The Definition of a Review in Composition

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An article that presents a critical evaluation of a text, performance, or production (for example, a book, movie, concert, or video game). A review customarily includes the following elements:

  • Identification of the genre or general nature of the subject being reviewed
  • A brief summary of the subject matter (such as the basic plot of a film or novel)
  • A discussion supported by evidence of the specific strengths and weakness of the subject reviewed
  • A comparison of the subject with related works, including other works by the same author, artist, or performer


From the French, "reexamine, look again."

Examples and Observations

  • "A good book review should tell the reader what the book is about, why the reader may or may not be interested in it, whether or not the author is successful in his/her intent, and whether or not the book should be read. . . .
    "A review should be more than just a summary of the book's contents. It should be an involved and informed response to the style, theme, and content."
    ("Tips on Writing a Book Review," Bloomsbury Review, 2009)
  • "A good book review should do an evocative job of pointing out quality. 'Look at this! Isn’t it good?' should be the critic’s basic attitude. Occasionally, however, you have to say: 'Look at this! Isn’t it awful?' In either case, it’s important to quote from the book. If more book reviewers had actually quoted from the mortal prose of Fifty Shades of Grey, hardly anyone would have thought it was wonderful, although they all would have read it anyway. Criticism has no real power, only influence."
    (Clive James, "By the Book: Clive James." The New York Times, April 11, 2013)
  • More Than a Verdict
    "As readers we tend to be focused on the verdict: 'Did she like it?' we want to know as we read the review. We jump to the last paragraph, which may determine whether we'll read the book and even whether we'll read the review.
    "But a good review is more than a verdict. It's an essay, however brief, an argument, bolstered by insights and observations. A review that proves over time to be 'wrong' in its judgment may be valuable for those insights and observations, while a review which proves to be 'right' in its verdict can be right for foolish reasons."
    (Gail Pool, Faint Praise: The Plight of Book Reviewing in America. University of Missouri Press, 2007)
  • Reviewing Nonfiction
    "A good review should both describe and evaluate the book. Among questions it may address are the following (Gastel, 1991): What is the goal of the book, and how well does the book accomplish it? From what context did the book emerge? What is the background of the authors or editors? What is the scope of the book, and how is the content organized? What main points does the book make? If the book has special features, what are they? What are the strengths and weaknesses of the book? How does the book compare with other books on the same topic or with previous editions of the book? Who would find the book valuable?
    "To facilitate writing, take notes as you read or mark passages of interest in the book. Write down ideas for points to make as they occur to you. To help formulate your ideas, perhaps tell someone about the book."
    (Robert A. Day and Barbara Gastel, How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper, 6th ed. Cambridge University Press, 2006)
  • Anthony Lane's Review of Shutter Island
    "Rats! Rain! Lightning! Lunatics! Mausoleums! Migraines! Creepy German scientists! Nobody could accuse Martin Scorsese, in 'Shutter Island,' of underplaying his hand. The nominal task confronting him and his screenwriter, Laeta Kalogridis, is to take Dennis Lehane’s novel of the same name and render it fit for the screen. Scorsese, however, has a deeper duty--to pillage all the B movies he has ever seen (including some that were forgotten by their own directors), and to enshrine the fixations and flourishes of style on which they relied. In a celebrated riff on 'Casablanca,' Umberto Eco wrote, 'Two clichés make us laugh but a hundred clichés move us, because we sense dimly that the clichés are talking among themselves, celebrating a reunion.' 'Shutter Island' is that reunion, and that shrine."
    (opening paragraph of "Behind Bars," a movie review by Anthony Lane. The New Yorker, Mar. 1, 2010)
  • John Updike on Writing Reviews
    "Writing a book review felt physically close to writing a story--some blank paper inserted in the rubbery typewriter platen, some rat-tat-tat sound of impatient, inspired x-ing out. There was a similar need for a punchy beginning, a clinching ending, and a misty stretch in between that would connect the two. A review writer was generally safe--safe from rejection (though it could happen) and safe, as a judge himself, from judgement, though an occasional reader mailed in a correction or a complaint."
    (John Updike, Preface to Due Considerations: Essays and Criticisms. Alfred A. Knopf, 2007)
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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "The Definition of a Review in Composition." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 26). The Definition of a Review in Composition. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "The Definition of a Review in Composition." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 23, 2023).

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