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Book Review Guidelines
Posted by Barbie on 25th July 2007

The following are adapted from guidelines from O'Reilly and Slashdot.

Tips and Suggestions

  • Be honest.
  • The length is up to you. Reviews can be short and sweet or long and detailed. Do what works best for you.

    Rule of thumb: any book worth reviewing should be worth at least 600 words; for technical books especially, a better range to start at is 800-1000 words. Less than that, and your readers might not get enough information to even know if they understand what the book is about, never mind whether it's any good. Remember, most readers will have less knowledge than you do in your area of expertise -- take some time to bring them at least slightly up to speed.

  • If you like something in a book, say what it is and why you like it. If you don't like something in the book, say what it is and say why you don't like it. Be as specific as you can--this information is important to other readers.
  • If something was omitted in the book say what it is and why it is important.
  • End the review with an overall summary.
  • Be as sober as you want to, and remember that funny writing is harder than funny writers make it look.
  • Have Fun!

Questions To Ask

  • How dated is the book now? How gracefully do you expect the content to age? If reviewing an updated / revised book (and you have access to the previous edition), in what ways do the revisions add to or detract from the book?
  • What level of experience is needed to actually use the information in the book? Who will find it most useful? Is there an existing, canonical book which already covers the same ground, or other ones not yet well-known covering the same ground?
  • Is the title accurate? (i.e. Does <cite>Introduction to BingoWidgets For Novices</cite> serve as an adequate explanation of BingoWidgets to the average reader with no experience? Some books have flatter titles than they deserve, and some books' title overreach.
  • Is the book readable as well as technically accurate? Is the language stilted, or natural? Are examples easy to follow?
  • Is the depth appropriate?
  • If the book is illustrated, are the illustrations appropriate and well executed?
  • Do any extras come with the book, like a CD-ROM of additional information or code samples? Does the author or publisher maintain a website or at least an online errata page?
  • What's missing from the book? Would it benefit from illustrations, a better index, a final chapter on practical applications, a lay-flat binding, a manacle so it's never forgotten?
  • What is a Relational Database Applications Framework Management System Defrobnobdicator, and what does one eat? Don't jump straight with acronyms, jargon and buzzwords without at least stopping to say what they mean (if appropriate).
  • What hardware and software does the author assume readers will be dealing with? (If this book is about software; what operating systems are dealt with?) If it's about hacking into a proprietary video game console, will it work only with certain production runs' output?) Don't assume that everyone is running Microsoft Windows on an Intel-based desktop computer, or Debian GNU/Linux on a solar-powered home-brewed wristwatch.
  • If the book is about software, under what license or type of license is the software released?

Background

  • For any book, make a point of explaining why you're reviewing it, your background in the topic or genre, and where else people might want to look if they are interested in the basic area the book addresses.
  • Did you like previous works from the same author / publisher / series?
  • Do you have a pressing workplace need for a certain type of computer system, and did the book help you to implement it?
  • Explaining your expectations going in will help ground your review; an OS X book "for newbies" could be perceived very differently by an OS X expert than by a genuine newbie, so don't praise or pan a book without specifying your context.

Review Submission

  • Please send your review to reviews@birmingham.pm.org or me directly. Reviews are prefered in completely plain text or POD, although if you really must I will accept DOC/RTF and HTML formats.
  • Readability and flow are important. Strive for correct spelling, grammar and punctuation in your review, but don't torture yourself over minutia. (Please run your review through a spellchecker before submtting, though.) Be extra-careful with the name of the author and the title of the book. Write conversationally but seriously, as you might in a topical letter to an acquaintance or coworker who's asked you for book suggestions.

Further Guides

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