Textbook writing tutorial
Some sections are missing, but some elements may be useful. Unfortunately it is unlikely that I will finish this sometimes soon - Daniel K. Schneider 19:08, 3 September 2008 (UTC). Maybe someone else ;)
This article deals with how to write a textbook, i.e. tries to formalize a few recipes. The first sections rather deal with principles.
Disclaimer: I am not a textbook writer. This is just based on a summary of some literature and a superficial analysis of some textbooks. My motivation was twofold: I had to write a small textbook for a distance teaching course on educational technology. I also plan to use this to improve tutorials in this wiki over time - Daniel K. Schneider 10:17, 24 September 2008.
See also (and maybe before):
Textbook writing and pedagogical theory
On a prescriptive level, one might argue that authors should use at least some kind of backwards design, i.e. define what students are supposed to be able to do (e.g. solve problems) and then write the books that enables them to do so. In the same spirit, one also could argue that textbooks should respect some first principles of instruction, e.g. let's recall Merrill's:
- The demonstration principle: Learning is promoted when learners observe a demonstration
- The application principle: Learning is promoted when learners apply the new knowledge
- The activation principle: Learning is promoted when learners activate prior knowledge or experience
- The integration principle: Learning is promoted when learners integrate their new knowledge into their everyday world
- The task-centered principle: Learning is promoted when learners engage in a task-centered instructional strategy
However, textbook writing is a specific activity and one should not forget that textbooks are usually just an element in a wider pedagogic strategy. Therefore, writing should be planned together with some possible pedagogical use cases. E.g. Horsley and Walker (2005:265) identify a changing conception of textbooks that is related to changing learning theories. Teaching and learning materials e.g. textbooks are used differently according to pedagogical theory:
- Transmission: Source of information, Basis of transmission, Knowledge authority, Structure of a teaching and learning program
- Constructivist: Activity and inquiry source; Provision of multiple sources for students; student knowledge ;construction Multiple sources for teacher selection.
- Sociocultural: Scaffolds learning; Enculturates students into disciplinary knowledge and practices; Source of inquiry activities; Basis of explicit teachings.
See also the related discussion around the pedagogical purpose of various kinds of learning objects.
This short discussion only tells us that textbooks can be analyzed in terms of their function and in this perspective it becomes less clear what a textbook is. E.g. Johnsen (2001) argues that “the definition of a textbook may be as general as to include other books made and published for educational purpose, or even any book used in the classroom. The textbook may also be a subset of an even broader and increasingly more commonly-used term "teaching media"”.
Daniel K. Schneider adheres to the idea that a textbook is a special genre of teaching media and that includes some kind of "built-in" pedagogy or at least affordances to support a range of pedagogies.
Textbooks are written with pedagogical objectives in mind. But since teachers and learners must construct their own representation, they sometimes re-purpose a text in ways not anticipated. E.g. a textbook could be used just for reference instead of for direct instruction. The opposite is also true, a good reference book also could be used as textbook.
For an author, there are several ways to manage objectives (each ISD model or extensions like the Kemp model will tell you more). Often, advise on writing textbooks suggests to plan book chapters in terms of desired learning level outcomes. But, again, the author should be aware that teachers define reading assignments (textbooks as a whole or portions of it) in function of their pedagogical objectives. These may not be compatible with the original intent of the author.
The most important objectives concern learning objectives, e.g. what the student should master after having worked through parts of the textbook. Reading is usually linked to other class/homework activities. Again, both authors and teachers (and one could argue, learners too) should also engage in this exercise. For example, the IOWA writing assistant identifies 6 levels of emphasis based on Bloom's taxonomy of learning that we reproduce here exactly as defined in Applying your results (retrieved 20:03, 27 July 2007 (MEST)):
- Knowledge: rote memorization, recognition, or recall of facts.
- Comprehension: understanding what the facts mean.
- Application: correct use of the facts, rules, or ideas.
- Analysis: breaking down information into component parts.
- Synthesis: combind parts to make a new whole.
- Evaluation: judging the value or worth of information or ideas.
Depending on global objectives of the book, an author can put different emphasis on each of "Bloom" levels.
