The following is a guest post by Andrew Owsiak, Associate Professor at the University of Georgia and Book Editor for International Studies Review.
The race to push scholarly research into the world carries a few consequences, perhaps the most notable being that it proves challenging to stay up-to-date with what is published. To help with this, some journals, for example International Studies Review, publish reviews of recently released, scholarly books. These reviews offer great sources of information–to those wishing to remain abreast of current trends, seeking to incorporate relevant work into their own research output, and wanting to incorporate the latest studies into their classrooms. The value of this information, however, depends largely on how the reviewer writes his review. A reader who finds herself mired in jargon has no context in which to understand the review, while one facing only a series of generalities loses grasp of what the book is about.
Mindful of the reader’s plight, I will offer some advice for those writing book reviews. I do this for two reasons. First, book review authors are often—although not exclusively—junior scholars with less publishing experience. As an editor, I enjoy seeing this. Book reviews can be a great, low-stakes (~1,000 words), point-of-entry into the publishing world. It familiarizes authors with the submission, editorial, and decision process, often without introducing the peer-review component. It also allows them to enter a dialogue with more established scholars (i.e., the book authors). Yet if we are to be fair to those writing the books, to the review authors, and to the readers of book reviews, it behooves us to offer review authors guidance about what a book review should and (probably) should not contain. How will they know otherwise? And this leads to my second motivation: nobody, to my knowledge, provides this advice comprehensively elsewhere.
Before I continue, let me offer a couple caveats. First and foremost, I do not pretend to hold all the answers about what journals want book reviews to contain. I have, however, solicited, monitored, read, and issued decisions on a fair number of book reviews in conjunction with other members of our editorial team. This experience allows me to see some general trends, and I wish to speak to and about those—to increase the chances that a submitting author’s book review will be accepted (ultimately) for publication. I necessarily assume that the trends I see—and therefore, the advice I offer—remain applicable at other journals who publish book reviews, although I do not speak for them. Second, following the advice below will, I expect, increase an author’s chances of successfully publishing a book review, but it will not guarantee it. The stochastic component of the publication process always operates. In addition, different authors will succeed at following the advice to varying degrees. All this is to say that I want to be held blameless for individual publication results.
Having said all this, here is my advice: