15 Defining Content Structure

Now that I’ve completed the process of writing an open textbook, there are a few changes I would make if I were starting over. For one, I would take more time to make a detailed outline of the entire text. I was so overwhelmed by the process of writing that I just wanted to jump in before I got cold feet, but it made writing the first few chapters a bit challenging. As I went on, I got better about taking the time to map out the entire chapter thoroughly before writing and it actually made the writing easier. Thinking more broadly, I would just go into the project with more confidence, knowing that the time spent writing and editing the text was absolutely going to be worth it. — Caitie Finlayson, Assistant Professor, Department of Geography, University of Mary Washington. Author of World Regional Geography (CC BY NC SA).

What goes into a textbook? How is it structured?

We will use two categories of terms:

  • Book Structure: How the book is organized on a high level.
  • Book Elements: Internal components of a book that may be replicated within the overall structure. See the next chapter for more on elements.

Fleshing out the basic structure of your book allows you to address the matter of consistency. Creating consistent, repeatable, expected content for student readers provides a better learning experience. It also allows you to consistently frame how the materials will be taught.

While defining your content structure outline, it may be helpful to keep in mind what pre-requisite knowledge the students will have prior to using your book, what your anticipated time constraints are and where your students will go next. You may find that your structure is modified after you begin to include elements.

This list is meant to assist in the process of creating your structure. It is in no way exhaustive and many categories of content may be known by different terminology.


  • Cover Page
  • Legal Page
  • Table of Contents
  • Foreword
  • Unit
  • Chapter
  • Section
  • Sub Section
  • Bibliography
  • Resources
  • Appendices
  • Index
  • Teachers Edition Materials

OpenEdBCcampus logoFor more, see Self-Publishing Guide, Textbook Outline [New Tab].



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