User:Whiteknight/New Book Guide/Basic Steps

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There are a number of steps that I follow when I create a new book. In general, this is the list:

  1. Research the topic
  2. Create Outline
  3. Gather Resources
  4. Create Title
  5. Introduce Book

I will expand on each of these steps below.

Research the topic

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It is impossible to create a new wikibook, if you (the first author) don't have a solid understanding of the material. Keep in mind, you don't need to have knowledge of just a single specific subject, but you also need to understand the various periphery subjects that are going to be related to your book. Also, you will need to know where your book is headed: what are the advanced topics that are related to your subject. Any given book should have a complete set of introductory material, practical material, and advanced material, if you expect the book to attract contributors and readers. If your book attracts neither group of people it is a wasted book.

Rule: Research your topic first
Rule: Know what material you want to cover and what you need to cover
As an example, I recently started a book on Semiconductors. When instituting my book, I could easily have neglected a number of topics that I eventually included: Op-Amps, Photo-Transistors, Rectifiers, etc. However, in my research I realized that these topics were closely related, and many existing books on the topic of semiconductors included material (at least in an appendix) on op-amps, rectifiers, etc. Also, when writing a book on semiconductors, I could easily have chosen to restrict my book to simply silicon semi-conductors. However, there are a number of different materials that share the same properties: Gallium Arsenide is a good example. Also, things such as vacuum tubes share similar properties, and therefore can be mentioned as well, if only in an appendix.

For many school and university students, there is a strong impetus to create books based on your current and past coursework. This is both a good idea and a bad idea depending on how it is implemented. First off, college courses are limited by time and space constraints. The course must satisfy a set syllabus and calendar cycle. Also, school textbooks are highly limited in many aspects: the number of pages that a textbook can be is often limited by price factors, and manufacturing/printing capacity. Classes rarely conform exactly to the material that is provided in an average textbook, either the class teaches more material than the text covers, or the text covers far more material than the class can cover. Also, when considering textbooks, there is a tendency for authors to discuss unrelated materials. The last several chapters in most books are reserved for a brief summary of advanced material. Also, the first several chapters may contain primers and refresher material that is already available on wikibooks. No sense explaining the fundamentals of algebra in every new book, we have only to link to the relevant work on the mathematics bookshelf.

Rule: Don't base your book entirely on an existing book or a class. Neither will be right for you and your book

Keep in mind that some classes can sample a wide variety of topics (I had a physics class that covered electric circuits, light, gravity, and internal combustion engines, for example), while other classes may only be able to cover a small portion of another subject. As a good example, university programs usually split integral and derivative calculus into 3 or 4 separate classes. Basing a wikibook on such a model will create books that either have too little focus, or too little scope. When basing a book off previous and current coursework, make sure to combine together related material from multiple classes, ignore unrelated material, and find out what advanced topics may be learned in future classes. Even if you can't write intelligently on some topics, that doesn't mean that you can't include the topic in your new book.

Create Outline

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The most important step that I take when creating a new book (and the step that generally takes the longest for me) is creating an initial outline. The outline provides focus to your new book by determining what subjects you want to write about, but it also helps you to get your material into order. If you create a book, and then you decide that you don't like the page layout, or that you want things in a different order, or that you want to merge subjects or fork subjects into different pages, then the task becomes significantly harder.

Rule: Plan ahead. A little time spent early saves a lot of time spent later

A general rule of thumb that I follow is to only create a sub-page if you can populate that subpage with at least 4 headings. Granted, this isn't a hard and fast rule, and there are definitely instances where this might not be appropriate, but it serves as a good guideline. As a matter of practicality, having 4 headings on a page means that the page will automatically generate a table of contents. Notice that this includes sub-headings too, so if you have a lot to write about but only have 3 major headings on the page, you should be able to divide one of those up into subheadings.

