There are a number of software tools that can be used to create an open textbook. Your choice will depend on the functionality you are seeking as well as your interest in reusing existing open textbooks or making yours available for reuse, or both. Below are some of the tools that assist with creation/adaption process, formatting, and wider distribution.
What authoring tools can I use to start writing?
Authoring tools can be used for initial drafting of content before the formatting/publishing stage. An authoring tool may also be part of a publishing or distribution platform (see the sections below).
- If you are used to writing and editing textbook on your personal computer and do not need collaborative functionality, Microsoft Word may be a readily available and simple solution. It allows tracking changes and leaving comments, and the file can be saved as a PDF for sharing externally.
- Additionally MS Office provides Accessibility Checker to identify and fix issues with your document. Read more in the Accessibility section.
- Google Docs is a free and online version of an textbook editor. It supports collaborative simultaneous editing, commenting, and sharing. You can upload files to Google Docs and export them as PDF and EPUB.
- Additionally you can use the Grackle plugin to help evaluate and fix accessibility issues in your Google Doc. Read more in the Accessibility section.
Both Word and Google Docs can be used for individual or collaborative authoring before moving the ready textbook to a publishing or distribution platform (see the sections below).
What publishing tools can I use to create an open textbook?
Publishing tools usually provide additional functionality for reviewing, formatting, presentation, and generating different output formats.
PressBooks is both a web-based authoring tool and a publishing platform, and has been adopted by many Canadian institutions.
It allows importing a number of different formats, including Word, ePub and HTML. It can output your content as a website with an interactive menu and also generate on the fly output in PDF (for printing), e-Pub (for e-readers) and other formats that make it easier for others to reuse and adapt your content. It comes with easy to use layout templates and supports collaborative editing by authors/editors/project managers, etc.
- What will it look like? Here is an example of a book created with PressBooks
- Where can I get it? Downloaded for free to host locally or use the web hosted version (fees apply for ad-free publishing)
- How do I use it? See PressBooks tutorials created by BCCampus
Open Monogrpah Press (OMP)
OMP is a free, open source platform for managing a book publishing process. It can also act as a distribution platform.
OMP’s robust editorial workflow allows managing and tracking materials from submission through internal and external review, editing, production, and publication. It is currently geared more towards scholarly monographs and would thus make a good choice for centrally managed text-based projects with multiple contributors and reviewers. Its use in combination with the Open Typesetting Stack (currently in beta) may allow outputting books in HTML, PDF, and ePub formats.
- What will it look like? Here is an example of a book published with OMP 1.2 (LaTeX typesetting)
- Where can I get it? Download for free to host locally or use a hosted solution via your institution or Scholars Portal (for OCUL members) or PKP (fees apply)
- How do I use it? See the OMP userguide developed by PKP or test drive the platform on the PKP demo site
Scalar is a free, open source publishing platform that enables authors to assemble media from multiple sources and juxtapose them with text, annotations, visualizations, etc. in a blog-like structure. The platform also supports collaborative authoring and reader commentary.
- What will it look like? Here is an example from Brock University
- Where can I get it? Download for free to host locally or register and use the online hosted solution
- How do I use it? See the Scalar 2 userguide
GitBook.com is the online platform to create and host books built using the GitBook format. It offers hosting, collaboration features and an easy-to-use desktop editor. Content can be imported in .docx or .html and output as a website or as an ebook (PDF, ePub or Mobi).
Authors familiar with GitHub and Markdown will likely feel most comfortable with GitBooks. It offers themes for different layouts, CSS design customization, media embedding, and is generally very extensible. While its features make it suitable for general textbook writing, it has traditionally been used more for manuals, documentation, FAQs, and IT-related resources.
- What will it look like? Here is an example of a textbook on GitBook
- Where can I get it? Online hosting is free for open books; charges apply for private books or for organizational projects
- How do I use it? Find documentation at toolchain.gitbook.com
OER Commons focuses on OER resources broadly and acts both a repository and an authoring/adaptation tool.
It allows creating an open textbook from scratch, importing text from Google Docs, or adapting an existing OER resource from the OER Commons collection, provided the license allows remixing. It supports collaborative authoring and provides lesson and module builder templates.
All resources created with OER Commons are published on the OER Commons platform and added to the collection.
- What will it look like? Here is an example of an OER commons textbook
- Where can I get it? Create a free account on https://www.oercommons.org/
- How do I use it? See instructions on using OER Commons’ Open Author tool
Table 1.1 Summary of publishing tools
|Where to get it
|Easy to use collaborative authoring and publishing tool with import-export and formatting functionality
|Downloaded for free to host locally or use the web hosted version (fees apply for ad-free publishing)
|Open Monographs Press
|Has robust editorial workflow; works best for centrally managed text-based volumes
|Download for free to host locally or use a hosted solution via your institution or Scholars Portal (for OCUL members) or PKP (fees apply)
|Accommodates media, visualizations, annotations, etc. in a blog-like format
|Download for free to host locally or register and use the online hosted solution
|Flexible Markdown-based tool traditionally used for manuals, documentation, and IT-related resources
|The online hosted solution is free for open books; charges apply for private books or for organizational projects
|A repository and publishing tool; all adapted/created OERs become part of the repository
|Create a free account on OER Commons website
Additional tools you may find useful
LaTeX for formatting and typesetting
LaTeX is a free and open typesetting system. It has features designed for the production of technical and scientific documentation and is particularly useful for math based content and formulas.
While PressBooks has LaTeX capabilities, some STEM faculty may find that they are not robust enough to meet the needs of their content.
- What will it look like? Here is an example of a book typeset with LaTeX and respective LaTex source code on GitHub
- Where can I get it? You can download LaTeX for free from their website
- How do I use it? See the TeX user group’s brief getting started guide and further resources
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. We encourage re-use of these materials!