Develop 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. Taking time to consider the audience and space 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 text.

Generally, texts are separated into three main types of content: front matter, body content, and back matter.  Be sure to consider both the front and back matter as you develop your texts outline as these sections may impact how you write the body content.  For example, if you plan to include appendices and/or additional resources in your book’s back matter, you may limit how much you explain certain topics in the main text and instead direct readers to the appropriate back matter section.

Front Matter

The front matter is the introductory section of your text 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 texts will have many of these elements, very few will have all of them so only include the sections relevant to your textbook.



As you shape the content of your texts main body, ask yourself these questions: how will the content be structured; will each chapter include chapter sections; will numbering and/or titles be used to identify parts, units, chapters, and chapter sections; and how long will the book be? Also consider the layout, style, and length for each chapter and chapter section. Decide what elements to incorporate such as:

  • Learning objectives that align with the text content, are typically identified at the beginning of each unit, chapter, or chapter section;
  • Chapter introduction that sets context and frames the rest of the chapter;
  • Exercises, essay questions, practice quizzes, or other methods for the student to self-test during reading;
  • Key terms are 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).

Organizing Content


Example – Organizing Content in Pressbooks

For examples of how you can use Parts and Chapters to organize your textbook’s content, review the Table of Contents for Inorganic Chemistry for Chemical Engineers by Vishakha Monga; Paul Flowers; Klaus Theopold; William R. Robinson; and Richard Langley.

Understanding how Pressbooks labels content on its platform will help avoid confusion while you are working.  Pressbooks divides its body content into Parts and Chapters.  Chapters are the main building blocks within which content is added.  Parts are overarching sections that hold chapters.

Back Matter

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



Media Attributions


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UBC Open Text Publishing Guide Copyright © 2022 by Erin Fields; Amanda Grey; Donna Langille; and Clair Swanson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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