I prefer a flat naming scheme for creating my own books. This means that instead of having pages like "Circuit Theory/Circuit Components/Resistors/Ohms Law", we can have a single page called "Circuit Theory/Resistance" to cover all related material, and then make multiple top-level pages. Also, having shorter links helps on your fingers, especially when you have been typing away on your new book all day long.

Also, I never use a title page as a landing page, opting instead to link directly to the table of contents. That way, readers don't need to click an additional link to find out what a book contains, and it is easier for contributors to link directly back to the table of contents. As such, I usually include a small preface or introduction paragraph, The table of contents itself, and then a third section for further reading, extra resources, external links, etc. If you want a title page, include it separately.

On my outline, I generally separate the table of contents down into a number of different sections. Each section will contain a set of related pages and topics. I don't create a new section on the TOC unless I have at least 2 pages that can fit in it, and generally I prefer having at least 4 pages or more for each section. My thinking here, is that if you don't have enough to write about a set of topics, then those topics aren't important enough to warrant their own section in the TOC. Here is a simple framework example:

  • Introduction
  • Table of contents
    • Section 1: Basics
      • Page 1
      • Page 2
      • Page 3
    • Section 2: Middle
      • Page 4
    • Section 3: Advanced
      • Page 5
      • Page 6
      • Page 7
      • Page 8
      • Page 9
  • Further Reading

Now, in that example above, there is either no reason to have a separate section for "middle", or else we can reclassify some of the pages under "Advanced", to balance out the number of sections. If we use a flat naming scheme, this becomes even more dynamic, because we can move pages into different sections after the book has already been introduced, simply by moving a link on the page.

Also, when you are working on your outline, it is a good time to think about book navigation. How will you get from place to place in your book? will you be relying on the automatic backlinks, or will you be providing navigation links? If you want to have links, are you going to write them all out, or are you going to create a navigation template. As the creator of a book, and as the initial contributor, you need to lay a good foundation for your book so that other people will be able to come in and contribute to your book with a minimum of hassle.

Finally, the most important aspect of the outline is to get feedback. Contact other users, especially users who you think might be knowledgable in the subject, and ask them to comment/edit your outline. Feel free to make explanatory notes right on the page. Remember, this is just an outline, not yet a book. Get some input so that you can ensure that your book is good enough, well formed, well-planned, and will be able to attract contributors.

Gather Resources

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It is important to have at least one external resource at your disposal when writing a new book. This is important for several reasons. First, material that you write in your new book can be referenced and validated by including a citation to the external resource. Second, having a physical book, or an ebook at your disposal on the same subject enables you to "borrow" the layout of the various topics. This can be a big help when you are creating your outline.

Also, you should do a wiki search on other wikimedia projects, to find related articles and books. On the bright side, if you can find a stub or a half-book that is in a state of disrepair on the same subject as your new book, can can merge them together. This will save you plenty of work and writing along the way.

Rule: You can't have too much information at your fingertips when you are trying to write a book

A rule that I follow (and many other contributors can disagree) is that books should be simply named. This means that a book title should be descriptive enough to identify your given subject, but also easy enough that newcomers can find it and (hopefully) contribute. Also, we need to remember that "Wikibooks isn't paper", a guideline that many people ignore. Let's say that we have the following books on our bookshelf:

  • Introduction to Control Engineering
  • Chemical and Mechanical and Electrical Process Control
  • Advanced Process Control with Examples
  • Mechnical Control Units Design and Analysis
  • Mathematical Control Engineering


As we can see from the above list, all these books are on the same general subject, and each of them is so hard to find that a new contributor is likely to create their own new book, and not contribute to any of the existing books. Consider, a new user comes to Wikibooks and types in "Control System" into the search, and gets no results. Or, they do get some results with long titles, and a low relevancy statistic. Below the banner that says the "Control System" book could not be found is a little red link that says "you can create this page". Voila! there is now another book on this same topic, and this new user is going to start reinventing the wheel.

