How to Write Outstanding College Book Reports

By: Tasha Kolesnikova

17 min



How to Write Outstanding College Book Reports

«Help me with my book report!» College students should read a lot of books. They are essential for studies and general development as well. You may like fiction or nonfiction literature, it doesn’t matter if you enjoy the reading process and know what lessons you can learn from it.

The more students read, the harder it is to remember all the new information. That’s why your professor will assign you a task to prepare the book report. It is common for students with English or literature majors, but you may face this assignment even if you’re studying biology or computer science.

You may already know this task since it is also common for school students. They have a list of literature to read since first grades. But the more experienced you become, the better should your book report be. Let us provide you with actionable tips to come up with a perfect paper!

What Is a Book Report?

It is a writing piece with an objective summary of essential ideas or arguments provided in the book. It is important not just to read the story, but to understand the sense it conveys. The chief aim is to make your audience familiar with the content. Once the readers get acquainted with your paper, they should understand whether they’re interested in your book, even without reading it.

What is The Difference Between a Book Report And a Book Review?

At first glance, the book report and the book review have the same purpose. However, these are different assignments, and you should understand this difference before you get your feet wet.

Writing a review, you should use a critical approach to assess the book's quality and share your point of view, whether you like or don’t like it. You can receive the task to write a book review in the college, but these pieces are also published in magazines and journals.

When it comes to the report, you shouldn’t evaluate the fiction or nonfiction book. Your goal is to provide a summary, to tell your readers about the setting, plot, main characters, and so on. In most cases, it is just a student assignment, but many students get used to keeping their literature diaries with book summaries.

What Elements a Book Report Includes?

Writing a book report, you may provide your readers with a plot summary, a theme, or a character analysis. Regardless of the strategy you choose, make sure to include some key points to share your ideas with the audience. You can use the following list to check yourself:

  • Critical information about a book (its title, author, number of pages, publisher, etc.);
  • Time and period when the story takes place;
  • Setting and plot;
  • Names of main characters and their brief description;
  • Quotes and examples to support your opinion.

Before You Read

If you haven’t read this book yet, you should get prepared for the task in advance. Most literature pieces contain a short review you can get familiar with. Use the Internet to find the primary information about it:


Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Who is the writer?
  • Is it he or she?
  • What is one’s biography?
  • Have you read any other books by this author?
  • Is one popular?
  • What do critics say about one’s art?


If your professor assigned you with a book to read, you should understand its genre. It may be fiction or nonfiction, a biography, a comedy, or a tragedy, etc. Do you like this genre? What do you think about what people would like to read it? It is also important to consider when this piece was written since detectives in the XIX century and the XX century are different.


Writing college essays, you know that topic is the thing that matters. It works for books as well. Are you intrigued by the title? Have you understood what the writing is about? Write down your suggestions.


Modern students prefer e-books when they just download them to a Kindle or other reader. But the paper ones are better because you can evaluate the jacket as well. If you have such an opportunity, don’t miss the chance to analyze it. Look through the book as well to find some illustrations and think about their meaning.

As You Read

You can read a book several times. The first one just to enjoy the story or to remember it if you’ve read this piece months or years ago.

During the second reading, you should pay more attention to details. Take a notebook and make notes. If you see some interesting quotes, highlight them with a pencil.


When it goes about fiction literature, characters are the core of each story. You should identify who of them affects the content and its development. These questions will help you:

  • Who is the protagonist, and who is the antagonist?
  • Who are secondary personages, do they matter?
  • What path have the main characters of the book gone, how did they change along this way?
  • How does the author describe the characters’ features? What literary techniques does one use?

Main Ideas

Each book, regardless of its style and genre, has its essential ideas. Even if you read a fairytale, you can find a kind of moral in it. Authors of fiction books indirectly convey their messages, so you need to read between the lines to get them. Nonfiction books are more straightforward in this case.


