No single writing approach works for all projects. Instead, it will depend on the content creation team that you have in place and the type of resource you are trying to produce. This is an important time to pay attention to considerations such as accessibility, inclusion, tone, reading level, and other structural elements, which together will improve the overall quality of your content.
This summary covers the key issues in authoring and content creation, whether you’re starting a new textbook or adapting an existing resource.
Always keep the audience front of mind. Authors should have a clear understanding of the book’s eventual readers, why it is being created, what needs it fills, and how to keep the content culturally relevant.
Get support from others. Create pathways for authors to work with and get input from instructional designers, potential adopters, and students, so the finished book is effective and valuable.
Model good practices. Use your author guide and model chapter to show authors how to incorporate accessibility, structure content in modules (for potential adapters), track glossary terms, properly tag key concepts, and enter citations.
Remember that creation can be iterative. Content can be expanded on, revised, and improved over time: the first release doesn’t need to include everything. Start with the core concepts, and then add case studies, media, quizzes, assignments, question banks, and slide decks.
We suggest three options for creating content: sole authoring, small-team collaboration, or large-team sharing. All three options have advantages and challenges, as below:
- Sole authoring: clearest understanding of work and content; minimal logistical administration; no shared workload; strong need for external feedback and multiple perspectives
- Small team: needs shared vision, shared ownership; some administration and coordination required; workload is shared; perspectives are diverse but additional feedback from reviewers can enhance content; changes to team can have a big impact; small but active community around resource
- Large team: needs greatest buy-in to shared vision, clear schedule, and timeline; most administration and coordination; documentation required; workload is shared; needs champions to maintain team motivation; many perspectives, requiring copyeditors and reviewers to ensure consistency and cohesiveness; largest community around your resource
Putting in planning and decision-making time up front is one of the most important things to do. This is true whether you are a single author or part of a writing team.
- Create a detailed outline, in consultation with instructional designers, that lays out a clear structure or skeleton for the resource.
- Using the outline, identify potential areas of overlap so as to reduce the need for substantive editing down the road.
- Prepare an author guide with:
- style guide
- chapter template
- model chapter
- licensing information
- author expectations (about accessibility & inclusive design, non-textual elements, modular content)
- details on writing tools
- submission and contact information
- Keep a tracking sheet so you know the status of your content creation.
- Stay in constant communication with your team – for introductions, outline discussions, unit assessments, deadline adjustments, etc.
- Conduct author calls and post updates/recaps on the public project home page.
- Build a list of FAQs to share with existing and new team members.
- Be clear about the timing and process of next steps, including editing, proofreading, review, formatting, etc.
Authors should get out of the project as much as they put in, so do what you can to reward them, recognize their efforts, and make their experience a good one! This will leave you with a happy and vibrant community around your resource, which will also be reflected in the final product.
Read on to learn more about creating content for your open textbook.