Rule: You want people to be able to find your book. Simple titles help. Stealing redirects is better

Also, even if a new user finds one of these existing books, it may turn out that the existing list of chapters and the table of contents is too restrictive, and then the new user either needs to cram his additional information into this old book (which is like cramming a round peg into a square hole), or they need to start their own book, with a similar restrictive focus, to account for the new material. Neither of these solutions are good.

Rule: New contributors are easily discouraged. If your book requires too much work, they won't work on it.

Researching on Wikibooks can acquaint you with a number of these half-books, some stubs, some books that are poorly named, or books that are poorly laid-out. When you create your new book, you can merge all of these information resources together, under a single easy-to-find page title.

Rule: If an existing book is in bad shape and is abandoned, you should feel free to recycle that content into a newer, better book

Create Title

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As was alluded to above, the title of the book is one of the single most important factors as to whether your book will sink or swim. If you can't find your book in a search, or if the title is so long and complicated that people cant understand it, or if the title is so long that contributors don't waste the effort adding links to your book, then it is in trouble. Titles should specifically tell what your book is about, without ambiguity or confusion. Also, your book title should not immediately alienate any potential readers or contributors.

Here are some hard and fast rules that I follow, and that I think make good sense for the rest of the community.

  1. Avoid qualitative additions such as "Introduction to...", "Advanced...", "Survey of...", "...For Engineers", "...For scientists", "...for dummies", "...basics", etc. These additions in your title make your book harder to find, and they narrow down your pool of interested contributors. If you figure that a given contributor only really has the time and effort to contribute to one book on a given subject, then it doesn't make sense to make people choose between "Advanced Circuit Theory", "Introduction to Circuit Theory", and "Circuit Theory 2". Some contributors may be intimidated by the qualifier "Advanced...", in the same way that some contributors may balk at a book "...for dummies". Adding qualifiers only serves to reduce the pool of potential readers and contributors.
  2. Drop useless words. Consider the titles "Understanding Digital Circuits", "Learning Digital Circuits", "Digital Circuits by Example", etc. All of these books are about Digital Circuits, but they add useless words to the title. These additional words make the titles longer, harder to search for, etc. Also, if you delineate your book in such a fashion, it will provide an impetus for other contributors to create their own books to approach the subject from a different direction. If you create a book called "Digital Circuits by Example", it is possible (albeit improbable) that another user could create a book called "Digital Circuits with No Examples". Don't set your book up to be just one possible alternative. Make your book the definitive resource on your topic.
  3. Don't be too specific, but also don't be too vague. A title such as "Embedded Systems using FPGAs" eliminates all possible material that doesn't involve embedded systems and FPGAs, and therefore will provide impetus for a new book such as "Embedded Systems using Microcontrollers", "Embedded Systems using Microchip PIC Controllers", etc. Also, a name as vague as "Embedded", even if it is on the CS or EE bookshelf is simply not enough. There is no need to have multiple books on the various aspects of embedded systems, we only need one book to cover the entire subject.
  4. Don't say in 3 words what can be said in 1. Don't name your book "Semiconductor Physics", or "The Physics and Principles and Uses of Semiconductors", when the same material can be covered by a book titled "Semiconductors". Again, this makes your book easier to find, and it increases the number of people who will potentially contribute to your book.
  5. Avoid combinations. In general, we shouldn't use the word "and" in a book title to combine two different topics. When possible we should try to find a single term that covers everything. Instead of "Control Theory and Control Hardware", consider instead the more direct title, "Control Systems". This blanket term covers both of the other terms, and at the same time maintains the focus on control.
  6. Don't use pseudo-namespaces. This is a big issue over on the CS bookshelf, and I personally don't like it. In general, people won't be searching wiki for "Programming:Assembly", they will simply type in "Assembly Language". Remember, you want people, especially people who aren't familiar with the wikibooks bookshelf organization, to be able to find your book.
  7. Under no circumstances should you name your book something proprietary, or something that makes no sense outside a small target audience. For example, do not name your book after a particular class from your university: "EEng 321: Semiconductor systems and analysis". The qualifier "EEng 321:" makes no sense to people outside your particular university, and therefore other people will not want to contribute. Also, associating a given book with a particular class taught at a particular university limits the possible content of that book to the content taught in that class.
  8. By the same rationale, don't intend to break up books in the same way that the material might be broken down in one of your classrooms. College programs, due to time and space constraints, break down subjects into "Physics 1" and "Physics 2". A wikibook does not need to be the perfect size and shape to exactly fit a 1 semester course. For example, I created the Communication Systems book from a combination of coursework that I took, including classes titled "Analog and Digital Communications", "Telecommunications", and "Communication Networks". Other books, such as an outline that I am currently working on for "Analog and Digital Conversion", are subjects that I've expanded from individual sections in a class: it didn't even take a whole semester! Wikibooks isn't paper, and it also shouldn't be constrained by time or space issues.
  9. Use title caps. This is not Wikipedia, we do not have to name things according to their conventions. Here at Wikibooks, we are creating entire books, not articles, and therefore we should title them like books. Use title caps, to signify that your book is an entire book, and not just an encyclopedia article. Title caps are the capitalization of all the important words in the title, such as "A Book About Stuff", instead of "A book about stuff".

