Considerations When Creating & Editing Content

As we’ve said before, creating high-quality educational resources entails more than just writing accurate content. Creating and editing quality educational resources requires other skills and considerations that should be given some thought up front, to ensure that your content can be read with a critical eye, while also serving the broader needs of open and inclusive education. The following is not an exhaustive list, but should help prompt you as you’re entering and navigating the creation and editing phase.

Audience & Reading Level

The most important thing to keep in mind when creating content are the learners and instructors who will be using the book. Authors should have a clear sense of who the resource is for, why it is being created, what need it fills in the field, and how best to keep it culturally relevant. These details should be kept front of mind throughout the entire creation process to help shape and strengthen the text – for instance, through learning outcomes clearly presented at the start of each chapter or section, or examples in the book that ensure that all students will see themselves reflected or represented in the text.

We also recommend that editors keep in mind the reading level of the book’s audience, as well as the learning objectives that it is supposed to meet. There are a number of online tools that perform readability checks on content, such as Hemingway Editor, but we also recommend speaking to instructional designers and librarians at your institution for standards and resources best suited to your context.

The instructional design team can help you find the best ways to deliver content to students. This perspective should be included from early on to avoid the need for retroactive changes, and so that the end result is an effective and valuable teaching resource. With this information, authors and editors can understand how reading levels affect their context, and help the content fit the best standards for target readers.

Accessibility & Inclusive Design

In a similar vein, it’s important that you think of all learners when creating and editing your content, which means making sure it is released as an accessible resource that doesn’t require much, if any, remediation to meet the needs of the students using it. We believe very strongly in building accessibility into content from day one, not only in terms of technical accessibility, but also language and inclusive design[1]. It’s also worth remembering that designing for the margins is, well, just good design! It’s remarkable how many best practices for accessibility make the text better for everybody reading it (e.g. clear hierarchy & structure, captions on videos, etc.), as well as the obvious benefit of supporting students with recognised disabilities.

Editing is about making the text work better for its readers—this means everybody reading it, including not only students with recognized disabilities, but all those with varying learning or language abilities. Make sure all editors understand that they have a role in this, and provide them with the guidance resources they need if they are not already aware of the specific issues at stake.

Again, try to reach out to accessibility and inclusive design teams or instructional designers (as mentioned in the previous section) on your campus for support if you can, so that you can incorporate good design practices into your book that benefit all students. Here are a few of the kinds of things you can do to improve your resource’s accessibility in the writing phase:

  1. Use heading styles in your documents to create a consistent hierarchy
  2. Consider reading levels of the audience and adjust your tone accordingly
  3. State the full-forms of acronyms during their first use in each chapter
  4. Include alt. text for functional images
  5. Use appropriate and clear link text (don’t link words like “here”, “there,” etc.)
  6. Prepare clear tables with appropriate header information, captions, and more

For more information and guidance on creating an accessible open resource, we highly recommend the BCcampus Open Education Accessibility Toolkit. We’ve also included a short list of basic considerations in our author guide template.

Think Ahead

With a bit of foresight, there are a few tasks you can simplify by laying the groundwork while you write. For example, identifying and tracking where glossary or index terms appear as you write can be much easier than trying to locate them all at the end! Other examples of this kind of forethought we’ve seen include keeping track of the citations/references in each chapter for a bibliography, tagging key concepts using HTML classes to make it easy to format them consistently with CSS, or keeping a spreadsheet to track images and other media to simplify licensing checks. Knowing what appears where in your book is always useful, and the more you can do along the way, the easier life will be in the long run!

Build for Adaptability

Shifting focus slightly to the instructors who will be using the resource, wherever possible, we encourage you to create content that is easily adaptable and modular. One of the major goals of any educational resource is to encourage wide use, and a major advantage of openly licensed resources is that they can also be adapted and localised by those users. Take some time to consider the changes that other instructors may want to make as they set out to use your resource in their courses, and do what you can to make it easy for changes to take place. One way to do this is to keep context specific examples in blocks that can be swapped out for localised content (e.g. discussion of national policies, course, or institution specific information, etc.). Another way is to be clear about licenses and attributions of different elements in the resource (images, excerpts, videos, etc.) so that future users will not need to spend added time looking these up. This is especially important in the case of anything that has been included with a one-time permission or relying on fair use, and including a back matter section with this kind of information is one way to make it clear to future adapters.

Formatting & Review

During the course of their work, authors and editors may serve as de facto formatters and/or reviewers. Content corrections, such as to headings, images, or captions can assist with the OER’s formatting. As well, formal or casual feedback from editors (including proofreaders) can be taken as a non-peer, “generalist” review, which provides a student-like perspective, or someone else who is reading the book for the first time. Editors also provide benefit by thinking about the text as a whole, providing invaluable feedback in a way that a reviewer of a single chapter might not be able to.

Creation Can Be Iterative

We also encourage taking the approach that creation can be iterative, meaning that content can be expanded on, revised, and improved over time. The first release doesn’t need to contain everything you want to include in the long run, so you could, for example, release the core theory sections of each chapter, then expand over time with case studies, media elements, quizzes, in-class assignments, or other ancillaries. Alternatively, if your text has clearly defined sections, you could work on these one at a time, releasing them as you go. This helps to give a sense of progress (both to yourself and others), and can be a great way to encourage others to get involved – seeing the text coming together is often the best way for people to understand the project and see how they can contribute. And, with OER, releasing content is in some ways just the beginning! Other versions can emerge through the work of others that may then feed back into the original.

Model Good Practices (we’re all human, and that means authors & editors too!)

Lastly, it’s also good for you to think deeply about the expectations you have for your OER projects as it can help everybody involved be on the same page and contribute accordingly. A clearly defined author guide will help your authors create content with accessibility, equity, and open pedagogy in mind. You can use the author guide to surface particular points about your audience, share best practices for writing with accessibility in mind, and use the model chapter as an example of the tone, format, and structure a chapter should take. Doing so will make it clearer for authors how they can do their part, which also helps to reduce the amount of work needed in the editorial or formatting phases.

This, in turn, will also streamline the work of your editors as it hopefully reduces the time they need to remediate accessibility or equity issues after the fact. By telling them when something works well, it reinforces the models you want to see throughout the draft. Be nice in your comments and suggestions, and start with the positive aspects of what has been written—you want to be sure that the ‘good’ is preserved during the process of revising the less-good. Highlight both the positive and the issues in each draft, because it eventually creates a dialogue with your authors, while supporting the positive environment that will allow everyone to work on improving the OER.


  1. Note: According to the Inclusive Design Research Centre (IDRC) at The Ontario College of Art and Design University, inclusive design is “design that considers the full range of human diversity with respect to ability, language, culture, gender, age and other forms of human difference.” Like the IDRC, we use the term inclusive design as opposed to universal design deliberately – see the section titled “Why not use the term Universal Design?” on the IDRC’s website for more.

License

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The Rebus Guide to Publishing Open Textbooks (So Far) by Apurva Ashok and Zoe Wake Hyde is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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