How to Write a Review Essay

Review essays help you make sense of written works you may use for a longer research project. They require you to thoroughly summarize, explain and sometimes synthesize ideas found in essays or books. You can write a review essay focusing on a single work, a body of works by a single author or a collection of works about a single topic.

Review a Single Work

Review essays written about a single work attempt to thoroughly restate the author’s ideas or argument. Summarize the author’s conclusions or focus before describing the work itself. For example, for a biography of Abraham Lincoln, you might briefly summarize the former president’s life before examining what works the biographer used and how this new biography adds knowledge to what we already know about Lincoln. By summarizing the single work and reviewing how it was assembled, you can consider how successful the work was at accomplishing the goals it set for itself.

Compare an Author's Works

An essay reviewing a collection of works by a single author tries to see these different works as parts of an author’s larger, lifelong writing career. In addition to summarizing each work and describing how they were created, you should also reflect on how these works fit together. For example, for the collected works of a travel writer, you might explain how each successive work in the author’s career show her opening up to new and different global cultures. Such a review essay is just as much about the author as it is her works.

Examine Works on a Topic

Review essays focusing on works related to a single topic seek to summarize and compare the major positions a variety of writers have on that topic. Summarize each work, describe how it was created and reflect on how it fits with the other works. For example, in review works related to the topic of climate change, you could explain how a work written by a climate change denier purposefully attempts to disprove a second work by a climate change believer. Such essays show the development of thinking on a topic and potentially reveal new ways to approach the topic.

Review to Critique

Though all review essays attempt to examine whether a work accomplishes its self-described goals, some review essays build upon their summaries and analyses to critique a source or sources. For example, if you review a history book that claims to present a drastically different analysis of the Civil War, you might suggest that the author’s conclusions are similar to those reached by a different history book written years before. You could then criticize this derivative work for rehashing old material and claiming to be original.

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