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Abstract

Reading and writing book reviews for learned journals plays an important part in academic life but little is known about how academics carry out these tasks. The aim of this research was to explore these activities with academics from the arts and humanities, the social sciences, and the natural sciences. An electronic questionnaire was used to ascertain (a) how often the respondents read and wrote book reviews, (b) how useful they found them, and (c) what features they thought important in book reviews. Fifty-two academics in the arts, 53 in the social sciences, and 51 in the sciences replied. There were few disciplinary differences. Most respondents reported reading between one and five book reviews a month and writing between one and two a year. There was high overall agreement between what the respondents thought were important features of book reviews, but there were also wide individual differences between them. This agreement across the disciplines supports the notion that book reviews can be seen as an academic genre with measurable features. This has implications for how they are written, and how authors might be taught to write them better. A potential checklist for authors is suggested.