Using Wikibooks/Starting A New Wikibook
What Is a "Wikibook"?
Wikibooks is not a traditional book publishing medium, so it can't be expected that our books are going to fit the traditional definition of what a book is. A "wikibook" is a book written using a wiki. Here on Wikibooks, we restrict the kinds of books that can be hosted to instructional books, such as textbooks or manuals. Many other types of books do not belong here.
Wikibooks doesn't need to be like regular books. Here are some key differences:
- Books on Wikibooks are not constrained by the length of a printed page. There is no predefined minimum nor maximum length to a book. Some books here will be unusually long, some will be unusually short. What is the most important is that the book contains the necessary information.
- A wikibook is a constantly evolving work, although there are some things that can be used to "stabilize" it too. In general, our books don't have fixed versions. However, our books can have PDF versions which remain relatively stable.
- Many wikibooks tend to be similar in editorial style to traditional books, but they do not need to be. Wikibooks can make use of all the features of a web-based interface, including dynamic hyper-link navigation, and multimedia. A wikibook can also present information in a way that has never been done before.
How Much Work Does It Take?
Many people feel that writing a book is too big a task, and that it can be daunting to start a new book. However, writing a book does not need to be a big hassle. A little bit of advertising can help to attract other contributors, who can share the burden of creating a new book. You can advertise at Wikibooks (such as in the Reading Room), or you can advertise in other places.
If you start writing the content, other people can come along and help you with the organizing and formatting. You can ask for help with formatting and organization from other experienced book authors at the Reading Room.
Don't misunderstand: Writing a book at Wikibooks is a big deal. Books are big and daunting. However, wiki allows you to write portions at a time and to get help from other authors and editors. Before you start a new book project, seriously ask yourself if you have the time and energy to nurture it through the beginning stages of development, and help to attract and acclimate new editors to it over time. If you don't have these, your book may wither and die as an abandoned stub.
Creating a New Book
If the book you want to write doesn't exist, why not create it? Anyone can create a new book so long as they are willing to contribute time to it and help it grow. However, there are certain policies and guidelines about what kinds of books you can and cannot write on Wikibooks. The complete policy is located at Wikibooks:What is Wikibooks.
The process of creating a new wikibook serves several purposes:
- Enables you, the contributor, to teach a subject that you know.
- Enables other readers to learn the subject, without having to pay the exorbitant prices of textbooks.
- Inspires other wikibookians to contribute to your book, making it a better resource.
It has been said that the best way to learn a subject is to teach it, and so the first point above really is a double-edged sword. Not only can you as the author help other people to learn the subject, but you yourself could gain a better understanding and appreciation for it.
The second point above is another important one. Traditional printed textbooks are typically very expensive. On top of that is the fact that book publishers tend to create multiple editions of a book, one every couple of years. When a new edition of the book is released, the old versions become obsolete, even if they are more widely available, lower in price, and available used at a discount. Also, because wikibooks are available on the internet, books can be downloaded for free.
To do this, a good book needs several qualities:
- A good plan
- Solid infrastructure
- Sharp Focus
- Broad Scope
Without all these things, books will likely become either eternal stubs, candidates for a costly merger, or complete orphans. Here is some more detail on these points:
- A Good Plan
- A book needs a plan, a direction, a purpose. We don't need to write books that aren't helpful and informative. We don't need to reinvent any wheels. The best books are going to start out as outlines or plans. One chapter is going to lead into another. The material will be presented in a comprehensible order. Books that are just collections of related information are known as "macropedias" and are not acceptable on Wikibooks. A good plan helps to ensure your book has a unified narrative throughout, to prevent it from becoming a macropedia.
- Solid Infrastructure
- The book should have a good, solid infrastructure. Readers should be able to navigate the book with ease, and new contributors should know exactly what information should go where. The naming convention should be consistent. A book should also create the necessary custom templates that it needs and should also find and employ some other templates too. The MediaWiki software makes a good basis for this, and many helpful templates are available too.
- Sharp Focus
- A book should have plenty of focus, and not be too broad or vague. A book titled "Physics" is probably not as good as a set of smaller, more defined books such as "Statics", "Dynamics", and "Electromagnetic Waves". When readers come to your book they should know exactly what material it will contain. Another aspect of this is the fact that Wikibooks represents a complete library, in a sense: We already have books on the fundamentals of science, math, language, etc. Each new book does not need to cover the basics again and again. It is better to do one thing great than to do many things well.
- Broad Scope
- Every book needs to have a broad enough scope to cover the topic in full. A book such as "Introduction to subject X" can only cover, by definition, introductory material. By that same note "Advanced Subject X" by definition only covers those topics that can be considered "advanced". A book about subject X should not artificially limit itself to only covering a certain aspect of subject X. A book on subject X should cover the whole thing. A good rule of thumb is to break up material into logical subtopics, and have every book cover an entire subtopic.
On a note of practicality, these requirements are also prerequisites for a book to become a Featured Book. Gaining this distinction for your book will help it to expand and grow beyond what you can contribute yourself.
Is The Book Needed?
Hopefully your decision to create a new book will be mitigated by a specific need here at Wikibooks. Maybe it's a gaping hole in a particular bookshelf ("I can't believe they have a mathematics bookshelf without calculus!"), or maybe there are many smaller books on the subject that could be effectively merged into a new monolithic book. Also, before you create a new book here, it is a good idea to ensure that the book is actually right for Wikibooks:
- Is it allowed under policy?
