20 Research

An open book
Conducting thorough research first saves time when writing an open textbook

The writing portion of a textbook begins with research. In some cases, collecting and organizing the research can take longer than the actual writing. However, it’s time well spent by both you and your contributing authors, especially if it’s done well and thoroughly.

Like any scholarly work, it’s important to choose appropriate sources when conducting research for a textbook and then cite or attribute them correctly (see Citation vs. Attribution). The UBC Library Research Help [New Tab] page offers valuable step-by-step advice. For example, in a section entitled “Evaluating Information Sources,” their response to the opening question of “Why Evaluate?” is:

You will need to evaluate each resource you use for research, whether it is an online or print journal article, a website, a book, a newspaper article, or other source that you want to cite. Use the questions in this guide to analyze materials and to assess how appropriate they will be for your research. Keep in mind that many publications have a particular bias or agenda, which may not be obvious at first glance.[1]

To help organize collected items, consider using a source management tool like Zotero [New Tab] (free and open source) or Mendeley [New Tab] (free and run by publisher Elsevier).

In addition, the following steps may help as you gather research and resources.

  1. Write down the knowledge you have accumulated on your textbook’s topic. If you’re an instructor, it’s likely this information is part of your course package or curriculum notes, or something you talk about in the classroom. However, unless this information is common knowledge or based on original research, you must cite it.[2]
  2. Look at other open textbooks on the same or similar topics to see if they contain sections/chapters that can be adapted or used in your book. (See the Open Textbook/OER Directory [New Tab].)
  3. Before you expand your search, read these three chapters: Resources: Only the OpenResources: Search and FindResources: Captions and Attributions
  4. If possible, follow resources — be they text or images — back to the original source so you’re confident that they are truly openly licensed.
  5. Keep concise records of all sources you reference and cite in your textbook, including journal articles (online and off), newspapers, books, government documents, reports from a private organization, conference proceedings, dissertation, online lecture notes, email, blogs, wiki, websites, and video podcasts.
  6. Note the date when accessing an online resource and its URL (Uniform Resource Locator) or web address.
  7. Record all the information you will need to cite a resource properly. Purdue University’s Online Lab (OWL) [New Tab] provides very good research and citation resources for writers.
  8. If your research requires conducting interviews, record them. Consider asking the subjects you interview to sign an interview consent and release form (see word file below). Taking these steps clarify for the interview subject the purpose of the interview and how and where their words will be used.

Here is a template of an interview consent and release form that you can use if you will be conducting interviews:


Knowledge by Dariusz Sankowski has been designated to the public domain (CC0).

  1. "Evaluating Information Sources," UBC Library, http://help.library.ubc.ca/evaluating-and-citing-sources/evaluating-information-sources/ (accessed February 2, 2018).
  2. "What is Common Knowledge?" Academic Integrity at MIT: A Handbook for Students, https://integrity.mit.edu/handbook/citing-your-sources/what-common-knowledge (accessed August 8, 2017).


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