It is important to provide a plot summary, in other words, to retell the main storyline briefly. Imagine that you’re talking about the book to your friend who hasn’t read it. You don’t have a lot of time to explain all the details, and you don’t want to spoil the ending or other important moments. So, you should choose your words accurately to convey the ideas and to share your emotions. You can also introduce characters briefly, explaining how they are interconnected in the whole plot.


College-level papers differ from reports you write in high school since you work them through better. You should support your words with evidence, in this case, with quotes from the text.

You can divide quotes into several groups. For example, you can start your paper with a symbolic phrase that conveys the story's whole meaning. Or you can choose sections that describe particular characters. If you like the author's wording, it would be better to add it to your paper than to come up with your own explanation. The next option is to use quotes that drive your readers to think about something, conduct research, analyze a critical issue, etc.

When You Are Ready to Write

If you want to deliver your paper on time, you should plan the writing process. You can’t just finish reading and understand how to write a book report. Once you’ve completed the novel, it is important to take a couple of days to reflexing. Think about the main ideas and concepts of the main characters. If this story has left some questions, you should think about the answers. You can find them in the author’s biography, critical reviews, or even in your head.

Don’t wait for inspiration since it may not even come. You should be organized to write the report. Divide this task into small milestones and set deadlines for them.

How To Start a Book Report Writing?

This part of your assignment may be challenging. If you’re already in a state of flow, your thoughts just come into the head. But you may find yourself in a situation when you simply don’t know how to start a book report. We’ve got some ideas.

Read The Book

Many students don’t like reading, especially when their curriculum requires it. It seems that it is much easier to watch a movie adaptation or read the Sparknotes. But if you want to improve your academic performance and develop your skills, you should read books. If you don’t like an option your professor has suggested, ask whether you can choose another piece. Read it to understand the main idea.

Take Notes

Your notebook should always be at hand because reading opens the door to your phantasy. Write down ideas that come to your mind, as well as important quotes from the text. If you have some questions that require answers, you can also write them down to look for them later.

You can take notes in a way that is the most convenient for you. It may be phrases, paintings, audio messages, and so on. The main point is that you understand them and can use them to create your college paper.

Develop An Outline

Each academic paper requires an outline. It is the structure of your text, its core. If you start writing without a plan, your piece will look like a mess, without a clear idea.

Most academic papers include 5 chapters: the introduction, 3 body paragraphs, and conclusion. However, the report has another structure. You may come up with your own parts. Of course, you need to attract readers and provide them with a couple of last sentences to leave the aftertaste. Your text's body depends on you if you don’t have concrete requirements from your professor. Think about the whole structure and develop an outline to follow.

Develop Paragraph Ideas

Each book is a dialogue with the author and one’s readers. Writers speak to their audience using the characters. Reading a story and making notes, create a section for the plot ideas you’ve mentioned. You can list them according to particular topics, e.g., thoughts about love, war, family relationships, existential issues, etc. Choose which 3-5 of them affect the plot the most and use them for your paragraphs. Remember about the golden rule: one paragraph stands for one idea.

How To Write a Book Report In 4 Steps

So, now you have enough information to come up with a perfect paper. Your next task is to get rid of all distractors. We know how a straightforward task may take you much more time because you’re continually drinking tea or looking for your notebook. Think of the list of stuff you need and put everything nearby. If you prefer studying with music, choose the playlist that will help you to concentrate. Classic compositions are an excellent choice. Ask your family or roommates not to bother you during the writing process. And, of course, you should switch off all notifications on your smartphone.

Start With The Book Details

How to start off a book report? After you’ve read the book several times, you have a general idea about the plot, central issues, characters, etc. Now it is time to share this information with your readers. Like any other student paper, a good literature report needs an attractive introduction. Reading different literature pieces, you surely know that it is the introduction that defines whether you want to continue.

Starting a paper, you should provide the title of the piece, the author, and a couple of hook sentences to grab the attention. Use a quote, a rhetorical question, an unusual fact from the writer’s biography, etc. You can also come up with a thesis statement to indicate your main thoughts on this work.

