The official website of educator & arts patron Jack C Richards

How do textbooks get developed?

Question:

submitted by Dino Mahoney, London

Could you explain how textbooks get developed?

Dr Richards Responds:

Most textbooks are written by experienced teachers in co-operation with editors and consultants who guide the writers through the process of textbook development. Teachers interested in writing textbooks are sometimes under the impression that they should first write the book and then submit it to a publisher. This may happen with authors of novels but rarely happens with educational materials.  In publishing English language teaching materials, particularly those intended for a large market, the following processes are usually involved:

  • A teacher or group of teachers develop a concept for a book, based on their perception that the book they propose has some advantages or unique features that would make it appealing to both teachers and students. They contact a publisher with their proposal.
  • Alternatively a publisher might identify the need for a new book and identify teachers or writers who might be able to write it.

Once a commitment is made to publish the book, the writers work with editors from the publishing company to develop the concept for the book project in more detail. Questions such as the following will be addressed at this stage:

  • What kind of teachers, learners and institutions is the book intended for?
  • What features are they likely to look for in the book?
  • What approach will the book be based on and what principles of teaching and learning will it reflect?
  • How many levels will be involved and at what level will the book or books start and end?
  • How will the material in the book be organized and what kind of syllabus will it be based on?
  • How many units will the book contain and how many classroom hours will be needed to teach it?
  • What ancillaries will be involved, such as teacher book, workbook, tests, audio component, video component, electronic and on-line component and who will develop these?
  • What will the format of units be and what kinds of exercises and activities will be used throughout the book?

As the answers to these questions are clarified the writer or writers will now be in a position to develop a proposal for the book or book series, a preliminary syllabus and unit format for the book and to develop some sample units. The publisher then arranges to have the sample materials reviewed by a large number of people both internally (i.e. editors) and externally (teaches and consultants). Often teachers will be brought together in focus groups to review the materials and often to try it out with their students. This review process may go on several times as different samples are drafted until the specifications for the book have been finalized. Only at this stage can writing begin in earnest. A writing schedule is developed so that the publisher can plan for the different stages in editing, design, and manufacturing that are involved in publishing a book. Development stages: writing a book involves a number of stages of development. Typical stages include:

  • first draft
  • comments on first draft from editors and consultants
  • second draft
  • further comments and revisions
  • try out of the materials or of samples of the materials
  • further revisions
  • manuscript submitted to the publisher

Once the manuscript is submitted it will be assigned to editors who will work closely with the author(s) in fine tuning the materials. The content of the book will be carefully examined to ensure that issues such as the following are addressed:

  • Are the materials comprehensible and the instructions clear?
  • Is the pacing of the material appropriate?
  • Do the materials do what they are supposed to do?
  • Is there sufficient quantity of practice material?
  • Is the book sufficiently engaging and interesting?

A considerable amount of revision and fine-tuning may happen during this period as the manuscript is further developed to the publisher’s standards and specifications. If the book includes art such as illustrations and photographs, decisions about these will have to be made at this stage and specially commissioned. Design: design issues refer to the overall design and organization of the book from cover to cover and the layout of text and art in each page. An effective design is a major factor in the publication of textbooks and a successful design makes the book both appealing to teachers and students and also makes the book easier to use.

The activities described above can take a considerable amount of time to carry out before the book is published – in some cases as many as five years or longer for a major multi-level textbook series. The book is then promoted to teachers and schools and both authors and publishers hope that it will be well received and justify the investment of time and money that was involved in publishing the book or book series.