The Essential Checklist for Academic Authors

For those of us who were in education as recently as the 2000s, we’ll still remember the sometimes large (and rarely slim) textbooks we had to lug around to classes. Fortunately, for the generations coming after, digital textbooks have been making gradual but meaningful inroads into how students get their information and interact with it, thanks to academic authors. In previous articles, we discussed how technology could be successfully incorporated into the classroom context.

But have you, as an educator, ever considered writing your own digital textbook? Although there’s still a bit of a love-hate relationship with textbooks, they do have major benefits, especially in terms of ease of use, and interactivity.

If you are considering writing your own academic ebook, below are seven useful points you will need to keep in mind for when you start.

Interactive contents pages and easy search features

These two elements go hand-in-hand, and really make ebooks a memorable user experience. They also significantly increase and maximize your ebook’s usability, making it far easier to use than traditional academic books.

With interactive contents tables, you essentially allow users to simply click on a chapter or a sub-header that takes users straight to the part of the ebook they wish to use. Providing hyperlinks that go straight to what users need in the book, without spending time flipping through, makes your ebook a far easier option than printed books.

With easy search features, you help users further, simply by allowing them to tap on the search icon that you can place at the corner of the page. Not only does that mean they can search for specific references to what they need within seconds, and go straight to that, users also spend less time flipping through pages of book to get to the information they need.

With the inclusion of hyperlinks or ‘anchors’ that can take them to specific parts, with the option to return to the last page they were at as well, users will be able to have a far easier reading experience.

Taking interactivity to the next level

Remember that ebooks are great for interactivity, especially if you’re looking to keep track of your students’ progress over an extended period.  It isn’t just about having funky pictures that go with the content (although pictures are an important feature – for that you could try Shutterstock  or Pixabay for help).

This aspect could mean you include tests and Q&A elements as part of the ebook, with these test results being uploaded to the linked Learning Management System (LMS). This essentially allows students to submit their work, so long as there’s an effective internet connection, with all results coming into the centralized LMS and being stored there (see this article for comparisons of the best LMS to use).

With all their work and grades saved in one place, you’ve effectively created a one-stop tracking mode. It gives you or other teachers the chance to see how students are progressing and which areas they have most issues on.

Another aspect of this increased interactivity includes allowing students to really be able to highlight and add comments that they can easily access once they get to revision time. This saves everyone time and stress by simply allowing them to click on a separate document that brings up their revision notes and any highlights made. It also allows them to pinpoint where in the ebook the highlight is from, with hyperlinks that can take them back to that point in the ebook.

Another neat trick to include in an academic ebook is that of ‘Google Analytics tracking‘, which, so long as your Google Analytics ID is linked up, has several useful functions.  With features like Google Analytics on board, One of these functions includes providing details on how users actually use the ebook, and provides updates on what they are doing with it.

This means that, not only can you see who accessed the ebook and when, but you also see:

    1. The chapters accessed;
    2. Videos clicked on and played;
    3. Audio files clicked on and played;
    4. Animated images clicked on;
    5. Any book widgets accessed; and the like.

For more info on how to get Google Analytics running as part of your ebook, you can read:
Viewing ebook analytics using Google Analytics

Multimedia fest

Even for those of us who grew up in the 1990s and early 2000s (seriously, in technology terms, that’s pretty much the age of the dinosaurs), we all remember the traditional academic textbook. It was heavy and could easily knock someone out if you threw it at them.

But with ebooks, you get to play around with multimedia of various types making this a much nicer medium to work with. You also get to play around with a relatively small file that can be downloaded onto any device users want. Think outside the box here – you can include GIFs or other video explanations which take users step-by-step through exercises.

Apps such as Filmora are a very good start, especially if  you’re not particularly au fait with technology, or you just want to quickly put together a video. You can include podcasts (for instance, using Soundcloud) or links to outside sites where users can access further podcasts or items that go further in-depth on topics.

You can also use interactive games as part of this to help students really get to grips with the information they have to learn. One of the best things you can do as an academic writer is to include hyperlinks to outside sources and websites. This not only allows you to prove the veracity of your content, but also allows users the opportunity to expand on their knowledge with more in-depth articles.

Take a look at how interactivity can be made into interesting audio and video content with this article from Khan Academy.

Updatability and interactivity

One of the major benefits of digital publishing is the speed with which finished ebooks get to their final published version. Because they are viewed via an electronic device, any updates that need to take place can be undertaken at fairly minimal cost to you, as the author, and with incredible speed.

This is where you can do yourself an enormous favor by including a feedback form, or some sort of method that users can use to provide their feedback on the ebook you have created. This allows schools and universities to provide you with comments and tips about how well your ebook has fared in a matter of seconds (and it gives you greater speed to update/correct).

As part of this aspect of updatability, you can also consider allowing users to simply rent your ebook, as this allows them to keep access to the most up-to-date version of your ebook on a regular basis.

Peer review please!

Just because you’re publishing an ebook doesn’t mean you should miss out on the peer review. It is particularly important when you’re considering self-publishing, as you have to work harder to establish your reputation in academic writing.

It’s just as important to have your academic peers looking at your work, not only for its usability, but for how users can access it. This is where sites such as ResearchGate or give you access to people who are on the same wavelength as you and who will be willing to help you make your work absolutely watertight. This gives you the benefit of increasing your reputation as a go-to source of information – no one will be able to punch holes in your work, because it’s already been reviewed by your peers.

Cohesive editing

This isn’t just about making sure you’ve spelled correctly (although going over your manuscript with a toothpick won’t do you any harm). Cohesive editing means ensuring that the argument you’ve made as a whole throughout your ebook actually makes sense and that readers can follow through with your argument right to the end.

Does the conclusion match up with what you’ve said at the beginning? Do the stats and other data you’ve included in your ebook actually match up with your argument and what you’re saying? Have you missed out any important elements or made any errors that might affect the overall quality of your content?

There’s a big difference between this form of editing, and simply copy-editing your ebook, as the latter form simply checks for grammar, spelling, and general line flow.

Free samples help

Particularly if you’re starting out, having a free sample available is really helpful. It is pretty standard across the epublishing industry to have a free sample (such as a chapter or even a subchapter) that potential users can sample.

Readers are even more picky now regarding what they purchase and how much they are prepared to pay for it – providing a free sample of your ebook allows readers to make a more informed decision (and it’s more likely to end up in a positive user experience rather than tears).

We all know that there’s a big difference between creating an ebook that simply does its job and no more, and a successful one that benefits its users to the maximum.

As an educator, you’ll have already figured out the importance of presenting information and data to your students in a relatable and verifiable way. If students also have the opportunity to check these for themselves, it increases their abilities for critical thinking and research on their own terms. The above seven points should become your go-to checklist for ensuring that you’ve created that successful academic ebook that students will refer to again and again.

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