Objectives at book and chapter level should also be associated with activities, assessment, etc.
Here is an example for Synthesis-level objective. Target students are students in educational technology. The learning activity handed out is to prepare an e-Text about e-learning standards.
- Objective: "By the end of this section, you (as a student) will be able to design a learning object that introduces key components of e-learning standards, and in particular modeling languages.
- Activities: Make your own summary of the most important concepts you can find in articles on educational modeling languages and then design a course module with eXe
- Assessment: Quality of your course module (details to be announced)
- Key Words: Design, formulate, build, invent, create, compose, generate, derive, modify, develop.
Usually in textbooks, objectives are not just used to plan the text, but they are made explicit. Objectives can be written out at the start of chapters and/or sections and activities inserted where appropriate. Hints for self-assessment can added too.
Textbook language and organization of contents
Textbooks, in language research seems to be identified as a genre (or genres). Most research focuses on structural analysis of textbooks, but some research also produces knowledge that can be used for prescriptions: According to Jones (2005), textbook writers have three choices: simplification, easyfication, or the scaffolding of concept knowledge. We shall summarize some prescriptions can be derived from this article.
- Simplification strategies - enhanced cohesion/coherence
- simplification of content: explain new technical terms as they arise
- simplification of form: make sure that the text has cohesive links and restores implicit relationships, e.g. when using general-specific of problem-solution progressions.
- simplification by including explanations and exemplifications
- using similar structures, i.e. syntactic repetition acts as a form of syntactic scaffolding.
Note that simplification may turn against learning. For example NcNamara et al. (1996) found that “text coherence improved readers' comprehension, but also that giving readers with sufficient background knowledge an incoherent text that forced them to infer unstated relations engaged them in compensatory processing, allowing deeper text understanding than might occur with a coherent text.”
- Easyfication strategies - enhancing structure
The purpose easyfication is to “give learners an additional instructional appahttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Textbookratus by developing a kind of "access structure" around the text without his [sic] having gone through the intervening stages of simplified materials” Bhatia cited by Jones (2005:9). Examples of such devices are:
- Provide introductory paragraph(s) to a text (or text segment)
- Provide a structural analysis ('tagging' sections) to a text (or text segment), e.g. as in Advance Organizers.
- Provide a schematic representation of a text (or text segment)
- Add annotations/explanations to the text, e.g. marginalia
- Add metadiscursive commentaries (before, in the middle, or after)
- Add questions to encourage interactions with the text
- Scaffolding - providing domain knowledge
“Scaffolding in the sense intended here means the provision of a series of carefully designed pre-task exercises (or activities) which allow students to familiarize themselves with concepts of increasing complexity and to explore these concepts in terms of their reactances and interrelations.” Jones (2005:10)
Typical scaffolding activities can be:
- filling in gaped texts
- complete sentences
- propositional clusters
- produce or complete tables and flow charts
- write summaries of various sorts, e.g. include critique, most things relevant, organize information, etc.
Of course these activities can be assigned by teacher, i.e. they must not necessarily be part of the text itself.
The book structure and genre
Objectives and genres
Let's recall that a textbook should be written with respect to an identified set of objectives. These should include an analysis of learning objectives and pedagogical function of the book within potential learning situations/environments. You may have to compromise here, i.e. anticipate different use cases.
In addition, in some areas you may consider switching genres in different chapters. E.g. a text on educational multimedia animation may include a chapter on learning theoretical background (e.g. cognitive load) and a introduction to flash. Clearly, such chapters are not of the same kind and may adopt different rhetorics.
See Textbook genres and examples for a discussion of some genres we superficially analyzed.
Often textbooks are divided into a structure like this:
Parts Chapters Sections Sub-sections
Parts either represent different major topics (e.g. conceptual vs. technical) or levels
Chapters contain a clearly identifiable major topic. In the US teaching university system, a textbook corresponds to a week's work, e.g. two classes and a homework assignment. This may be the reason why most textbooks are divided into 8-12 chapters. You need a least 8 if you want to sell the book to a "teaching professor" it seems.
