Get It Right Before You Write: Pre-Writing Strategies for Success
Let’s set the scene: You have an incredible idea for a textbook taking shape in your head, you’ve signed a publishing contract with an academic publisher, and your laptop is fully charged. Which means you’re ready to dive in and start writing your textbook, right?
You could do this. However, if you invest in a few key pre-writing strategies, you’ll find your writing experience to be more organized, more cohesive, and more likely to meet the goals of your publication.
First step: Clearly identify the audience and purpose of your textbook. What type of course will use this book? What do the students enrolled in the course need from their textbook in order to succeed? What is your book going to accomplish: presenting a fresh viewpoint, disseminating new research in the field, providing students with an introduction to an academic discipline?
Knowing the answers to these questions will help you determine the appropriate tone and level of your writing. It will ensure your text is reader-friendly, student-centric, and goal-oriented. It will also help you maintain focus and keep the purpose of your textbook top of mind as you work.
Next, research similar textbooks in your discipline and take a look at their tables of contents. This can serve two purposes: 1) to ensure that you are including “must-have” topics within your text—baseline information required within your discipline; and 2) to determine unique selling points for your text—the topics, pedagogical, approach, etc. that are different than other published titles and that will help your book stand out within the academic market.
Then, consider the high-level structure of your text. Will there be recurring features or pedagogical elements within each chapter or unit? Will the number of chapters align with the number of weeks in an academic term? How will you ensure that students retain the information in each chapter or section of your book? Sometimes, it’s helpful to develop these ideas and features before diving in to write the main instructional content for each chapter. The answers to these types of questions can help to guide your approach to content development and make the process of writing less overwhelming.
Lastly, take a deep breath. Writing a textbook is no small feat, whether you’re editing an anthology or crafting an original work. Create a regular space and time that is conducive to writing and creativity. Divide your large writing project into small tasks and attainable goals so that you feel motivated throughout the process. And if you’re working with a publisher, reach out for help, advice, and support whenever you need it.
After applying these pre-writing strategies, take a seat and power up your laptop. You’re ready to write now that you’re equipped with a clear vision, some ideas for structure, and the student learning experience in mind.