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Open Educational Resources Collective Publishing Workflow

Plan an Open Textbook Project

Adapting or Authoring an Open Textbook

Before you commit to writing a new open textbook, it’s worth evaluating some existing open textbooks to see if you could adapt them to suit your needs.

Some points to consider when evaluating an open textbook for adaptation:

  • Relevance – How well does the content align with your course?
  • Effectiveness – How well does the book present content?
  • Copyright Does the book have an open licence that allows modifications?
  • Organisation Does the book follow a logical structure?
  • Balance – Does the book balance text with visuals, and theory with real-world examples?
  • Inclusion and diversity Is the content (text, images and resources) inclusive? Does it present diverse perspectives?
  • Accessibility – How well does the book follow accessibility standards?

If an open textbook meets most of your criteria, consider whether you could make some modifications to improve its quality and usefulness (for example, through editing, revising or replacing content).

You’ll need to weigh up the scope of these changes with the work involved in producing a new textbook to help you decide on the best option for your project.

Adapting an Existing Open Textbook

One of the hardest parts of adapting an open textbook is maintaining consistency across existing and new content.

When modifying or adding new content to an existing open textbook, you’ll need to try to match the style, structure and layout of the original textbook as much as possible.

Some areas you’ll need to watch out for are:

  • Style – Follow the style guide used by the original author if you can. If this isn’t possible, you’ll need to edit the original content to match the new style (for example, to remove Americanisations if adapting an American textbook for the Australian context).
  • Language and tone – Match the tone (formal, friendly and conversational, etc.) and language (tense, point of view, etc.), use of punctuation and grammar, and chapter and section length of the original textbook.
  • Layout – Use the same pedagogical features (learning objectives, exercises, summaries, recommended readings, etc.), list style (bullet or numbered) and heading styles as the original textbook.
  • Resources – Add the same types of resources, follow the same placement, and use the same labels, captions and attributions as the original author.
  • References and citation style – Follow the same citation style for in-text references and reference lists, and use the same placement (e.g. at the end of each chapter, at the end of the book or as footnotes).

Designing a Textbook

Some general rules of design to keep in mind when you’re planning your open textbook:

  • Begin with the end in mind – What are you trying to achieve? What is the scope of the textbook? What knowledge should a student have before and after they use the textbook? What are the learning objectives?
  • Sketch out the general parameters of your textbook – What types of media do you want to incorporate in your textbook?
  • Make a plan for the future – Who will review your textbook? How often do you anticipate the content will need updating? 

Outlining Your Open Textbook

Before you start writing, you’ll need to outline details of how you’ll build and arrange your textbook, including:

  • the topics it will cover
  • how these topics will be organised.

In your outline, you’ll need to consider the:

  • book structure how the textbook will be organised (e.g. front matter, body, back matter)
  • book elements components within the overall textbook structure (e.g. learning objectives, case studies, activities and questions).

Five Rules of Textbook Development

As you’re writing your outline, keep in mind five rules for developing a good textbook:

  1. Rule of frameworks – Maintain a consistent structure. Introducing this framework early on helps with understanding.
  2. Rule of meaningful names – Create and use consistent titles and terminologies. Names are critical to the ability to recall or retrieve the things we know and remember.
  3. Rule of manageable numbers – Limit the amount of new information introduced at one time.
  4. Rule of hierarchy – New knowledge builds on learned knowledge. The student needs to understand the foundational knowledge before being introduced to a new concept. When new concepts are introduced they should be explicitly connected to the foundational material.
  5. Rule of repetition – Repeat important concepts. A pattern of repetition helps promote ideas from short-term to long-term memory.

5 Rules of Textbook Development’ in Self-Publishing Guide by Lauri M. Aesoph, based on Wikibooks:Textbook considerations, licensed under a CC BY 4.0 licence.


Adapted from:

Make a Plan’ in Adaptation Guide by BCcampus, licensed under a CC BY 4.0 licence.

Adapting or Authoring’ and ‘Designing a Textbook’ in Authoring Open Textbooks by Melissa Falldin and Karen Lauritsen, licensed under a CC BY 4.0 licence.

Textbook Outline’ in Self-Publishing Guide by Lauri M. Aesoph, licensed under a CC BY 4.0 licence.

Five Rules of Textbook Development’ in Self-Publishing Guide by Lauri M. Aesoph,  licensed under a CC BY 4.0 licence, which was adapted from Wikibooks:Textbook Considerations, used under a CC BY-SA 3.0 licence. 

Working with Authors to Plan an Open Textbook Project

Effective planning is critical to the success of an open textbook project. Sitting down with authors and working through the information in the 'For Authors' section of this step is a helpful strategy for ensuring authors have a well-developed plan for their textbook. In particular, focus on the design and outline of the textbook. Encourage authors to document their plan and share it with everyone on the authoring and publishing teams.

Planning for the Library's Contribution

Authors will require input from library staff at key points in the production process, across all stages of the workflow. Read through the guides in the workflow to see where library staff will need to work with authors on tasks such as copyright checking, peer review and publishing. Review the authors' time line and make a note of when you might expect to be called on to provide assistance.