Develop Textbook Outline

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Before you begin writing, create an outline that details the topics to be covered in your textbook and how they will be organized in a table of contents. Consider the type of students who will use your textbook and the course level and program for which the textbook is intended. Taking time to consider the audience and classroom will direct the tone and complexity of your writing. As such, it should be scheduled in your project timeline. This vital step will save time and money, reduce mistakes, and hopefully result in a more useful, engaging textbook.

Front matter

The front matter is the introductory section of your textbook and the first thing readers see. If you’re using an authoring platform such as Pressbooks, the system will set up some of these sections for you, including a copyright page and a table of contents. While most open textbooks will have many of these elements, very few will have all of them so only include the sections relevant to your textbook.

Page Purpose
About this book This page is often used to define open textbooks and other OER, and any other unique features for this type of book. Funding provided by the author’s institution, a public body, or philanthropic organization can also be noted.
Abstract An abstract is a brief summary of a research article, thesis, review, conference proceeding, or any in-depth analysis of a particular subject and is often used to help the reader quickly ascertain the paper's purpose.
Accessibility statement If the book has been written and designed to be accessible, provide a description of how this was done and various options people have when accessing the book. Indicate the standards that have been followed, and provide contact information for where people can report any accessibility issues.
Acknowledgements Sometimes part of the preface rather than a separate section in its own right, or sometimes placed in the back matter rather than the front, it acknowledges those who contributed to the creation of the book.
Copyright / Licensing This page includes:
  • open-licence information (type, definition, where to obtain free copy of book)
  • if an adaptation, the changes made
  • attribution for cover image
  • copyright notice

Technical information such as edition dates, copyrights, typefaces and translations used, and the name and address of the publisher or printer. In some books this is placed at the end (see Back matter, Colophon). Lengthy colophons for books collecting material from multiple copyrighted works may continue onto pages in the back matter if it will not fit on a single page.

You may want to consider including the "recommended citation" because often open textbooks can be confusing for students to know how to cite.

Dedication A dedication page is a page in a book that precedes the text, in which the author names the person or people for whom he/she has written the book. These can appear on the colophon or separately after the title page.
Foreword The foreward is typically written by an outside expert in the field at the request of the primary author. The foreword author’s name, place, and date are included at the end of the statement. Often a foreword will tell of some interaction between the writer of the foreword and the writer of the story, or a personal reaction and significance the story elicited. A foreword to later editions of a work often describes the work's historical context and explains in what respects the current edition differs from previous ones.
Introduction A beginning section which states the purpose and goals of the following writing. This introduction describes the book contents as a whole. The book’s theme, layout, special features, and how instructors can make the best use of it, can also be included. The author may also create a “How to Use This Book” section if more fitting.
Lists Some common list pages to include are:
  • Abbreviations
  • Characters
  • Illustrqations
  • Tables

Having these available can help students be able to find content more quickly and be used as a reference while reading.

Preface A preface is generally the author recounting the story of how the book came into being, or how the idea for the book was developed. This is often followed by thanks and acknowledgments to people who were helpful to the author during the time of writing.
Table of contents This is a list of chapter headings and sometimes nested subheadings, together with their respective page numbers. This includes all front-matter items listed below, together with chapters in the body matter and back matter. The number of levels of subheadings shown should be limited, so as to keep the contents list short, ideally one page, or possibly a double-page spread. Technical books may include a list of figures and a list of tables.


As you shape the content of your textbook’s main body, ask yourself these questions:

Question Action
How will the content be structured? Decide if parts or units will be used, how many sections there will be in each chapter, etc.
Will each chapter include chapter sections? If chapter sections are included in the table of contents, it is easier for students and other instructors who might use your textbook to see at a glance the textbook’s content and navigate through the book.
Will numbering and/or titles be used to identify parts, units, chapters, and chapter sections? If possible, include these in the outline. Titles and numbering can be changed in the final draft, but establishing working titles helps during the organizational phase.
How long will the book be? Estimate the word count for the entire book, and then break this number down into individual chapters.

Also consider the layout, style, and length for each chapter and chapter section. Decide what elements to incorporate such as:

  • Learning objectives or outcomes that align with the textbook content, typically identified at the beginning of each unit, chapter, or chapter section.
  • Chapter introduction
  • Exercises, essay questions, practice quizzes, or other methods for the student to self-test during reading.
  • Key terms, highlighted and defined throughout the textbook; some authors summarize these in a Glossary placed in the back matter.
  • Chapter-end summary or list of key points or key takeaways.
  • Suggested/additional reading lists at the end of each chapter or in the back matter.
  • Resources (photos, illustrations, diagrams, graphs, charts, tables).
  • Multimedia (videos and audio clips)

Back matter

Items at the end, or as part of the back matter, of a textbook are typically supplements to the main text. While most open textbooks will have many of these elements, very few will have all of them so only include the sections relevant to your textbook.

Item Purpose
About the author / Bio This page has author’s biography followed by the biographies of any contributing authors listed in alphabetical order. This description is professional in nature and describes the author’s expertise, experience, and training in the textbook’s subject matter. A photo can be included.
Appendix / appendices This supplemental addition to a given main work may correct errors, explain inconsistencies or otherwise detail or update the information found in the main work. Often they contain supplementary material to information found in the main work. In cases where there are more than one appendices, they can be numbered and described for easier reference.
Bibliography / Reference list A reference list notes all resources cited within a textbook and lists them alphabetically by the author’s last name. Typically, a bibliography refers to all works used as references within a textbook, both cited and read as background in preparation for writing. Note: A bibliography is not used by all style guides, so consult your style sheet about what your bibliography will look like.
Call for reviews This page can be included if the author is posting the textbook outside of a collection that provides for book reviews.
Glossary The glossary consists of a set of definitions of words of importance to the work. They are normally alphabetized. The entries may consist of places and characters, which is common for longer works of fiction. Many authors will high-light key terms when first defined in-text using bold or italics. In Pressbooks, this page can be auto-generated.
Index This list of keywords and terms is laid out alphabetically and includes the page numbers of where they can be found. Indexes are often left out of open textbooks, especially those available online, because keywords and terms can be easily found using the search field. In addition, because open textbooks are often available in a number of formats, it’s difficult to provide an index that will be useful in all formats.
Suggested readings / Resources A list of additional helpful resources, such as other books, videos and tools can be included here for students. Some authors choose to add suggested-reading lists, targeted at the subject covered in a chapter, at the end of each chapter.
Versioning history As open textbooks are often digital and available online, there is a certain expectation that minor corrections and updates be made as necessary, even after the book is live and completed. BCcampus has dedicated “Versioning History” pages to the back matter of its books for this purpose. This page provides information about how to report an error in the textbook, as well as a record of any updates and changes made in the textbook and the date of those changes.

Adaption Statements