- Is Wikibooks the best wiki to host this material?
- Will other people be able to contribute to it?
- Will other readers be able to understand this subject?
If the answer to all these questions is "yes", then you are well on your way to being able to start your project.
Implicitly, if there is a need for your book, then there is somebody who needs it. This vague somebody is your target audience, and is who you are writing your book for. Because you are writing a textbook, your target audience will most likely be school students. However, even under the banner of "school students" there are a number of different classifications that are worth considering. Students can be separated by age: young children (the target audience of Wikijunior), High-school students, University Students, and Professionals (The target audience of Wikiprofessional). Some subjects are not conducive to certain target audience, in the same way that certain styles of writing are not good for a target audience. For instance, we aren't going to attempt to teach young children about "SPARC Assembly Programming". We also aren't going to try and write a children's book using big words and complicated sentences.
Under the sub-heading of "University Students" also, there is a difference between different types of students. There is a distinct difference in the way a single subject can be taught between different groups of students: Statistics is taught differently between business majors (where it is taught predominantly using algebra), and mathematics students (where it is taught predominantly using calculus).
When considering this, there are multiple ways to go about creating a new book for your subject. Either you can make a book tailored specifically towards a single target audience ("Statistics for Mathematicians"), or you can make a single book ("Statistics") That will consider the topic from multiple angles. For instance, you can separate the book into 2 distinct sections (one for business readers, and one for mathematics readers), or you can separate each individual page into the different sections (one section for the algebraic formulas and results, and a bottom section for the calculus derivations).
Picking a Title
Picking a title is the first and arguably the most important task that a new author has. A good title will make a book easy to find and easy to remember. Long and complicated titles, ambiguous titles, or unspecific titles will have the opposite effect. Here are some general guidelines to get you started. Keep in mind that these are not hard and fast rules, and that many successful books have not followed these guidelines:
- Use a common name for your topic
- Avoid qualifiers such as "Introduction to...", "Advanced...", "...For Beginners", etc. You may need qualifiers if there are other books on your subject, however.
- Don't name a book after a particular school course
- Don't give your book a subtitle. If you do, include the subtitle on the cover, not in the link to the book.
- Don't number books sequentially.
How to Start a New Book
To actually create a new book you must first create a new page. Go to Help:Pages#Creating and create a new page following the directions provided.
It is important to make sure that your title is unique and follows proper naming conventions. Type the title of the book into the search box on the top right side of the screen and click on the magnifying glass icon. If a book with that name already exists, you can either pick a new title for your book, or else attempt to contribute to the existing book.
Book names should use title case. Title case is where the first letters of the important words are capitalized. There is no policy on this, it's just a good suggestion. Here are some examples:
- "This is a Good Book Title" (title case)
- "This is a bad book title" (sentence case)
The first letter of the book title is always capitalized by the software.
The Landing Page
After you create a new page you will be directed to a new blank page which is called the landing page. When a new reader comes to your book, the landing page is the first page they see. The landing page is also where cleanup templates and organizational templates for your book are placed.
There are two schools of thought when it comes to landing pages:
- The landing page should be a cover page, with a link to the table of contents. This follows a printed book metaphor where you see the cover of a book first, and have to turn to the Table of Contents.
- The landing page is the table of contents, with a link to an optional cover page and links to all the pages in the book. This is more of a web-oriented structure that can be easier to navigate but not always as aesthetically pleasing.
Wikibooks does not mandate that either of these methods be used before the other. However, option #2 tends to be the more popular one. Notice that all books really need a table of contents to stay organized and link to all the sub-pages in the book. However books don't all need cover pages, and many books do not have them.
The Table of Contents
The table of contents is important for a number of reasons:
- For Readers
- The table of contents lists all the pages in the book, and shows the intended reading order of them. If material in the book builds logically from one chapter to the next, then the pages should be read in the given order.
- For Authors
- The table of contents serves as an organizational outline, showing which material should be placed where and in what order. This is especially valuable when the book is first created, because the table of contents acts like a type of "to do list" to show which pages have not yet been written.
The most basic table of contents has a list of all pages in the book, one on each line such as in a bullet list. More advanced tables of contents can break groups of pages into named sections, and contain links to related books and book metadata.
Find an Example
Sometimes you can start off on your own book with no help and do perfectly well. Often, however, you will want to model your book's format and organization on established books. Some examples of well-established books that have been successful are Featured Books. You can use these books as good models for your new book.
A good writer will attempt to anticipate what readers will be searching for. For instance, a reader is more likely to type "Animals" into the search box than to type "An Introduction to Various Animals". This insight should play a role when you title your book, because you want your book to have a title that readers will be able to find.
Sometimes a book will have many Aliases. That is, sometimes there are many common terms that refer to the material in a book. A common example of this is an acronym of the book's title. If nobody else is using those pages, make them into redirects to your book. That way when a person searches for "Animals", "Critters", or "Creatures", they can all be taken directly to your book.
Donating an Existing Book
Frequently authors have books already written that they would like to donate to Wikibooks. If you are willing to release your book under the terms of the GFDL license, and if your book meets our inclusion criteria, then you might be able to donate the book to Wikibooks. We've set up a guideline to help with the donation process at WB:DONATE. We'll also cover book donations in a later chapter of this book.
People who are interested in donating books should read the entire donations page, as well as the text of the GFDL license before taking any action.