Sections contain major subtopics, i.e. a independent unit of instruction. Sub-sections usually cover a concept or procedure to be learned. For a reason I do not understand, sections are generally not numbered in American textbooks. An exception is Deitel (2004).
Each heading that has subheadings must have at least two of its kind. E.g. a chapter should not just include a single section, but at least two. In most "hard-core" textbooks, everything is usually divided by three or four, plus openers and closers. Btw. this is also how military units are organized ...
Style of headings may be imposed by the publisher, e.g. capitalization and numbering scheme. Therefore, structuring is not only a pedagogical issue and you may have to give up pedagogical beliefs in order to comply with external constraints. E.g. I find it strange that navigation is so difficult in typical US textbooks and I suspect that this may be the result of "artistic" guidelines.
Good topical structure
Heading structure should have a function as conceptual organizers. The structure “reflects the amount of information you are providing, the amount of differentiation you are making within and between topics, and each topic's relative importance in you scheme of things” (Lepionka: 106).
Lepionka (2003:108) outlines a few characteristics of good topical structure that we reproduce here with different wording:
(1) Each major section (chapter, section and sub-section) should include a thesis statement, either typographically marked or in the introductory paragraph. E.g. in Alessi (2001:138) we find in the third paragraph of introduction to the "Hypermedia chapter":
(2) Ideas or points are grouped into meaningful chunks of information.
(3) There should be a balance of topical development and including a reasonable amount of information. E.g. for smaller concept (a sub-section level) between 1/2 and 1 1/2 pages (figures not included).
(4) Topics (sections, subsections, etc.) should lead to each other. In other words, a textbook should not be written like an Encyclopedia. (This wiki is clearly not a textbook).
(5) These transitions should be clear, i.e. made explicit for the novices that your readers are.
(6) Each main concept should be supported, e.g. by data or examples.
(7) Each topic should only be treated once and you should avoid forward pointers.
Overview of textbook chapter elements
Most textbooks are written with a sort of direct instruction model in mind. However, this is not an obligation. Consider that teachers engaged in other pedagogical approaches do not necessarily use textbooks, but rather a combination of manuals and "normal" academic texts. I.e. a textbook that mainly targets research university students as opposed to teaching college students may implement very different design principles.
But in any case, chapters should include various functional elements that will at least help the reader to understand the text. These elements also may show visually. Lepionka (2003:117-118,123) distinguishes four major kinds of elements which we will summarize here, before a more detailed discussion later on.
- 1. Openers
- Express “subject, theme, aims, topics, and organization of a chapter [... readers should] know at the outset what they are reading and why or to what end” (Lepionka 2003:117). E.g. if you follow Gagné's nine events of instruction then you should include something to motivate and gain attention (step 1), something to help the frame and organize (step 2) and something to recall prior knowledge (step 3).
Typical openers are:
- overviews (previews)
- outlines (text, bullets or graphics)
- focus questions (knowledge and comprehension questions)
- learning goals / objectives / outcomes / competences / skills
- A case problem
- In addition one may use the "special features" used inside chapters, e.g. vignettes, photos, quotations, ...
- 2. Closers
- Give students opportunities to review, reinforce, or extend their learning, i.e. help with transfer of learning (Lepionka 2003:118)
Typical closers are:
- conclusions and summaries (may include diagrams)
- list of definitions
- reference boxes (e.g. computer instructions)
- review questions
- self-assessment (usually simple quizzes)
- small exercises
- substantial exercises and problem cases
- fill-in tables (for "learning-in-action" books) to prepare a real world task
- ideas for projects (academic or real world)
- bibliographies and links (that can be annotated)
- 3. Integrated Pedagogical Devices
- These elements aid the learning process in several ways, e.g. by giving advice on how to understand / interpret or navigate, by engaging the learner in some reflection, by pointing out important elements, or to summarize key elements treated in previous text.
