Finding your voice, and organizing your book

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The Last Bookstore, downtown Los Angeles

First-time textbook authors sometimes struggle with a number of challenges they’d never thought about when they decided to write a textbook. Here’s some advice on the issues I most often see in draft manuscripts:

  • Find your author voice: Most of your writing thus far has been for publication in scholarly journals, the audience for which is your peers. Your writing has been scholarly, and every statement has been meticulously (and abundantly) referenced. Now your readers are an entirely new audience (students), and your purpose is different (pedagogical), so your writing style needs to adapt accordingly. You’ll want to develop a rather different author “voice”, as you translate your great teaching style in the classroom into a narrative within the book that will engage your student reader.
  • Create a consistent chapter organization: No-one likes to read a book and wonder where the author is going–we get lost! Create a structure and some signposts for your reader, so that they know where you’re going.
    • Learning Objectives: These opening statements of what the reader should expect to understand by the time they have finished reading the chapter, can be a useful pedagogical feature (even for graduate-level texts).
    • Headings structure: The headings within your chapters should  mirror the objectives you have set out at the beginning of each chapter (remember, signposting!).
    • End-of-chapter material: This should provide the reader with a means for testing whether they have mastered the objectives you set out at the start. This material can take the form of simple “test your knowledge” questions, or more in-depth questions for reflection, as well as activities to put some of this new-found knowledge into practice (and activities which can be done as a group in class are great too).
  • Break up long paragraphs of text: Textbooks don’t have to be text-heavy, and many students are visual learners. Consider which parts of your narrative can be better conveyed as a table, or a figure, or simply as a bulleted list: these devices can draw the reader’s eye to the key points you’re making.

I’ll write more about these topics, and in more depth in future posts: if there’s anything specific you’d like me to address, let me know!

I had lots of opportunities to explore “voice” last weekend. I was in downtown Los Angeles to see The Brian Jonestown Massacre at the Teragram Ballroom (which at 3 hours long was wonderful, if a little challenging in the heels I’d mistakenly worn!). While in DTLA, my son Ben and I checked out The Last Bookstore on S. Spring Street to indulge in some print and vinyl treats. What a treasure trove, and in such an amazing old downtown-L.A. building–highly recommended!