Help Writing a Literary Essay on a Book
But perhaps you are also a junior scholar, unsure of where to start. That would be entirely understandable.
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This column, therefore, aims to demystify the process with a basic how-to guide for writing academic book reviews and getting them published. Counterintuitively, it is actually best to begin by explaining how to get reviews published. There are, broadly speaking, two ways that editors of academic journals and other periodicals solicit book review writers: 1 proactive commissioning and 2 reactive commissioning. Proactive commissioning is where an editor seeks out potential reviewers and solicits their contribution. Obviously, you are more likely to be targeted for this if you already have an established reputation in your field of expertise, and some journals will only publish reviews which have been proactively commissioned.
If you are keen to write your first book review, a reactive commission is probably the way to go. Some journals will publish or otherwise advertise the books they have available for review, and then it is just a matter of putting yourself forward for one of them. You may find that particular books are deemed inappropriate or otherwise have already been allocated, but the response is usually receptive, and it should take no more than two or three good, concerted tries before you have landed your first opportunity.
What should you be writing? Some academics, including very senior ones, see reviews as an opportunity to hold forth at great length on their own strongly held views. While your readers may be interested in your opinion, they are, first and foremost, interested in learning about the book itself and whether or not they themselves might want to read it.
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Bear that in mind. In fact, like other genres of academic writing, such as journal articles and research proposals, academic book reviews tend to have a standard, even formulaic, structure. All good pieces of academic writing should have an introduction, and book reviews are no exception. Think, if possible, of a hook to draw your readers in. Summary of argument. Even edited collections and textbooks will have particular features intended to make them distinctive in the proverbial marketplace of ideas.
If there is an identifiable thesis statement, you may consider quoting it directly. About the author s. Some basic biographical information about the author s or editor s of the book you are reviewing is necessary. Who are they? What are they known for? What particular sorts of qualifications and expertise do they bring to the subject?
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How might the work you are reviewing fit into a wider research or career trajectory? Summary of contents. A reasonably thorough indication of the research methods used if applicable and of the range of substantive material covered in the book should be included. Identify one particular area in which you think the book does well.
This should, ideally, be its single greatest strength as an academic work. Identify one particular area in which you think the book could be improved. While this weakness might be related to something you actually believe to be incorrect, it is more likely to be something that the author omitted, or neglected to address in sufficient detail.
End your review with a concluding statement summarizing your opinion of the book. You should also explicitly identify a range of audiences whom you think would appreciate reading or otherwise benefit from the book. Writing good academic book reviews gets easier with experience, just like any skill. And provided you meet your deadlines and are amenable to any changes your editor may wish you to implement, your opportunities to make contributions in this genre and to the collective pursuits of a community committed to the advancement of knowledge will only increase with time.
All you need to do is take that first step. Be the first to know. Get our free daily newsletter. I never created an outline with bullets and numbers and letters before writing the paper. Starting in college, I developed my own outlining technique that was much more effective. The flat outline works because it mirrors the writing process. Now, you need to sit down and write the sucker. But not so fast: where you write makes a difference.
Because after procrastination, the greatest obstacle to writing a paper quickly is distraction. To make sure you have the focus of a zen master, you must create a writing environment that enables zen-like focus. For a full guide to creating a distraction-free study space, check out our article on the topic. Each paper you write should not feel like reinventing the wheel. Your goal when writing a paper for a college class is to fulfill the assignment requirements in a way that goes just above and beyond enough to impress the professor.
Save the originality for your arguments. So how do you find these elusive standards? Ask your professor. They can point you to some relevant guides or examples. Also, pay attention to the readings your professor assigns for the class. This should give you some idea of the academic conventions you should follow in your papers.
After all, more is better, right?
If you try to stretch it out, you may end up diluting your argument. Knowing this, why would you ever write more than you need to? Of course, your paper has to be good for this to work.
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Editing and drafting at the same time is, like all forms of multitasking , inefficient and ultimately impossible. Similarly, never stop to look stuff up when you are writing. At best, looking something up takes you away from writing, but even more likely it will pull you into an internet rabbit hole that will really derail the entire writing process. Because if you can just get to a place of flow, your momentum will be unstoppable.
One of the greatest barriers to starting a paper is coming up with an introduction. I know it seems like a counterintuitive approach, but I challenge you to try it. The same goes for the conclusion. Write it last. If you want more advice on the specifics of writing solid conclusions, check out my post on how to write a paper. Adding citations is the worst, especially when you just spent hours writing a paper and are so over it.
My favorite is Zotero , which allows you to keep track of research sources and even has a browser extension that will pull the citation info from a library catalog web page.
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But I also have friends who prefer EasyBib. Each of these classes was intense, but at the end I always found myself a better writer.
This went beyond just getting faster, although that was a major benefit. I also found that the quality of my arguments and analyses increased, along with massive improvements in my research skills. If your college offers classes specifically geared to improve your writing, do yourself a favor and take a least one. Strong writing skills are always a benefit, both in college and beyond. At the end of the day, writing a paper is still a lot of work. What tactics do you use to speed up the paper writing process? Share them in the comments below, or discuss them in the College Info Geek Community.
Sound impossible? Read on to see how it works.