Authors motivations for writing e-textbooks

This blog post was written by Professor Frank Rennie, University of the Highlands and Islands.

There was no single motivation to engage with this institutional e-publishing process, but among the range of perceived benefits, the idea of being able to get our own academic ideas available quickly and inexpensively out to students was certainly a key incentive. The motivation to design an effective and flexible method for institutional, in-house e-text production was also a strong factor. A couple of the authors had previously worked with conventional publishers and were disillusioned both by the time taken to produce the books, and by the high retail price of the subsequent products, which were felt to reduce the benefit for students. For both e-textbooks we used a combination of texts which were specifically written for each book, together with a re-working of texts which we had earlier written for other purposes, such as course handouts or website resources for students on our modules. There was a secondary motivation to be able to re-purpose earlier work in a new and more accessible format.

For the second book we wanted to experiment with bringing together a small group of academics from different disciplines and with different experiences, in order to create a textbook which had a greater scope and applicability than the views of a single author. Once the preferred authors had been selected, from different parts of the university, we facilitated two “writers’ sprints”. These were one-day-long working sessions during which the team clarified the individual contributions of each author, established how these would relate to other authors’ texts, and then set to work with our laptops in different corners of the room to collate, edit, and generate our respective chapters. Although this did not produce the final version of the draft chapters, it substantially speeded the process along, and the group interaction with colleagues whom we knew but rarely directly worked with, was an unexpected but significant bonus motivation in the production process. We would certainly repeat this methodology for future books, reports, and papers.

An early motivation in the e-textbook production process was the perception of enhanced participant control of the production process, and though this was realised, it comes with a caveat. While the small, tight-knit group involved in the project did enable individuals to intervene to influence the appearance of the final product, this also created a slight drag on the production process and could have been avoided with greater streamlined decision-making. We realised during the process that it is not desirable for everybody to have an equal say in every aspect of production, and this has resulted in a clearer flow-chart of activities, decision-making, and responsibilities which will be utilised in the institutional production of future e-texts.

It is probably also worth mentioning aspects which were not key motivational factors. None of the authors gave any real consideration to gaining any income from either of the publications, although this might be a consideration for future authors and future publications. The key motivation was to have the opportunity to disseminate our academic ideas, perhaps to be able to use these e-textbooks with our own students, and to keep the retail price down as much as possible in order to reach as many students as possible. In each of these initial motivations, the team is very satisfied with the outcomes. Neither was the “fame” element given much consideration, although with the success of the first e-book gaining so much attention in a global market, there was certainly a motivational stimulus to know that the products were of much greater significance than simply for internal use. Working through the production processes of peer-review, proofreading, and design was a rewarding exercise in itself, and this has in turn produced a motivation to explore other topics and forms of academic textual output. There is an appetite among the staff who engaged with this project, and also with other academic colleagues in this university and in partner institutions, to identify further opportunities to experiment with different authors, topics, and academic formats to produce more institutional e-publications.

More information on the e-textbooks:
How to Write a Research Dissertation
Undertaking Your Research Project

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