brief plot summary.
  • Outline the plot or main ideas in the book for fiction describe the story and key dramatic points.
  • Follow your outline as you write the report, making sure to balance the general and the specific. A good book report will both give an overview of the book's significance and convey enough details to avoid abstraction.
  • Summarize the overall significance of the book. What has this book contributed to the knowledge of the world? For a work of fiction, what does this story tell us about the author's take on life's big questions?

Whether you are writing about fiction or non-fiction you must be sure to recognize the main idea or ideas in the book. So be sure that you have a good understanding of it before you begin writing. Keep the book beside you while you are writing your report so that you can refer to it when necessary.

Before you get started on the body of the report, take a few minutes to jot down some helpful information by considering the following points. They will help you in learning how to write a book report.

  1. Did you enjoy the book?
  2. Was it well written?
  3. If it was a fictional work, list the characters.
  4. If it was a work of non-fiction, identify the writer's thesis.

The list of points should provide enough material for writing several paragraphs As you lead into your final paragraph, consider some additional impressions and opinions:

  • Was the ending satisfactory (for a fictional story)?
  • What interesting or notable facts do you know about the author?
  • Would you recommend this book?

Conclude your report with a paragraph or two that covers these additional points. Some teachers prefer that you re-state the name and author of the book in the concluding paragraph. As always, consult your specific assignment guide. Unless instructed otherwise, your final sentence should offer a one-sentence summary with your overall opinion.

What about non-fiction?

You might have chosen or been assigned a non-fiction biography, history, or a factual text. In that case, the steps for how to write a book report are slightly different. For non-fiction, the descriptive section of your report should include:

  • Subject—an initial statement on the general subject of the book.
  • Summary—your summary of what the author had to say about the subject. Again, pick only the most important points to discuss.
  • For a biography, describe some of the key events in the person's life.
  • For a history or other subject, describe some of the main points made about the subject.
  • If the book is divided into different chapters, you can often use those divisions as a guide to what the main points are.

After you've described your book, express some of your thoughts about what you've read.
  • What seemed to be the author's main reason for writing the book?
  • What was the most interesting thing you learned about the book's subject?
  • Why did you find it interesting?
  • You might also give your opinion on how the subject was presented.
  • Did the author hold your interest?

Make sure to proofread your book report carefully before turning it in. This is probably the most important part of learning how to write a book report.

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