WRITING FOR THE COLLEGE MARKET|
GOOD WRITING IN A TEXTBOOK does not call attention to itself. Ideally, textbook style is so straightforward and unassuming that it is all but invisible, allowing readers to focus all their attention on what is being said. Readers learn best when they can absorb and consolidate new facts and ideas at a steady, comfortable pace, free of confusions and obscurities. Your job as an author is to ensure that this takes place.
Order as Organization
Textbooks exist to help students learn, and this core function determines their underlying structure. Of course, all writing has an underlying structure, but in textbooks the structure is clearly laid out for all to see and becomes an integral part of the pedagogy and marketing plan of the book. The table of contents displays the structure of your text to all readers and potential adopters. It shows what material you present, the order in which you present it, your division of the material into parts and chapters, and how you organize your presentation within each chapter. Your table of contents will reveal whether your text proceeds in an orderly and logical way. Thus developing the table of contents must not be thought of as separate from developing the text itself.
Major divisions of the table of contents
The use of part divisions to cluster chapters around a common theme, though optional, gives a text an extra dimension of articulation and interest, and part title pages or spreads offer great possibilities for a change of pace, thematic ornament, and pictorial interest. Chapters divide material into manageable chunks. Of course "manageable" means different things in different disciplines, but in a given text all chapters should be of roughly the same length, should have similarly phrased titles, and should follow the same pedagogical pattern. Headings indicate the organization of each chapter.
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The balance of fact and idea
The key to effective writing in any discipline is the orderly presentation of the concepts that make up the discipline's intellectual structure and the marshaling of details to support, explain, or show the application of those concepts. The right balance of fact and idea drives the organization of each chapter. This balance can vary immensely from subject to subject and book to book. But whatever the mixture, in one way and degree or another the same thing always happens: The fact suggests the idea, and the idea gives meaning to the fact.
Some subjects deal more in fact than in ideas. Scientific subjects, for example, commonly emphasize factual information. Some years ago, a geologist remarked that the whole structure of his subject, as then taught at the introductory level, hinged on one "disgracefully simple" idea, which was, as he put it, "First it goes up, and then it comes down." He meant that the processes of diastrophism, which form the large features of the earth's surface, precede the processes of erosion. This is a simple idea, but it has an awesome grandeur. And it provides one meaningful framework for presenting the whole rich subject. Still other subjects deal more with concepts, terms, and skills than with facts--education, for example. Mathematics and English composition demand the mastery of concepts and their instrumentation in the learning of skills. You must place your book somewhere along this spectrum and decide what is for it the proper mixture of conceptual and concrete information.
No matter what mixture of fact and idea you decide is appropriate to your topic, the elements in the exposition remain the same: (1) statement of idea, (2) definitions of new terms, and (3) explanatory or supporting facts, examples, and applications. This basic pattern can vary, but you must stay aware of the need for the mix that will keep your readers engaged and interested in reading more.
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Approach and organization
As you develop the structure for your text, you will consider not only coverage and balance of fact and idea but also how you want to develop the book's topics and themes. Your preconceptions about students' needs in this market and your view of developments in your field will no doubt determine the kind of book you want to write. You may want to face the big questions first. Or you may be so convinced of the answers that the questions seem irrelevant. Some economists believe that large topics such as international trade and fiscal controls cannot properly be understood without a thorough grounding in the microeconomic analysis of cost, production, and price mechanisms. Others think this analysis so tedious that it turns students away from the subject unless they first become interested in broader topics. A geneticist may start out with recent biochemical developments or begin with Mendel and a historical treatment of classical genetics. But the argument almost certainly will not move from the biochemical to the classical, a progression from hard to easy as well as late to early and an anticlimax that would only deflate the student.
Every unit of exposition, whether a single paragraph, a section, a chapter, or a part, develops your argument. You must have command of the precise point you want to make. Then think: Does the thing that logically comes next come next? Have I properly prepared for it? Have I explained all concepts and defined all terms? Have I illustrated them as fully and vividly as necessary? Do I make the point clearly, give the important facts, and then bring the discussion back to the main theme, so that readers will see not only what they need to know but why they need to know it now and where it leads? Do I present information in a sequence and at a pace that students can handle, without belaboring the obvious or skimming over the difficult?
