Whole Book Authoring - Amber Callan
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During my time with the Shuttleworth Foundation, we worked on the creation and iterative design of an open education resource editor. Essentially our tool would be able to help individuals all around the world write textbooks and other education resources that could be open source.

Writing a textbook is no easy task. Therefore, authors typically collaborate on textbooks with other knowledgeable professionals, editors and others to create the best book possible. Before we could get into the design of a whole book authoring interface, we explored similar systems to get a better idea about what ours needed to include and improve.

Task List

To figure out what we need to assess in each system and what we’d like users to note, we need a task list of tasks that would be frequently done using a whole book authoring system. This is what we came up with!

  • Set-up and downloading of the system
  • Modeling a new textbook after an existing one
  • Adding and linking resources together
  • Adding metadata to the book
  • Linking to somewhere else in the document
  • Preview the textbook you are creating
  • Export the textbook
  • Reordering sections
  • Saving the textbook and re-visiting it
  • Find a file you uploaded
  • Make a glossary/reference section
  • Make a new version of the whole book
  • Make a new version of a section of the book
  • Edit your document without internet access
  • Attach a file for your readers to download
  • Invite someone to collaborate on the textbook with you
  • Make a comment on an existing chapter
  • Figure out what changes a co-author has made

Similar Site: Pressbooks


Pressbooks is extremely easy to sign up and download. Then once you start to use the system, it appears fairly easy to navigate. The interface is set up similarly to WordPress in that it includes a dashboard and has a media folder to keep all of your uploaded media in one place.

When trying to model a new textbook after an existing textbook, users found it easy to add chapters and format the new book so it looks like the existing one. Some users utilized a specific theme which gave them options and a live action preview. Other users built up the new layout by hand. They also all successfully added parts, chapters and front/back matter to the new book. Also, almost all users were able to create a

When our team reviewed the Pressbooks interface, we thought the toolbar was simple enough to where inexperienced user would understand the natural language. For the metadata (title, author, subject, grade level, etc.), Pressbooks only allows a short title, subtitle and author for individual chapters but included plenty of metadata for the book itself (everything from list price to copyrights, taglines and more).

Further, you can export your book directly from an export tab which is present in standard and exotic formats. It also tells you which formats can be used on which platforms, which is great if you are checking compatibility. Pressbooks allows you to work on your document offline and shows a revision history. When I accidentally exit Pressbooks, it pulls up an autosaved version when I open it next. It also lets you e-mail other Pressbooks users inviting them to collaborate and they can add comments below sections.

Users noted the following:

  • It was so easy to add a link to a URL or another part of your document. I liked that [Pressbooks] showed you every possible place I could link to.
  • The book preview was by far the best part. I liked the different privacy settings and how easy they were to see. You could create a draft, set up publishing and visibility.
  • Reordering sections was so simple. I just dragged and dropped things where I wanted them to go!
  • I couldn’t figure out how to attach something for readers to download but I could find all of my files in the media folder.

In the end, users liked that you could see the status of every section whether it was a draft, published or waiting review. They also enjoyed the fact that Pressbooks had a section for front matter and back matter plus basic formats for these (such as a glossary or table of contents, etc.). Collaboration was simple and you could invite other users or e-mails to join your book. Lastly, you could choose easy pre-determined themes and has a media folder so you can upload it all at once and save things for later.

Users disliked that you couldn’t write simultaneously. The system actually displays a warning that you may override the other person’s work. This is a feature we should think about including but enjoy the fact that Pressbooks displays clear error messages. Some found the dashboard confusing as there was a separate dashboard for every book with no information or content displayed. Lastly, once you got into the book you were editing, it wasn’t clear how to begin the editing process.

Similar Site: Booktype


We stumbled upon Booktype because they currently have events called “Book Sprints” where knowledgeable groups come together to write a book chapter or entire book.  We’ve done similar events at Rice University to test our system and to work on composing grade level textbooks.

Upon download, we noticed that Booktype has social media capabilities where you can connect it to your Twitter or Facebook. The interface looks similar to Microsoft Word. This is nice to see them modeling their system after an interface that users have experienced in the past.

When we had users model a new textbook after a previous one, users could successfully add parts, chapters, front/back matter. They also found it easy to add and link resources together. Previewing and exporting worked similarly to Pressbooks in that you could publish the book or make a PDF. The revision history and sharing was similar as well.

For the metadata, it would only allow you to add a few things like the language of your book or the license. Booktype also doesn’t have the capabilities to attach something for users to download.

Users noted the following:

  • I knew what everything in the toolbar meant because it looked pretty similar to Word.
  • I liked that the images and files were in separate folders. If I uploaded a picture, it would go somewhere else than my picture library.
  • When I wanted to add a comment, I had to go to the Notes tab in the section. I wanted to just add a note about grammar on the line where I saw the mistake.

The most unique part of Booktype is that when you want to make a new version of a whole book or a section, it creates a new tab for you to start the new version in. On one hand, we loved the collaborative function. The fact that you could chat and see who else was working on the book and exactly what they were doing was fantastic. We also found that creating a new version was easy for major and minor changes. The drag and drop function was discovered by almost every user.

On the other hand, Booktype felt as if it was more about a community than an individual. It shows all the books that the community has published on the dashboard, rather than just the books you’ve published. Also, the amazing collaborative function we talked about earlier notifies you of everything you’re doing. If you’re performing the actions, it shouldn’t be necessary to tell you what you’re doing.

Conclusions on Whole Book Authoring

In terms of general whole book authoring, it is clear that we need an ease of communication and collaborating. Chapters and sections of the book will be shared with editors, co-authors and others so we should account for that. The timeline on when they need to be shared will be different as well. Because of this, changing the privacy needs to be clear on individual chapters and sections of the book.

Lastly, we recognize that there needs to be a place for all of the books and versions. If users decide that they like the interface, they might continue to use the interface to author more than one textbook. Therefore, our system would need the capability to store and organize several textbooks and their unique versions.