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Introduction to library research in the arts: Reading reviews

An introduction to research concepts and techniques for University of Redlands students in fine, literary and performing arts, developed as an Open Educational Resource (OER)

Learning objective

  • Find book reviews on your topic.

Why use reviews?

If you are trying to find books or media recordings on your topic, reading reviews can help you decide what to use.

Reviews tell you the strengths and weaknesses of the work being reviewed. They situate the work in the context of conversations taking place in the discipline.

You can also use reviews to learn about important sources on your topic that you wouldn't otherwise know about. Reviewers often compare the work being reviewed to other works, tracing the history of the work's ideas back to foundational sources.

There are a few differences among reviews depending on what is being reviewed.

  • Academic book reviews are typically written by other scholars and published in academic journals. Their audience is other scholars who need to learn about important research as it is published. Reviews tell you the strengths and weaknesses of the author's argument and situate the book in the context of conversations taking place in the journal's discipline.
  • Music recording reviews are usually written by music critics and published in magazines or newspapers. The audience is other music aficionados who want to understand how the music works and listen to the best interpretations. Music reviews may speak to the quality of the artistic interpretation, performance, and recording technology.
  • Theater reviews are usually written by theater critics and published in newspapers. The audience is the theatergoing public who want to keep up to date about the world of theater, discover new playwrights, and find out what is playing locally. Read theater reviews carefully to learn what makes a particular production distinctive and gather names and concepts to advance your research.

Whatever the type of review, reviewers are responsible for determining the criteria they will use in reviewing a work. Well written reviews are clear about the reviewer's perspective and reasons for a positive or negative opinion. Reviewing thus serves to measure the quality of a work, similar to peer review. The two processes are different in several ways:

  When? Anonymity?
Academic peer review Before publication Yes - reviewers and authors usually don't know each other's identity
Academic book reviews After publication No - authors and reviewers can know each other's identity


How to find book reviews

Use the Book Review Digest Plus database to find reviews of a book you are considering using.

Key points

  • Book reviews are useful to help you decide whether to use a book as a source, and as background reading to learn  about your topic.
  • Use the Book Review Digest database or the library catalog to find book reviews.