Text Books

Technical writers are often employed by educational publishers to develop materials like textbooks and lab manuals. Obviously, the content you'll include will vary depending on whether you are writing a university organic chemistry textbook or a high school sociology textbook. However, there are a few tips that apply to textbook writing in general:

  1. Include a table of contents: All textbooks should include a table of contents. Specify the page number of each chapter, as well as sections and subsections.
  2. Break information down into sections: Your textbook will likely be divided into chapters that discuss broad topics. In a biology textbook, for example, you might have a chapter on genetics. To make the information more accessible, break the main topic (genetics) into a series of smaller topics (genes, dominant and recessive traits, Punnett squares, etc.). Make sure all sections and subsections are clearly labelled.
  3. Define difficult terms: Many academic subjects like math, chemistry, and biology require students to learn specialized terms and vocabulary. Textbooks should define any terms students may not be familiar with. You can use a glossary or sidebars to help you accomplish this. If there are only a few technical terms, you might also decide to just define them within the text.
  4. Present simple information first and build up to more complex topics: In math and science-related subjects, students need to master basic skills and concepts before they can understand more complex ones. Organize the textbook so that the information progresses from easy to difficult. For instance, never present a topic in chapter one if the background information necessary to understand it isn't presented until chapter five.
  5. Give students a way to test their knowledge: At the end of each chapter or section, include exercises or problems that will allow students to test their knowledge of the material presented. You might include math problems, fill-in-the-blank questions, essay questions, or multiple choice problems. An answer key should also be included at the end of the book.
  6. Keep it simple: Like most technical documents, the most important goal when writing a textbook is to present information in a way that it will be understood by your audience. You might have a PhD in biochemistry, but as a technical writer the measure of your success is whether you can communicate what you know at a first-year university level.

Last Updated: 05/05/2014