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Guide: How to Write a Book Report

Generally speaking, a book report is a summary of a story, summing up its main points, plot intricacies, and so on. In these terms, a book report is a more lightweight writing compared to a book review, but a deeper and detailed one compared to a summary essay. The main difference between the latter two is that a summary essay simply retells the story, whereas a book report also reflects on the major themes of a story, characters, and pays additional attention to the certain aspects of the source. A regular book report is up to 550 words long, although it can also heavily depend on the source itself.

Before you start writing a book report, here are some features you might want to be aware of.

  • For every more or less well-known literary source there are at least 10 secondary sources commenting the original. You might feel the temptation to write your book after a secondary source; do not fall to it. Firstly, you would be writing a paraphrase on a paraphrase, which is obviously pointless; secondly, secondary sources and commentaries to original sources in them are usually written by professional philologists, critics, and other specialists in literature. In 99% of cases, your professor will easily understand, where is your writing, and where is the writing of a professional.
  • You should actually read the book before you start writing a report. If you have watched “The Lord of the Rings” in a movie theater and think you can now write a book report on it, you are wrong. If you have watched “Total Recall” (especially the one with Schwarzenegger) you cannot write a book report on Philip K. Dick’s novel. The same rule works for any other adaptation of the original source; do not make this mistake, and read the primary source before writing a book report.

Now, below are the actual steps for writing a book report. The procedure is quite simple, and is in many ways similar to writing a regular summary essay.

  1. Read the source attentively. First, get to know what the book is about. You should be aware not just of its content, but also about the background behind it; understanding the context in which a book was written can be invaluable in terms of understanding the story, characters, and major themes better.
  2. Take notes on what seems to be the most important to you, while you read. Divide a book in small parts, and after finishing each part make a brief reminder of what the part was about, what were the main topics raised, the motives of the main characters, and so on. Keep your notes organized.
  3. Reconstruct the story in your mind, based solely on the notes you have taken. If it makes sense, write this reconstruction down; this will be the backbone of your book report. .
  4. Start filling your outline with details. You might want to review some of the book’s chapters for quotes, descriptions, author’s direct speech, and so on. Introduce the main characters. Retell the plot paying attention to characters’ motives, actions, and relationships; show how events in the story are connected to each other. Show how things start to develop, the major intricacies of the plot (omitting the unnecessary details) and the climax. Speculate on the main topics raised in the story.
  5. You can divide your book report into classic parts such as introduction, main body, and conclusion, to make it more structured; in this case, rearrange the material in your outline accordingly. The introduction should provide the background information on the source, the main body is for actually describing the plot, and the conclusion section is for summing up what you wrote. Or, you might want to keep your report free flowing and more casual. In either case, consult with your teacher on the format of your report. Its main goal is to acquaint your audience with the author and his or her work, provide some context by presenting some background information, and smoothly transit to the actual retelling of the story.
  6. Proofread and edit your book report.

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