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Guidelines for Reviewers

Here are some guidelines for writing your review.

Content: The reviews that we have already published online are probably a good guide as to what should be in your review. For a brief review, the essential thing is to give some information about the book and some (preliminary, perhaps) assessment of how well it achieves its goals. Longer reviews should go much deeper. Here are some ideas to keep in mind:

  • What is in the book? Sometimes the title and table of contents aren’t enough to describe the book accurately. Sometimes there’s something unusual or worthy of note. Make sure people who read your review know what is actually in the book. On the other hand, don’t repeat the table of contents. For most books on MAA Reviews, the table of contents is available online for whoever wants to see it. If it isn't there and you want us to post it, put it into a separate file and we will do that.
  • What do you like about the book? What don’t you like? A review is more than a publisher’s blurb or a discussion of the contents. Feel free to evaluate, comment, and criticize — your opinions are the “value added” part of a book review.
  • Does the book suggest interesting questions? Does it lead to interesting thoughts? Don’t feel strictly bound by the book; digressions are fine. Keep in mind, however, that most users of the internet will not read articles that are too long.
  • How might the book be used? Could it be used as a textbook, as supplementary reading in a course? Or is it mostly useful to the professor? Will students understand it on their own? For some of our readers, this will be the most important part of your review.
  • Compare the book with other similar books. Of course, if no similar book exists, that’s also relevant!

Of course, you shouldn’t feel bound to touch on all of these topics, nor should you be limited by them, but I hope they give you some idea of the range of things I’d like to see.

Form: There are really very few format restrictions. Since your review will appear online, it is easy for us to create hypertext effects and to use graphics. Should you feel that this would enrich your review, please feel free to use these elements. On the other hand, most of our reviews are straight text with no funny links or graphics (other than a scan of the book cover, which we take care of before sending you the book) so don’t feel pressured to do anything fancy. It is really up to you. If you do want to use an image, please do not embed it in your review. Instead, send it to me as a separate graphics file, preferably in JPEG format.

Length will, of course, vary from review to review, but many of the reviews we have online are quite short, no more than five paragraphs, sometimes as short as two paragraphs. Longer reviews range widely. Some of my favorite ones are on the longer side, so don’t feel constrained: if you’ve got something to say, say it. Being online, space is not really a constraint.

About You: Notice that at the bottom of our reviews we include some information about you. Please send me a paragraph for this purpose. I’ll respect your wishes on whether I should include your email address and/or home page address; please let me know. If you wish, I am willing to provide a link to your home page or blog or whatever.

The BLL: The Basic Library List Committee has requested that all reviewers be asked to consider whether the book they are reviewing deserves to be in their list of books recommended for undergraduate libraries. If you think your book is really good and should be on the list, please send me a note when you send in the review. I’ll forward it to the BLL Committee.

How to send it: The best way to get your review to me is by email. A Microsoft Word file is probably the format I get most often. If you do that, please use as little formatting as possible; that will make my job easier. As noted above, please do not embed graphics into your Word file. A plain text file will also work well, as will an html file if you have the means to produce one. In a pinch, we can handle attachments of almost any kind.

Mathematics: Can I include math? There is some provision in html for mathematical formulas (subscripts, superscripts, Greek letters, and so on), but not much. Hence, we have opted for using MathJax, which renders TeX code "on the fly". If you need to include some mathematics, the best thing is to send it to me in LaTeX code. Surround your formulas with the LaTeX codes for begin/end math rather than dollar signs. (I.e., use \ ( to start an equation and \ ) to end one, or the equivalent with square brackets for displayed formulas, but without the extraneous space I had to put in so that MathJax doesn't get activated here!) Using the more common $x^{20}$ will not work, alas. The LaTeX codes will make sure that MathJax is invoked when users look at the review.

Other questions: Here are answers to some other questions I’ve been asked.

  • What’s the deadline? Web operations don’t really have deadlines, so my answer is going to be fuzzy. For brief reviews, I usually tell people one or two months. For longer reviews, I hope most reviewers will be able to send their reviews within a few months of receiving the book. Exactly how long depends, of course, on the book. If, however, it looks as if you’ll be taking more than six months or so, please let me know. And keep in touch, so that I can have some indication of where things stand. I’d rather hear from you, even if it is bad news, than not hear at all.
  • What if I hate the book? Well, it depends. We are certainly willing to publish negative reviews. If you find that the book is “bad in an interesting way,” then go ahead and write the review, and we’ll probably use it. If there’s nothing interesting to say, however, I’d probably rather not publish a review at all. In any case, if you find the book bad or uninteresting, just let me know and we’ll decide what to do.
  • What if the book doesn’t really fit the parameters for MAA Reviews? I try to select books before I send them out, but this will happen every once in a while. If you think it has happened in your case, please contact me and we’ll decide whether to review the book or not.
  • What if I feel I’m not the right person for this review? Just let me know. We’ll arrange for you to return the book and we’ll try again with another book.
  • Can I recommend other books? Sure. If it’s a recent book, I might even be able to get you a review copy. Comparisons are always helpful.
  • Who are my readers? On the web, pretty much anyone! But since MAA Reviews is primarily a service to MAA members, those should be your primary audience. So target your review at the kinds of people who are members of the MAA: teachers of mathematics at various levels of sophistication, people who use mathematics in business, industry, and government, and “math fans” in general.

If you have other questions, feel free to email and ask!

Finally, the MAA would appreciate it if you signed a transfer of copyright form covering your review. You can download the form in pdf format from the MAA web site. Please sign it and send it to Carol Baxter at the MAA Headquarters. The address and phone number are online at the MAA web site. contact me if you have any questions about this.