Typical elements are:
- Emphasis (bold face) of words
- Marginalia that summarize paragraphs
- Lists that highlight main points
- Summary tables and graphics
- Crossreferences that link backwards (or sometimes forwards) to important concepts
- Markers to identify embedded subjects (e.g. an "external" term used and that needs explanation)
- Study and review questions
- Pedagogical illustrations (concepts rendered graphically)
- Tips (to insure that the learner doesn't get caught in misconceptions or procedural errors)
- Reminders (e.g. make sure that something that was previously introduced is remembered)
- 4. Interior Feature Strands
- “Intext features, whether boxes or portions of text set off through design, function pedagogically to attract attention; arouse curiosity; increase motivation to read stimulate critical thinking; and provide opportunities for reflection, application, or problem solving” (Lepionka, 2003: 118).
Typical elements are:
- Case studies
- Problem descriptions
- Debates and reflections
- Profiles (case descriptions)
- Primary sources and data
Some of these four kinds of elements will be discussed in more details below
Chapter openers should be used consistently through the text, at least in form (in case chapter genres are different). Below we present a few techniques that can be use in combination or (as seen in some textbooks) alone.
Again, it is not always obvious to differentiate between function and structure. A well written introductory text labelled "introduction" may very well cover preview, introduction and outline without making a clear distinction. But its probably best to use a paragraph for each. E.g Alessi (2001:138) which is a highly regarded book since 1985 now in its third edition, structures the introduction to the "Hypermedia chapter" with three elements:
- Topic and definition of the concept
- A list of 5 topics (truncated below)
- A chapter preview (truncated below)
Below we shall examine various chapter opener elements with some more examples.
Also called chapter overviews (but there might be a slight different), these elements summarize the "big picture" and frame the reader for acquiring the details.
Here is an example from Clark (2003:97) in the chapter "Applying the Redundancy Principle"
Previews also act as self-monitoring device, i.e. it will you as an author whether you are able to understand what you wrote ...
Introductions both at chapter and section level rather focus on the problem, i.e. try to convey to learner why the topic is important and in which context this knowledge is relevant. It also can link to previous chapters. E.g. the editors introduction to David Merrills' chapter on "First Principles of Instruction" (Reiser, 2006:62) starts like this:
This text states a goals or an achievement, but it does not (like in a chapter preview) summarize these first principles of instruction
Here is another example from Deitel (2004:141). The Introduction is a numbered section and comes right after the outline (see below).
Again, this introduction, makes a link and provides motivation for reading on.
Chapter outlines either support or integrate (replace) the function of Preview and Introduction. E.g. Morsund (2000:35) in the "the case for PBL" chapter uses a rather short multi-purpose introduction:
Driscoll (2005) starts chapter 6 "Simulations" with a quote from two researchers and then outlines the chapter as follows:
In addition to an introductory text, one may also just display the chapter's internal table of content. It may replace the outline 'if' the section titles are well chosen.
E.g. Deitel (2004: 141) after presenting Objectives and funny quotes on page one presents an outline of the 12 sections:
This is followed by an introduction.
Learning objectives can be interwoven with any of the above, but in a "hard-core" textbook they are usually stated in box à-part in list form.
E.g. Carey (2007:227) in the "Working with Cascading Style Sheets" Tutorial (chapter) defines objectives for each of the three Sessions (sections) in a sidebox next to the case problem that opens the chapter.
Focus questions or in terms of Reiser (2007:viii) "knowledge and comprehension questions “at the start of each chapter require students to identify the key ideas presented and demonstrate their understanding of those ideas”
There are five focus questions attached to David Merrills' chapter on "First Principles of Instruction" (Reiser, 2006:62) and rendered in a smaller left-side column of the first chapter page. We list the two first ones:
Case problems have two functions:
- They motivate since the link topics to be covered to a real world problem
- They provide an example which can structure and/or exemplify the discourse
Clark (2003) use what the call a Design dilemma for each chapter. It is part of the chapter preview, i.e. follows a paragraph in the proper sense of preview as illustrated above. Design dilemmas are marked in a grey box and take up 1 or pages. In the chapter "Applying the Redundancy Principle", there is a 2-page dilemma of which we quote a few excepts (it also contains 2 figures).
Carey (2007:227) in his chapter design only uses a list of objectives and a case to open chapters. The case description usually takes a half a page (but specifics are introduced throughout the rest of the chapter). We quote a few excerpts:
At chapter start one also may use typical features that are use as interior feature strands. See [#Special_features_strands|Special features strands]
Integrated pedagogical devices
Special features strands
Case studies and scenarios
Quotations and epigrams
Summary and reference tables
A conclusion should make a point. It may be seen as the "alter ego" of the the Chapter Introduction.
