Adapt an Existing Open Textbook

Make a Plan

Before adapting an existing book, it’s important to establish a road map that will guide the timeline of the work, the layout and style of the work, and the changes that you would like to make. Whether your adaptation is small or large, this step is important to ensure a cohesive and consistent final product.

Here are some tips to help you with style and consistency.


To begin, you may want to explore the Style Guide section of this authoring guide. Consider creating a Style Sheet that identifies the idiosyncrasies of your adaptation in terms of style, such as citation, spellings, and layout. If you are creating a Canadian edition of a textbook, remember to adjust the text to use Canadian spellings.


One of the challenges to adapting an open textbook is to create a final product that is consistent throughout. It is highly recommended that you assess the original textbook before you begin. Once this has been done, attempt to match all revised and new text, resources, layout, and citations to that of the original work.

Assess language and tone

Begin by assessing the style and tone of the original text. Here are some elements to keep in mind:

  • Is the tone of the language formal, or friendly and conversational?
  • How does the author address the reader? Does the author address the reader from a distance, or include the reader with phrases such as “we will learn” and “you will see”?
  • How is punctuation used? For example, are serial commas used, i.e. a comma before “and” when listing three or more things: “the cat, the dog, and the horse” OR “the cat, the dog and the horse”.
  • How long is the typical sentence? How long is the average paragraph?
  • Pay attention to the word count for existing chapters (average and range). Try to maintain this count for both new and revised chapters. Ask your project manager for assistance, if required.

What is the layout?

As you review the textbook, take note of the following:

  • Does each chapter contain specific pedagogical features such as Learning Objectives, Exercises, Summary, Suggested Readings, or highlighted points of interest?
  • Does the author use lists? If so, have they used bullets, numbers, or something else?
  • How are headings used? Are sub-headings used? What is the highest and lowest heading level used?
  • How long are sections under a heading or sub-heading?

How are resources used?

Resources refer to all items other than text, such as photos, graphs, diagrams and multimedia content (video or audio links). Pay attention to what types of resources the original author used, how often they are inserted, and how they are labeled.

  • Resources should have a some form of description, like a caption or transcript (e.g., Figure 1 + description). See Alternative Text Description for Images and Audio Descriptions and Transcripts for instructions on how to create the proper descriptive information for your resources.
  • Differentiate between figures and tables (e.g., Figure 1.2 or Table 1.2).
  • For adaptations, use the numbering system employed by the original author.
  • For new creations, use a numbering system that incorporates the chapter number and image sequence. For example, the first figure in Chapter 1 would be labeled Figure 1.1.
  • New resources can be added to the adaptation, however keep the overall textbook in mind. When adding a new resource, ensure that it enhances the flow of the book.
  • Attributions should be based on the Creative Commons Best Practices for Attribution Guidelines.

References and citation style

When reviewing the textbook, identify both the citation style, and how and where references are listed in the book (e.g., at the end of each chapter, at the end of the book, or as footnotes). Note how in-text citations are used, including punctuation. Consider using the same citation style.

From: BC Open Textbook Adaptation Guide


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Ryerson Open Textbook Authoring Guide Copyright © 2017 by Ryerson University is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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