A book review is a research genre where scholars evaluate other scholars' published work. As such, it is an editorially commissioned, public evaluation, which is commonly published in journals in most disciplines (Hyland 2009).
As a genre, the academic book review is a fairly heterogeneous field, since book reviews can be anything between short, summary notices to reviews where the chosen book is used as a springboard for a wide-ranging essay (Swales 2004). Scientific journals have review editors who will provide guidelines for what a review for a particular journal should look like.
In an investigation of 160 reviews, Hyland (2004) found that there was a balance between critique and praise of the book at hand. However, there was a tendency to give praise to more general aspects of the book, whereas the points of criticism were directed towards more specific things.
Hyland (2009) also observed that there seemed to be more criticism in reviews in the soft disciplines (social sciences and humanities), whereas reviews in the hard sciences (science and engineering) were dominated by praise, and the reviews were also considerably shorter.
The review article can be seen as a special case of the research article. Its purpose can vary and its format is generally less rigid than the proper research article. Furthermore, it is not uncommon to find alternative genre names used, such as review, review essay, report article, survey article and state-of-the-art survey. In addition, a related concept is meta-analysis, where researchers pool together a large number of studies in the attempt to statistically re-analyse and integrate the results.
Swales (2004) accounts for research conducted by Noguchi (2001). Analysing twenty-five review articles published by a top-ranked American science journal, Noguchi found that four different types of articles emerged:
1. History Presenting a historical view of a facet of the field
2. Status quo Describing the current situation in a field
3. Theory/Model Proposing a theory or model to resolve some issue in the field
4. Issue Calling attention to some issue in the field
Noguchi (2001:142), cited in Swales (2004)
Swales points out that in some cases a review article contains elements of two or more of the above types.
In terms of other characteristics of review articles, they are more often than proper research articles single-authored, and they are often heavily referenced.
From a publishing point of view, another trademark of review articles is that it is relatively uncommon for unsolicited manuscripts coming from unexpected places to be published (Swales 2004). Thus, it seems that this is a genre where more well-known researchers in a field get invited to write a piece.