David Merrills' chapter "First Principles of Instruction" (Reiser, 2006:69) conclusion takes about 2/3s of a column and starts like this:
Alessi (2001:173)'s conclusion takes up a bit more than a page and ismore of a summary. But it starts like this, i.e with a point:
The summary has a similar function as the chapter preview. It may be part of the conclusion or be labelled as a separate section or sub-section. It may for instance summarize essential points for each section. “A summary should be a content review, not a catalogue of what has been covered” (Lepionka 2003:141)
Alessi (2001:173)'s hypermedia chapter conclusion is mostly a summary of design principles, i.e. 2 paragraphs and a longer item list The first summary paragraph looks like this (see above for the conclusion opener):
After stating an other second principle, the authors then list some morespecific recommendations as a list (see below)
Carey (2007:282)'s tutorial chapter summary is just a review of topics covered. In Daniel K. Schneider's this may be ok for a technical textbook. The summary starts like this:
Lists of principles
Alessi (2001:173) ends the conclusion of the hypermedia chapter with a list of specific recommendations that can apply to most hypermedia programes. We quote the first four (out of 21) here:
List of definitions or key terms
Carey (2007:283) ends a tutorial (a chapter) with a tutorial summary(a paragraph) and a list of "naked" key terms, followed by several "practice pages".
This is IMHO rather useless, unless it is meant to challenge the student to make sure that he integrated definitions of these.
Carey (2007) inserts review questions at the end of sessions (sections). E.g. the review (also marked with a marginalia title) of session 5.3 includes 7 questions and starts like this:
Review questions for Transfer
Driscoll's (2005) chapter 6 "Simulations" end includes as final element, a section labelled "Reflection and application": It starts like this:
On of the challenges starts and ends like this:
This is a short and open ended case problem for which the student is support to sketch out a design.
Driscoll (2005) ends chapter 6 "Simulations" with a section labelled "Conclusion". The second paragraph looks like this:
She then continues with a short annotated bibliography labelled "Learn More about it" an finally finally some review questions (see above)
Some authors also include planning aides (e.g. till-in tables) for reader who want to put theory into practise.
Pedagogical discourse should be reflected in layout. However, as it is the general rule in educational technology, there is no single solution. Daniel K. Schneider believes that a lot of design decisions are rather based on intuition than on solide knowledge what works.
Globally speaking, there exist two extremes. Textbooks that relativeley "sober" with relatively few words per page and the opposite end textbooks that use wide pages, lots of color and graphical markup. Here are two examples from "real" textbooks:
- Carey, Patrick (2006) New Perspectives on XML, Second Edition, Comprehensive.
This is the second page of the chapter (tutorial on CSS). The first page contains instructions dealing with code.
This is the third page of the same chapter
This is the first page of the simulation chapter
Using a word processor
- See Microsoft Word if you must use it ...
- Richard Felder's resources in science and engineering education.
- What I've Learned about Writing Economics by Hal R. Varian, University of California, Berkeley
- Writing Guidelines for Engine (Eco)ering and Science Students by Michael Alley
- Getting Started Creating A Textbook by David Rees (goals and process). (also here).
- Instructional literature, Development of Educational Material, CARNet, retrieved 19:57, 8 August 2007 (MEST)).
- Technical Writing, An Introduction to the Craft of Technical Communication] (2009) by Rachael Shoemaker
- So You Want to Write a Book (O'Reilly)
For research-related questions, see textbook research
- Alley, M. 1996 The Craft of Scientific Writing (3rd Ed.). Springer-Verlag New York, Inc. ISBN 0-387-94766-3
- Ben-Ari, M., Walker, H. M., Redvers-Mutton, G., and Mansfield, K. 2002. Writing a textbook. In Proceedings of the 7th Annual Conference on innovation and Technology The Textbook and after... Pierre Moeglinin Computer Science Education (Aarhus, Denmark, June 24 - 28, 2002). ITiCSE '02. ACM Press, New York, NY, 94-95. DOI 10.1145/544414.544444 (Summary of a panel discussion).
