Tips on writing an outline for a book report

It is no secret that the majority of students feel stricken with fear at the thought of writing a book report. Why is this so? It is because these assignments are designed to challenge the student to think in a critical manner and write a critical piece about a book they have recently read. Early on in education, even at elementary level, school attendees get additional support with book report assignments. This often takes the form of worksheets that help the student write about a character from a favorite book and other details about the book. However, as they progress up through elementary, go on to middle school, and then high school, it is usually expected the student should be able to write a book report on their own.

The team at works closely and on a one-to-one basis with students to help them become better writes and improve their skills in this area. We provide online courses in writing and it is our hope that this guide will help all children learn to write these reports confidently and with as little fear as possible.


Tips on writing book reports

Read before you begin writing. When you have to write a report about a book, there is nothing that can replace reading it. Select a book you will enjoy reading. You should not find reading a chore – it should be enjoyable. Keep a pen and some paper beside you while you read. It can be really useful when you start writing if you have previously made notes to refer to and/or have noted down the page numbers of important chapter/passages, etc. However, you should not write on an actual book or novel itself unless it is not your own copy.

Check also our article: “How to write a movie critique”

Begin by creating your book report outline

Once you have read the book you will be reporting on, you should be ready to begin writing your report. When you are embarked on an assignment like this or when you are answering one or more writing prompts you have been given, the process will seem easier if you adhere to certain steps that are proven to bring success in the field of book report writing. These steps include the prewriting stage, the writing stage itself, the revision stage, the editing stage, and finally the publishing of your work.

It is in the first of these steps, which we call pre-writing, where you will create a plan of what your report will include or what you would like to say in it. When it comes to book report writing, one of the best tools you can have is a report outline. You can base your outline – to start with at least – on the five elements described below.

Base your outline on the five elements

As thoughts and ideas come in to your head they need to be organized, so write down a few of these for each of the above paragraphs. NB: There are different rules and requirements for the content of book reports, usually depending on the writer’s educational level and their teachers’ preferences. Look back at the instructions your teacher gave you before you start creating an outline for your book report. 

The introduction paragraph

The majority of these reports start off with some basic details concerning the book that is being reported on e.g. it’s title, author’s name, the genre it belongs to, and information about the publication itself (e.g., publisher’s name, year of publication, length, etc.) Additionally, the introductory paragraph is the writer’s opportunity to capture their readers’ interest by drawing attention to any unusual elements, circumstances, or facts concerning the book’s creation or any facts about the author that are worth noting. How successful was the book? Was it a bestseller? How authoritative is the author in terms of the book’s subject matter and/or are they well known in their field? There can also be a personal element to book reports so it is entirely reasonable to say why it interested you or why you wanted to read its contents for yourself.   

Read about: “Top tips on how to review an article”

What is in the book i.e. What is it about?

You should use the main body part of your book report i.e. the second, third, and fourth paragraphs to describe what is contained within the book – what it is about. Take this opportunity to show readers you have read the book and have understood it. The following are a few useful tips based on the assumption that the book is a work of fiction:

  • Sum-up the book’s plot or story: Begin this first body paragraph by providing an overview of the book’s story. This includes describing the most prominent characters, the time period it is set in, the setting, and the actual plot. Say who the story is told by (i.e. whose viewpoint) and describe the atmosphere in the book and its tone. Is the tale a scary one, an adventurous one, or a humorous one?
  • Details about the main character(s): Use this body paragraph to describe any key characters and draw attention to any major problem or conflict that these characters are attempting to resolve. It is permissible to devote a separate paragraph to the book’s other notable characters.
  • Details about the book’s plot: When it comes to dealing with a book’s plot, it is not necessary to reveal every single detail about the storyline. Focus your attention, instead, on the book’s main events and the sequence in which they occur. It is permissible to discuss crucial moments in the plot, from its increasing action to its climax and how any conflict was resolved. Do not forget to mention any tricks or literary techniques or devices the author has used, particularly any you have covered in your classes. 

Writing reports on non-fictional books

If your book report is based on something like a biography or some other fact-based text, the body parts of your report will need to be devoted to describing the subject matter covered in the book and the viewpoint of the author. Using chapter titles or headings from the book is a good way of presenting the author’s arguments and ideas in an organized and orderly way. Similar to a work of fiction, there is no need to dwell on all of the author’s arguments and ideas. Choose the main arguments or ideas instead and those you find most interesting. If the work you are reporting on is a biography, include some information about the most important aspects or events in the subject’s life.    

Your own evaluation and your conclusion(s)

You should find this last paragraph enjoyable to write because, here, you will have chance to provide your own opinion of the book – your own personal critique. Did the book have any particular strengths or particular weaknesses, and what were they? Was your interest held throughout your entire reading of the book? If the work was fictional, how were you affected by it? If it was non-fiction, did the arguments put forward by the author persuade or sway you? Do your best to give balanced opinions and use evidence and/or examples from the work itself to support any statement(s) you make. When offering your opinions, be honest about the book and say whether you think others should read it or not. 

Revise, edit, and publish your report

Once your book report is drafted, it is time to embark on the last three stages of the process i.e. revising your draft, editing it, and publishing the final version. Revising a book report means reading it out loud to another person with a view to getting their feedback. When you get to the editing stage, check the grammar in your report and make sure you have adhered to the rules for quoting directly from books and writing their titles. Allow sufficient time for revision and editing so that your final report will be as good as it can be when you are ready to publish it.

Book reports can be compared to expository essays

It is quite usual for book reports to be written in the form of expository essays, although their form can vary. Sometimes, teachers will instruct students to base their work on a viewpoint, e.g., “Explain why Carl Hiiassen’s children’s novel is the best in its genre over the past decade. Please provide examples.” With a prompt like this, the style of writing the writer chooses should be of a persuasive nature. It is also possible that teachers will ask you to write a book review. In these cases, your challenge will be to persuade your peers that a given book is worth or not worth reading. If you are given a book review to write, do not reveal how the book ends!

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