Continue With a Summary of The Book

Writing summaries is not so easy. You may think that it is impossible to fit 300-500 pages into several paragraphs. However, it is the sense of the task: college students should express their thoughts briefly even if there is a lot to say. As a general rule, use about 13 of the report to a summary. And please, don’t just paraphrase similar texts from the internet. You and your fellow students may have the same assignment, but each of you will choose one’s approach. Your professor expects your unique view based on your background and emotions.

Analyze The Book’s Character And Plot

Once you are finished with the summary of the story, you can go deeper and analyze it. College students usually discuss novels that raise important questions: human rights, discrimination, finding one’s place under the sun, building friendly or family relationships, etc. In your body paragraphs, you should show how the author illustrates one’s idea throughout the text. Use direct quotations as a showcase.

Try to provide your interpretation of the authors’ ideas and intended for readers to come away with. Ensure you’re following your professor’s requirements since one can tell you what you are expected to discuss. You may write a special report on the topic of discrimination, but you won’t get a good grade when you were supposed to analyze the causes of the Civil War. Being independent and creative is good, but it is still an academic assignment, so you can’t ignore the instructions.

Summarize Important Points

You may have dealt with essays and know that your task is to wrap things up neatly. Don’t finish with words like “I loved/hated this book” since it is not impressive. Try to think about the overall importance of this novel. If you liked it, think about why you did. Maybe it provided you with some associations and feelings, made you remember something, or changed your goals. If your emotions are controversial, there also should be a reason. You may think that the idea itself is good, but the author couldn’t cope with its realization. Do you know some novels of the same point? Can you say that the author contributed to one’s field or the literature overall? Once your readers finish the conclusion, they should feel they haven’t wasted their time.

Revise The Paper

Like any student paper that you write, it is essential to go back through and proofread the text if you’re turning in the final draft. It is impossible to find a student who writes without mistakes or at least typos.

There is no need to worry about them during the reading, but don’t forget about proofreading once you have finished. Take a short pause to get your mind off the paper and come back with a set of fresh ideas. Get rid of grammar and spelling mistakes, and check the content as well. You should imagine you’re a reader who sees this text for the first time. Does everything make sense? Is each sentence explanatory enough? Make sure that people who are not familiar with the book you write about will understand your paper.

If you have some doubts about the text's quality, you can ask for friendly or professional feedback. An outside opinion is constructive sometimes since the close work doesn’t let you perceive the paper without bias.

Nonfiction Book Report

Writing fiction book reviews is easy because you’ve got used to fictional plots and characters since elementary school. You don’t have them in the nonfiction genre, so it may be challenging to work with thesis statements, arguments, research data, etc.

Imagine that you’re writing an article summary, focusing on the rhetoric the author uses. You should consider one’s objective and provide your statement whether it was convincing enough, and why. You can also share your opinion about the contribution this writer has made to the field.

Here are some essential elements to consider:

  • The key thesis statement. What is the writer’s point of view?
  • Evidence. Is it trustworthy? Does the author use primary or secondary sources?
  • Rhetoric. How does the writer formulate one’s argument to make it more attractive to the reader?
  • New information. What relevant data does the writer bring to the table?

How To Write a Book Report At The College Level

It is a typical assignment for elementary, middle, and high school. You may have a reasonable question: “What is the difference when I’m in college?” The thing is that academic writing has some features you should be familiar with.


Your college paper is purposefully more complex than school essays. You should formulate thoughts with the words that reflect your reading level. It goes about subordinate clauses, passive verbs, literature methods, and so on. It is not so easy to explain ideas briefly and clearly, but not sound like a pupil.


College students should write without too many contractions, slang expressions, colloquial language, etc. Try to carry a specific tone of formality, considering your target audience. If you’re writing about a book that is not crafted in academic language, you may use quotes to show the author’s approach. But your word choice should be carefully checked.


Unless you’re creating a paragraph about your opinion, you should provide objective data. If you say a character is a greedy person, find a quote to support this phrase. It is especially important when you deal with nonfiction literature since it is based not on the writer’s fantasy but research.


School students don’t think about the responsibility to the reader. If you provide some critique or advice, you should think about how other people will perceive your words.