- Dale, N., Mercer, R., Koffman, E., and Savitch, W. 2001. Writing a textbook: walking the gauntlet. SIGCSE Bull. 33, 1 (Mar. 2001), 408-409. Abstract (summary of a panel discussion)
- Forbes, David J., (1996), Make History Textbook Writing "A Puzzlement", The History Teacher. Vol. 29, No. 4 (Aug., 1996), pp. 455-461. JSTOR Bitmap/POF
- Hatch, Mary Jo (2007). Writing From Teaching: A Textbook Writer's Tale, Journal of Management Education, Vol. 31, No. 3, 405-412 (2007). DOI 10.1177/1052562906298443
- Jones, Alan (2005) Conceptual Development in Technical and Textbook Writing: A Challenge for L1 and L2 Student Readers, Proceedings of the International Professional Communication Conference, Limerick, Ireland, 12-15 July, 2005. PDF - Abstract
- Lepionka, Mary Ellen (2003), Writing and Developing Your College Textbook, ISBN 0-9728164-0-2. (This practical book gets good reviews. I bought it and find it useful - Daniel K. Schneider)
- Lepionka, Mary Ellen (2005), Writing and Developing College Textbook Supplements ISBN 0-9728164-1-0
- Silv (Eco)erman, Franklin H. (2004), Self-Publishing Textbooks and Instructional Materials, ISBN 0-9728164-3-7
- Thirlway, M. 1994 Writing Software Manuals: a Practical Guide. Prentice-Hall, Inc. ISBN 0-13-138801-0
- Ranking, Elizabeth, The Work of Writing: Insights and Strategies for Academics and Professionals, Wiley, ISBN: 978-0-7879-5679-0
Remark: My reason for writing in English is simple. That way I can find at least a few readers. I know that my unedited English is bad. Some things I could fix myself (like spelling, omission of words, too long sentences etc. if I had more time). Anyhow, there exist some manuals about style. However, Geoffrey K. Pullum in his piece 50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice warns that “English syntax is a deep and interesting subject. It is much too important to be reduced to a bunch of trivial don't-do-this prescriptions by a pair of idiosyncratic bumblers who can't even tell when they've broken their own misbegotten rules.”.
- Felder, Richard M. and Rebecca Brent (1997). Objectively Speaking, Chemical Engineering Education, 31(3), 178-179 (1997). HTML reprint
- Gronlund, N.E. (1991)- How to write and use instructional objectives (4th ed.) New York, Macmillan.
Examples of textbooks
- Alessi, Stephen. M. & Trollop, Stanley. R., (2001) Multimedia for Learning (3rd Edition), Pearson Allyn & Bacon, ISBN 0-205-27691-1.
- Clark, Ruth Colvin and Richard E. Mayer (2003). E-Learning and the Science of Instruction: Proven Guidelines for Consumers and Designers of Multimedia Learning, Pfeiffer, ISBN 0787960519
- Carey, Patrick (2006) New Perspectives on XML, Second Edition, Comprehensive. ISBN 1418860646, 655 pages
- Deitel, Harvey M., Paul J. Deitel, Andrew B. Goldberg, (2004) Internet & World Wide Web How to Program (3rd Edition). Prentice Hall; 3 edition, ISBN 0131450913
- Dépelteau, François (2000), a démarche d'une recherche en sciences humaines, De Boeck ISBN-10 2804135268
- Driscoll, M., Carliner, S. (2005) Advanced Web-Based Training : Adapting Real World Strategies in Your Online Learning, Pfeiffer. ISBN 0787969796
- Morsund, David (2002) Project-based learning: Using Information Technology, 2nd edition, ISTE. ISBN 1-56484-196-0
- Reiser Robert A. and John V. Dempsey (eds). (2006). Trends and Issues in Instructional Design and Technology, 2nd edition. Prentice Hall. ISBN 0131708058
- Veer, E.A. Vander and Chris Grover (2007). Flash CS3: The Missing Manual. ISBN 0596510446