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Underneath large topics--parts, chapters, and main chapter divisions--the strategies of sequence, proportion, and emphasis reach down to the conceptual units of paragraphs and paragraph clusters. Keep in mind the techniques and devices of established paragraph structure. Paragraphs may be inductive, moving from a body of particulars to a summarizing or interpretive generalization. The more usual expository paragraph or cluster, however, follows the opposite order. It starts with a topic idea that develops through one or more paragraphs, and then it receives a summary or an advancement in the form of a concluding generalization.
Suppose a sociologist fills a paragraph with phrases such as "behavioral conformity," "reference groups," and "collective values and norms" but gives few concrete details or brief examples. The student faced with such a paragraph has little motivation to read further. Examples add vividness and interest and make abstractions easier to grasp and remember. One of the most successful exemplifications in textbook literature occurred in a famous economist's discussion of the choice every economy must make between consumer goods and capital goods. He put it in terms of the choice between butter and guns in Nazi Germany. This vivid dramatization of an abstract dilemma made the problem immediate and real to hundreds of thousands of students who not only could readily understand it but would remember it the rest of their lives.
Conversely, a nutshell summary of a generalization, principle, or insight can give instant order to a mass of fact. It helps immensely in understanding the Battle of Waterloo to know that Napoleon's typical battle plan was a one-two-three thrust of artillery bombardment, a cavalry charge to decimate and disorganize the enemy's center, and a column of infantry marching straight through the broken lines and rolling up the flanks--and to know that at Waterloo, all three failed.
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Easy and smooth transitions provide another important means of establishing order. Avoid lumpy connectives like "in the first place," "now we come to," and "the last of the factors that we shall consider." And avoid "moreover," "however," "therefore," "nevertheless," and similar formalisms as much as you can. They are clear but not very punchy. Use "and," "but," "for," "so," "then," and "next," which are clear and unassuming. Try to avoid the structure "Now we shall consider. . . but first we must find out why. . . ." This kind of backtracking forces readers to hold one point in suspension while they try to absorb another point hurriedly because it is, after all, only preliminary. Take things up as they become pertinent and necessary, and make no bones about it.
The best transitions use few overt linking words or phrases but grow directly out of close and logical relationships. If the last element in one sentence ties closely to the first element in the next, you can probably avoid an explicit transition. Even at the beginnings and ends of paragraphs or sections, close order and emphatic beginnings and endings, with key words in prominent places, beat explicit transitional phrases every time. Study a few writers you admire and you'll see. The key is order, even in the arrangement of the lesser elements within sentences. It lets you keep saying something all the time without a wasted word or phrase.
Transitions embed internal previews and summaries, indicating how a given topic relates to what precedes and follows it. Transitions should reflect the shape of the argument in a chapter. An old cramming trick can indicate when your transitions need work: Read the first paragraph of the A-head section, the first sentence of each paragraph within the section (when these sentences follow a B or C head, they also serve as transitions), and the concluding paragraph. Can you glean the fundamentals of the A-head topic from just that material? If a student were to read only the transitions, would he or she see the broad outline of the chapter and understand how its parts interact? Transitions should not be perfunctory lists of topic; they should relate ideas.
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Whatever structure you impose on your subject, and whatever your approach, be sure that the main topics proceed in an orderly and coherent fashion. Consider in particular what you may have left out. The point you haven't made because "everybody knows" may be just the thing the student reader needs to see in print. Try to remember what you didn't know when you started in the field. Read and reread your material actively, as a student will read it.
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Use headings to reflect the logical relation among ideas. The headings should form a logical bare-bones outline of the chapter.
For most books, two or at most three levels of interior heading will be enough. A simple and informative scheme of headings can add a great deal to the attractiveness and teachability of almost any textbook. And because headings signal the ideas a chapter contains and their logical relation to one another, they also--when pulled together into the table of contents--serve the vital marketing function of informing potential adopters of your text not only about what concepts you present but also about what is unique and noteworthy about the way you present them.
