The Report

You have already completed a book review, and you are now embarking on a book report.

There are two closely related terms to be aware of here. Book Reports and Book Reviews. Many people use both terms in the same breath but there are important differences. A book report is completely factual. It includes information on the author, title, place and year of publication as well as a summary of the content of the book. A book review, on the other hand, is much more personal. It is really an expression of the reader's opinion of the work, or of specific aspects of the work. The review will probably include much of the same factual content as the report, but it is the reader's personal opinions that are most important. For the purposes of this guide we will be dealing with the book report. A short section toward the end of this guide will give you some ideas for book reviews.
The steps to follow for your book report are:
  • Choosing your book
  • Reading the book
  • Outline your report
  • Draft and Final Report

Choosing Your Book
You are reading a literary classic, and you are able to pick the book of your choice. If you do a book report on a book which you dislike several problems arise. Firstly, you are not going to enjoy writing a report on such a book. Secondly, your report is going to be almost entirely negative. Whether this is an accurate reflection of the book or not the reader of your report will probably be turned off by your attitude. There is nothing wrong with selective criticism, but a book report which criticizes the author and his work at every turn is self defeating. So, choose your book carefully. The result will be more pleasureable, both for yourself and for whoever reads your report (that would be me).
Here are some links to book report pages on the Internet. You should find some good ideas about the type of book you want to read on these pages. Many of the reports are very simply constructed. However, they should give you some ideas both about the types of book you might want to read, as well as how you might want to construct your report.

Reading the Book
In the hustle and bustle of modern everyday life the simple pleasure of reading a good book is often forgotten. There is nothing easier yet more satisfying than sitting down in a favorite place to read. Find somewhere quiet and private where you are unlikely to be disturbed. Try to pick the place where you can be transported into the world of the book with a minimum of distraction. It is fine to read your book in a single sitting, or you can read it over a number of days. Know your limitations here. Do not make yourself read a set number of pages or chapters every day. This can make your reading a chore. Read as much as you are comfortable with and then put the book down until you are ready to start again. Mark where you stopped with a bookmark or a slip of paper. Try not to let a long time elapse between readings. A day or two, at most, is probably about right.
If you have a cheap personal copy of the book you are reading you might want to mark parts of the text which interest you. Do this in pencil. A word of warning here! Marking books is not a good habit to get into. During the course of your educational career you will meet many professional book lovers who will take a dim view of you marking books which are not your own. Talk to any librarian if you want to hear a long history of irretrievably damaged books! A better idea than marking your book is to keep a notebook beside you so that you can write brief notes and page numbers you might want to come back to. You could do this during a second reading. This way you can read your book right through uninterrupted.
How many times should you read the book? This is a personal choice. Obviously you have to read it cover to cover at least once. Twice is recommended. If you really love the book you may find yourself reading it a third or even a fourth time. Many people have a favorite book which they read over and over again the way that you might watch a favorite movie. If you are lucky enough to find such a book the actual writing of your report will be more of a pleasure than a burden.

The Outline of Your Report

You have read your book. Your next step will be to organize what you are going to say about it in your report. Writing the basic elements down in an outline format will help you to organize your thoughts. What will you include in the outline? Anything that will help you answer the question you have posed. However, the following guidelines should help.
Let's assume for the moment that you've chosen a work of fiction. We'll start with a description of the book. The description should include such elements as:
  1. The setting—where does the story take place? Is it a real place or an imaginary one? If the author does not tell you exactly where the story is set, what can you tell about it from the way it is described?
  2. The time period—is the story set in the present day or in an earlier time period? Perhaps it is even set in the future! Let your reader know.
  3. The main character(s)—who is the story mostly about? Give a brief description. Often, one character can be singled out as the main character, but some books will have more than one.
  4. The plot—what happens to the main character? WARNING! Be careful here. Do not fall into the boring trap of reporting every single thing that happens in the story. Pick only the most important events. Here are some hints on how to do that. First, explain the situation of the main character as the story opens. Next, identify the basic plot element of the story--is the main character trying to achieve something or overcome a particular problem? Thirdly, describe a few of the more important things that happen to the main character as he/she works toward that goal or solution. Finally, you might hint at the story's conclusion without completely giving away the ending.
The four points above deal with the report aspect of your work. For the final section of your outline, give your reader a sense of the impression the book made upon you. Ask yourself what the author was trying to achieve and whether or not he achieved it with you. What larger idea does the story illustrate? How does it do that? How did you feel about the author's style of writing, the setting, or the mood of the novel. You do not have to limit yourself to these areas. Pick something which caught your attention, and let your reader know your personal response to whatever it was.
What about non-fiction?
If given the option, you might have chosen a non-fiction biography, history, or a factual text on another subject of interest to you. In that case, the descriptive section of your report should include:
  1. subject—an initial statement on the general subject of the book.
  2. summary—your summary of what the author had to say about the subject. Again, pick only the most important points to discuss. For a biography, describe some of the key events in the person's life. For a history or other subject, describe some of the main points made about the subject. If the book is divided into different chapters, you can often use those divisions as a guide to what the main points are.
After you've described your book, express some of your thoughts about what you've read. What seemed to be the author's main reason for writing the book? What was the most interesting thing you learned about the book's subject? Why did you find it interesting? You might also give your opinion on how the subject was presented. Did the author hold your interest?
Remember! Whether you are writing about fiction or non-fiction you must be sure to recognize the main idea or ideas in the book. So be sure that you have a good understanding of it before you begin writing. Keep the book beside you while you are writing your report so that you can refer to it when necessary.

The Draft and the Final Report
The Draft
Your draft will be a fleshing out of the ideas from your outline. You can write additional notes in the margins but try to make sure that, when you come back to write your final report, you can understand the exact order of your material.
The Final Report
If you have followed the advice on these pages you should be ready to write your final report. Thoroughly familiarize yourself with your draft before you put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. All of your revisions should have been made on your draft so your job now is to make sure that your presentation is correct. Check your grammar and your spelling. Typed reports look better than handwritten ones. They are easier for your teacher to read and they are easier for you to correct. Cutting and pasting your work can be a real bonus here.

Study Guide Aids
You might also want to quickly review the book you have read by referring to a couple of the series which are available at the library. Masterplots and Cliffs Notes provide quick summaries of classic texts. They are particularly useful when you are trying to make sense of a complicated plot or a lengthy list of characters.
For more coverage of classic works and mostly adult level material, try these online sources: SparkNotes
ClassicNotes by GradeSaver