Literature Volume And Quality

Of course, studying in middle school and college, you’re reading, not the same books. Your list of books to read will be much longer and much more complicated. Some novels will take you weeks to read, and therefore you need more time and effort to come up with a review paper.

Creative Ideas

The college paper doesn’t have to be strict and boring. The book report format depends on the particular requirements, and your professor may assign the class with a creative project. Don’t think that this approach is too childish; actually, it is an efficient study method. Psychologists believe that when people include their phantasy in the educational process, they study better. You work with the inconsistent part of your mind, and it is impossible to guess what it will provide you with.

There is a list of excellent ideas you may use to go or to come up with your ones:

  • Book report sandwich;
  • Novel in the oatmeal box;
  • Character trait diagram;
  • A letter to the author;
  • Ten interesting facts about the story;
  • A website;
  • The digital presentation;
  • Short video;
  • A character’s Instagram account;
  • Comic book;
  • Movie poster.

Why You Need or Don’t Need the College Book Report Sample

Writing any student paper, you want to download some good samples and just to paraphrase them. Here is when you should stop! Paraphrasing can be considered plagiarism since you just steal someone’s ideas when your task is to provide your ones. You may think that in this case, you can use samples just for inspiration. You’ll see how other students or even professional authors write about this book, and it will help you plan your strategy.

There is no one right choice. This issue is like a coin with two sides. We want to share both of them with you to let you decide which way you prefer.

Reasons For

On the one hand, if you just sit in front of a blank sheet with zero ideas in your head, a good book report template will show you the direction. You need to analyze it and to understand what strengths and weaknesses it has. If you want to develop something new and creative, you should know what is not so good. When reading different examples, make notes, and try to find something the others somewhat didn’t mention. You may also realize that it was you who didn't understand anything. It is better to find it out now when you’re just working on the first draft.

Reasons Against

However, don’t think that reading the samples is the shortest way to your goal. Even if you don’t have intentions to copy to paraphrase someone else's thoughts, you can do it. Your professor doesn’t want to receive just another paper from the Internet with 100% uniqueness. Fresh ideas matter much more. So try not to get carried away reading samples, and concentrate on crafting your paper.

Avoid These Things When Writing A Book Report

Some pitfalls may affect your grade, so you should avoid them. It is not the ultimate instruction since your college may have other requirements. However, the following tips were compiled by experienced academic authors, so it would be the right choice to consider them.

Limit Yourself With a Summary

It is ok if you’re in elementary school, but college students should demonstrate another level. Most books already contain summaries, so it isn’t the most important and exciting information. What matters is your point of view, the in-depth analysis of the piece, and some unobvious conclusions. You may even conduct full-fledged research to understand the author and one’s position. Set questions and look for answers; that is what you’re expected of.

Use Too Many Quotes

Citations should support your arguments when you’re telling about the writer’s point of view or characters’ traits. However, your paper is not a collection of quotes. They can make your piece boring and prevent you from successfully passing a plagiarism check. When students use too many citations, it means they don’t have their thoughts to share.

Skip Personal Opinion

You’re not a professional literature critique, but it is your assignment, your literature diary. It means you can take a word and explain why you like this piece or why you don’t like it. Some students think it is enough to provide a summary and a detailed analysis according to requirements. However, you can add something personal. For example, write about emotions the novel evokes.

Ignoring Professional Help

If you feel sick, don’t have enough time because of a busy workload, don’t know how to start writing a book report, don’t pretend you’re a superhero. All people need assistance sometimes, especially when they’re at college with various stressful assignments. Our writers are always here to share their experiences and provide you with a custom paper written from scratch. Don’t worry about the deadline and quality, the result will exceed your expectations!

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I studied sociology and marketing at Europa-Universität Viadrina (Germany) and Universidade da Beira Interior (Portugal). When I was a sophomore, back in 2018, I decided to put what I've learned into practice, so I got my first job in digital marketing. I currently work in the content marketing department at Studybay, building strong, effective, and respectful communication between the platform and our clients.

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