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Headings reflect the logical relation among ideas in the text and help to guide the reader through each chapter, but too many levels, or degrees of subordination, confuse rather than clarify. Most books need no more than two or three levels. A (or first-level) heads denote main points, B (or second-level) heads signify subpoints, and C (or third-level) heads identify sub-subpoints.
As you set up your heading structure, please keep in mind the logical impossibility of single subdivisions. A section cannot divide into one part: It must divide into two or more parts, each with a separate but equivalent heading, or it divides into no parts at all. By the same token, a logical argument does not jump from a main point to a sub-subpoint, and thus headings must never jump from A to C level.
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Forms of headings
For usefulness and appearance, keep headings fairly short. Except in scientific and technical books, they should not be numbered. As far as possible, keep headings of the same level similar in grammatical structure. If you use an active verb in one heading, for instance, every heading in that sequence at least should contain a verb used in the same way. Headings should not appear as complete sentences unless you have deliberately structured the book to use sentence headings.
Avoid "stacking" heads, or placing two levels of headings together without intervening text. A heading cannot substitute for the transitional or introductory paragraphs that guide the reader through a chapter. Remember too that a chapter opening looks better in type when one or more paragraphs of text precede the first heading.
Avoid the essentially meaningless word "Introduction" as a heading. Introductory material speaks for itself by content and position. But a concluding heading such as "Summary" or "Conclusion" can be useful as a way to signal the end of the chapter, a recapitulation of the chapter's main points, and a transition to the next chapter.
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Positioning and typing
Adopt and follow a consistent pattern for positioning headings of various levels or values:
First- or A-level: centered, on a line by itself
Second- or B-level: flush left, on a line by itself
Third- or C-level: regular paragraph indention, followed by a period then run-in with text.
If you discover that the headings have not been correctly positioned in the final typescript, you should mark them throughout with the circled letters A, B, C, to show the proper values and relationships.
Capitalize normally; that is, do not type headings in full capitals.
Do not mark headings for boldface, italics, or small capitals. The typography of the headings will be handled as part of the design of the book.
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Cross-references may be made within chapters to other chapters, to figures and tables, and to specific pages. Keep cross-references to specific pages to a minimum: They are sometimes useful and even necessary, but they can easily become a habit, and they run up the cost of composition because you cannot enter them until the book is in page proof, an expensive place to make corrections in the type.
In the manuscript, cross-references should appear as "page 000"--or "pages 000-000" if you anticipate that the matter referred to will occupy more than one book page. The compositor will set these zeroes in all proof, and you will be responsible for filling them in when you receive pages. An efficient way to handle cross-references in the typescript is to write and circle the appropriate manuscript page number in the margin next to the line in which the "000" appears. If you read galley proof, note on your duplicate set of galleys the appropriate galley number for each reference. Then when you get page proof, you can convert the galley numbers to book page numbers.
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A textbook is a scholarly work, relying on a variety of sources to support its main arguments. Respecting others' intellectual property rights (see "Copyrights and Permissions") is paramount. Each discipline has its particular reference style. You and your development editor will need to discuss the style and format of referencing in your text before you begin writing. See the section on "Styling the Manuscript" for general guidelines on the mechanics of footnotes.
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Although not every textbook requires a bibliography, some kind of list of publications bearing on the subject matter is normally included. Often the bibliography takes the form of "suggested readings" to guide the student's further reading and research. Such a list is most helpful when it is annotated.
The bibliography may be a comprehensive list at the end of the book or a series of listings at the ends of chapters or other segments of the text. Usually the entries are in alphabetical order by the authors' last names. Sometimes, to evaluate and compare various published resources, a concise bibliographical essay is even more useful than an annotated list. In short, the function of a bibliography should be the guide to its form. See the section on "Styling the Manuscript" for more details on bibliography form and style.
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Manuscripts Requiring Special Characters
If you are writing in a technical discipline or on a foreign language, discuss the types of special characters you will need with your development editor. Many word processing programs include special character sets for Greek, mathematical symbols, stress marks, and the like. Keep in mind the following guidelines.
Make sure that one character cannot be mistaken for another--for example, the multiplication sign for the letter "X," the Greek small-letter epsilon for the letter "e", the summation sign for the Greek capital sigma.
