SEA Week: Sean Little on Book Reviewing for Skill Growth

My name is Sean Little, Consultant for Sean Little Consulting and Newsletter Editor for the Southeast Evaluation Association (SEA). I’ve been reviewing books for SEA’s newsletter since 2007. While I began reviewing books to network, and to build my Internet presence, I soon realized a positive unintended consequence.  My reviews constituted Internet accessible writing samples, demonstrating my writing skills and evaluation knowledge.

Cool Trick: Reviewing books on a regular basis can become a form of professional development. I once heard George Grob, President of the Center for Public Program Evaluation,speak at an AEA conference; he described his strategy for professional development.  Every year, he would pick one hard, and one soft evaluation skill.  For that year, he would focus on improving those two skills.  He explained that if you picked two new skills every year, you would develop a well-rounded skill set. I’ve adopted this strategy to select books to review.  For each of the last three years, I‘ve picked a hard evaluation skill and organized my review around it. In order to review a book, you have to engage more deeply than to simply read it; in writing the review, you have to organize your experience of that engagement. Regular book reviewing can become a self-directed mini-course.

Hot Tips: What should be in a review? I summarize the major themes of the book, pointing out strong points and weaknesses. Given people’s time and money constraints, I include the price and the number of pages. While my reviews run between 500 and 1000 words, I usually can find time to write two or three reviews a year. It’s good to limit potential reviews to books published within the last 1-2 years.

Rad Resources: For non-teachers who cannot obtain free review copies, used copies on Amazon are available at reduced rates. Some university libraries will allow outsiders to purchase library membership fees. These fees may be cheaper than a new evaluation book, and you can use them all year long. While you can’t highlight or underline in a library book, you can take notes on a laptop while you’re reading, a deeper form of engagement.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Southeast Evaluation Association (SEA) Affiliate Week with our colleagues in the SEA Affiliate. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from SEA Affiliate members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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