These rules may seem like a lot, but they are designed to make book titles informative, helpful, and succinct.

Introduce Book

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When it is time to introduce your book, there are a number of sub-steps:

Find the Right Place

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If you have created your new book in your user namespace, you will need to move it to the main module namespace. For instance, if your book is titled "User:MyUserName/My Book", you would want to move it to "My Book". Likewise, all pages with names "User:MyUserName/My Book/Page" should be moved to "My Book/Page". If you didn't create the page in your user namespace, type the new title (making sure to use proper spelling and capitalization) into the searchbox. This will take you to the new page (or it will give you a red link to click on, which will take you to the new page), where you can start uploading your content.

Make sure that you don't overwrite anything that is already existing. Double-check that you aren't deleting another persons work.

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Advertising your book is quick and easy using the comprehensive category system at Wikibooks. To add a new book you don't need to edit any pages except for your book. When you first create a new book, add {{New book}} to the top. This will alert people that your book is new, and it will automatically include the book in the new books list that appears on many pages.

You also need to think about properly categorizing your book. To do this, add the {{Subject}} template to your book (top or bottom of page). To figure out what subject category your book belongs in, you can browse the list at Subject:All Subjects, or you can ask the experts at New Books Staff Lounge.

Absorb Stubs

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When you introduce your book, go around to all those other half-books, stub books, and malformed books, and post notices that you intend to merge them into your new book, or that you intend to delete them outright (as inferior forks of the new book). If available, contact the major contributors from the other books, and let them know what is happening: You created a new book with X Y Z design objectives, you feel that the new book is superior in terms of planning layout and potential, and you feel that their book should be merged into yours, etc. Also, invite them to come in and help out with your new book. Often times, people are more enthusiastic about helping a large project, than having to deal with administering and supervising their own.

Find Contributors

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I generally do a quick search of the User: namespace, to find other contributors who list the subject of your book as a topic of interest. Extend a personal invitation for these other users to contribute as well.

Once you have invited other contributors to help, look around Wikibooks for books on related topics. Related books are perfect places to link your book, and this will help increase traffic. For instance, the book "Robotics" would definitely benefit from links to books such as "Embedded Systems", "Digital Circuits", "Mechanics", etc. This way, the people at "Robotics" don't need to explain all these subjects, they can use your book as a stepping stone. Don't forget to list your book at Wikiversity as well.

An additional step that can be taken is to explore the list of requested wikibooks, and see if anybody has requested a wikibook on the subject of your new book. If there is a pending request on your subject, strike it out, and post a link to your new book. If a registered user made such a request, send him a note about your new book, and invite him to help out.