Distinguish in the same way, if the context requires, characters that are the same or similar on the standard typewriter keyboard but different in type, such as the letter "l" and the Arabic number 1, the capital letter "O" and the zero.
If a symbol is unusual or could be misinterpreted by the copyeditor or typesetter, explain what it is in the margin at its first occurrence, and circle your explanation so that it won't be typeset by mistake.
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Features and Pedagogy
The expositional strategies of presenting material in an organized, well-paced, and clear manner emerge from the basic goal of all college texts: to help students learn. A carefully thought out program of features and pedagogical devices, however, more overtly expresses that goal. By features we mean aspects of the text that stand separate from the basic narrative flow of material to highlight particular aspects of the topic for readers. Features may take various forms: boxed narrative essays, text and photo spreads, quotes sunk in the text, excerpts from newspaper articles, or uniquely styled chapter introductions presenting a vignette or a leading question that focuses attention on the text's themes. Pedagogy refers to apparatus included in the text specifically to help readers understand the material and make their way through it. Pedagogy includes learning objectives or questions, special treatment of terms and definitions, and icons, to name a few, as well as summary and assignment material within or at the ends of chapters.
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Because features reflect a book's key themes, the most effective features programs are those that evolve with the text, are developed as each chapter is written, and are not added as an afterthought. Features might change in tone or approach in the various drafts of a manuscript, but it is important for them to be ready for review along with the chapter in which they appear. Features vary a great deal from discipline to discipline, and from book to book within a discipline, so you and your development editor will discuss the details of your book's unique features as you work on the manuscript.
Features distinguish your book from the competition. Most disciplines rest on a core set of topics and concepts that all texts in that discipline must convey. Thus the challenge in developing effective features is finding a way to distinguish your presentation of those topics and concepts from everyone else's. Of course, your organization, thematic emphasis, and examples set your book apart to some degree, but clearly identifiable features are crucial elements that will help the marketing and sales staff to communicate your text's unique message to the market. Because the college market is increasingly features-driven, you and your development editor need to be aware of what features other books in your discipline include and come up with ways to meet and exceed the market's expectations.
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To some extent, features lie outside the narrative flow of the text. Pedagogy directs that flow. The American Heritage Dictionary defines pedagogy as "the art or profession of teaching" and "training or instruction," and both definitions work equally well for the term as we use it here. Pedagogical elements artfully apply teaching and learning tools to the training and instruction of a book's readers.
Although the outward forms of pedagogy differ significantly from book to book, there are a few basic types of pedagogy: devices to lead a reader into material, devices to help the reader through it, and devices to summarize material. Most pedagogy is developed as a system that welds these three types into an armature on which the content of a chapter is constructed. Pedagogy, like features, is thus most effective when it emerges naturally from a text's content and thematic approach. For example, a text whose basic premise is that students should be active learners lends itself to an open-ended, question-oriented pedagogical device, but a text that focuses on imparting a well-defined set of specific skills would use a more didactic device.
Regardless of its outward form, effective pedagogy reflects the basic organization of a chapter. Suppose you make seven main points in your chapter and have seven A heads to denote them. Whatever pedagogical system you use will need to direct readers to those seven main points. A list of objectives or questions at the beginning of the chapter will have seven items. If you include internal "spot summaries" at the end of each main section, your chapter with seven A heads will need seven spot summaries. And the end-of-chapter assignment material for this chapter should have questions or some other type of assignment related to each of the seven main points.
Pedagogy needs to be consistent from chapter to chapter. Since pedagogy's main intent is to help readers approach material systematically, consistency from chapter to chapter is essential. The specific elements that you and your development editor decide on should appear in the same form in all chapters (and reappear in the ancillaries).
Pedagogy itself is a feature. Pedagogy is mainly directed to the student who reads your book, but for that book to get into students' hands, an instructor first has to choose to adopt it. A clearly delineated pedagogical system with immediately apparent advantages for the instructor (such as links to ancillaries) can be a deciding factor in that choice. Like other features, a book's pedagogical system should be competitive with or surpass the pedagogy of comparable texts in your discipline.
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