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By Helen Jarvis, Newcastle University


Writing a good book review and having it published in an academic journal can be richly rewarding in several respects. Right at the heart of scholarly career development are the skills of close, critical reading and clear, engaging writing – skills which are well honed by writing a book review. Further, by specifying a fairly precise area of expertise you can receive a new book ‘hot off the press’ (which you get to keep), which you will enjoy reading and benefit from intellectually through the challenge of writing a succinct exegesis. Finally, writing a successful book review can be a good career move. It is a relatively quick and sure way to make yourself known to established scholars internationally in a particular subject area.

A key characteristic of the academic book review is that it is not peer-reviewed but instead thoughtfully steered through the process of revision and publication by a book review editor. This also makes it a gentle entrée to the rigours of getting your work published.


Where to publish

Many academic journals publish a book review section, although increasingly these are online-only features. The contents of each are implicitly specified to reflect the scope and audience of the particular journal. If someone wants to keep up-to-date with books published in a particular field, they are likely to reach for the book review section of a specialist journal. So the question of where to publish usually comes down to which journals you read to reflect your own sub-discipline. Once you have identified the journal(s) you would ideally like to write for, it is worthwhile making yourself known to the book review editor. A short email is sufficient to identify yourself (also naming your supervisor perhaps), alongside your stage of career and the topic(s) on which you could meaningfully write. Contact details for the book review editor are printed inside the cover of the journal and listed on the publication website. Lists of books for review are also often available online or distributed via list-servs. It is worth noting that editors rarely accept unsolicited book reviews.


What to expect from the editorial process

It is much quicker to publish a book review than a peer-reviewed article. Once you have been formally invited to write a review of a particular book (and a copy of the book has been dispatched) you will be given a set of guidelines on review content and format and a time frame within which to write your review, usually about six weeks. The time frame has to be quite strict to ensure that new books are reviewed in a timely fashion. You should write your review to the prescribed format and submit it to the book review editor (or managing editor, as directed), and expect a minimal degree of editorial fine-tuning to suit house style (and to correct any minor grammatical errors). If more substantial revisions or a cut in length are required, the editor will return the review with suggested changes until the review is ready for production (see Supporting research articles: a publisher’s perspective for what happens next). Although getting a book review published is relatively quick, there will be a delay between the editorial process and final publication.


How to write

There is much more to writing a book review than meets the eye. The word length is usually quite short (in the range of 400-1200 words) meaning that this piece of writing has to be succinct, accessible, and critically engaging in a constructive rather than polemic way. The following will be useful to bear in mind:

  • The fundamentals are an accurate résumé plus analysis and appraisal.
  • Your commentary should locate the work within the current debates of its respective sub-discipline.
  • Avoid lengthy chapter-by-chapter descriptions of the content; simply introduce the outline structure and then focus on key contributions and innovations.


Variations on the single author book review

The ‘standard’ book review can get a little stale and it is worth considering that some journals welcome suggestions for review panels and collective engagement with one or more text(s) in a colloquia or conference session. This format may involve several reviewers writing in collaboration to produce a series of critical dialogues on a single book. There are opportunities here for research or reading groups to play an instrumental role in shaping a debate. Again, the best advice is to pitch your idea directly to the book review editor of your preferred journal.


About this guide

Publishing is a crucial, but sometimes daunting and unexplained, part of academic life. All academic geographers are supposed to do it, but there are few formal guidelines about how best it should be done. Many of us discover how to publish by trial and error or through the mentoring and support of colleagues. Publishing and academic landscapes also change, presenting new challenges to established academics. The publishing and getting read guides have four main aims: to provide clear, practical and constructive advice about how to publish research in a wide range of forms; to encourage you to think strategically about your publication profile and plans; to set out some of the opportunities and responsibilities you have as an author; and to support you in getting your published research read.


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