18 Textbook Outline

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. (See Project Timeline.)

Details and decisions

An outline is most useful when it includes all the details needed to build and arrange your book. Recruiting a copy editor at this early stage, someone who can ensure that all elements and layout are covered, will save time later in the project. The copy editor can also assist you with selecting a style guide and setting up a style sheet, which they will reference during the copy-editing and proofreading phases. (See How to Copy Edit and Create a Style Sheet.)

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. The following table lists the items typically included in the front matter and the order in which they appear. While most open textbooks will have many of these elements, very few will have all of them. Only include the sections relevant to your textbook.

Front Matter[1]
Item Responsibility Purpose
Half title Publisher Includes just the title of the book on the recto (front side of the page) with a blank verso (back side of the page).
Title page Publisher Book title is repeated along with subtitle (if any), author(s) and/or editor(s), and illustrator (if any).
Copyright page Publisher On the verso of title page, the following may be included:

  • open-licence information (type, definition, where to obtain free copy of book)
  • if an adaptation, the changes made
  • attribution for cover image
  • publisher’s name and address
  • copyright notice
  • ISBN
  • date of publication and publishing history
  • printing information
Disclaimers Publisher These can appear on the colophon or separately after the title page.
Dedication Author The person or people for whom the author has written or dedicated the book.
Table of contents Publisher A list of all parts and chapters (or chapters and chapter sections) together with their respective page numbers. Front-matter items that appear after the table of contents are also included.
About this book Publisher This page is 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.
List of illustrations and/or tables Publisher This summary is useful for the reader.
Foreword Expert (not the author) The forward 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.
Preface Author The author uses the preface to explain why and how they came to write the book. They might also describe their expertise in the subject area.
Acknowledgements Author This is a list of individuals whom the author acknowledges for their contributions and assistance.
Introduction Author 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.
List of abbreviations Publisher This list of abbreviations and their meanings is useful for the reader.
Accessibility statement Publisher 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. (See Accessibility and Inclusion.)
Publisher’s, translator’s, or editor’s notes  Publisher This information provides background on various aspects of the book’s creation depending on who writes the notes.


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

  • How will the main body be divided? Indicate if parts or units will be used.
  • 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 should the book be? Estimate the word count for the entire book, and then break this number down into individual chapters.

Next, 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 or for the instructor to use for grading
  • 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) and how they will be labeled, numbered, and captioned. Will these items be original creations or retrieved from external sources? (See Resources: Search and Find.)
  • Multimedia (videos and audio clips) for online textbooks. Will these be embedded or will a link be provided? How will these elements be labeled, numbered, and captioned? Will transcripts be provided to ensure accessibility? Will you offer editable files? (See the BCcampus Open Education Accessibility Toolkit [New Tab].)

Estimate the amount of time needed to create each item for each chapter or chapter section — and then double it. The majority of self-publishing authors underestimate the amount of time required to write and produce or collect resources and multimedia. If tasks are completed ahead of schedule, bank this extra time for other delays later on. Ask your copy editor to include the above items on their review list.

Back matter

Items at the end, or as part of the back matter, of a textbook are typically supplements to the main text.

Back Matter[2]
Item Responsibility Purpose
Appendix / appendices Author An appendix provides 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.
Glossary Author The glossary is a list of keywords or terms used within the book and their definitions. These terms are listed alphabetically. Many authors will highlight key terms when first defined in-text using bold or italics.
Reference list Author A reference list notes all resources cited within a textbook and lists them alphabetically by the author’s last name.
Bibliography Author 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.
Suggested readings Author A list of additional books, articles, and other readings 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.
Resources Author A list of helpful resources, such as videos and tools, can be added here.
About the author / Bio Publisher 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.
Call for reviews Author This page can be included if the author is posting the textbook outside of a collection that provides for book reviews. (See Textbook Reviews.)
Index Publisher 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.
Versioning history Publisher 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.


Front Matter and Back Matter tables: Some of this information was taken from Book design on Wikipedia and is used under a CC BY-SA 3.0 Licence.

  1. "Book Design," Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_design (accessed November 15, 2017).
  2. "Book Design," Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_design (accessed November 15, 2017), "Book Elements: A Literary Anatomy Lesson," Authors.me, October 12, 2016, https://www.authors.me/the-anatomy-of-a-book/ (accessed January 16, 2018), and "What is Back Matter," Scribendi, https://www.scribendi.com/advice/what_is_back_matter.en.html (accessed January 16, 2018).


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