Open Access Textbooks

[Skip Navigation]

Software Tools for Authoring and Editing

Word-processing programs are essential tools for authors to develop the text for any book project. Most faculty are familiar with commercial or open source software products such as Microsoft Word, Corel WordPerfect, OpenOffice Writer, LibreOffice Writer, and Google docs which provide a what-you-see-iswhat- you-get (WYSIWYG) interface. If a Portable Document Format (PDF) is the final desired format, these programs can easily perform that conversion, and open source solutions are available on the web to convert document formats to PDF.

Because publishers typically use professional layout tools, they must strip out any formatting code inserted by authors from manuscripts using tools such as Editorium’s FileCleaner. Authors may find word processing features helpful to communicate their formatting preferences to editors.

Real-time and asynchronous document collaboration can quickly and easily be achieved for multiple authors using Microsoft software through the use of Google Cloud Connect for Microsoft Office.

However, some writing projects have special requirements that call for specialized tools. If, for example, readability of scientific or mathematical notation is a requirement, manuscripts are often composed in LaTeX, LyX, or some other variant of TeX editor. TeX is a typesetting language with extensive scientific and mathematical notation features that publishers can work with more easily than with a Word document. Professional editing by a publisher is usually done with different tools, such as Adobe InDesign. LyX has numerous templates that aid the author in outputting correctly formatted documents, such as the example in Appendix J for APA journals’ printed articles.

New online tools continue to be developed that facilitate collaborative authoring, editing, and even reviewing of manuscripts. An in-depth discussion of specific tools would soon be dated. Although this section mentions a few tools existing at the time of this writing for purposes of exemplification, the primary focus of this section is on the considerations one should make when planning a writing project regarding the software tool or tools that are available.

Some important tool features are addressed with the following questions, each of which is elaborated below:

Of course, a question that is critically important to the author of a textbook in one area might be unimportant to an author in another area, such as the importance of an equation editor to an algebra textbook author versus the author of an American history textbook. Some disciplines, such as art history and medicine, require specialized image reproduction in textbooks, whereas other disciplines, such as English rhetoric and composition, may not require images at all. The answers to these and other questions should be weighted in proportion to their importance to the project.

Collaborative space for authors

Authors who collaborate on a textbook can benefit from having a shared virtual space where they can work on the text and, without leaving the page, communicate with their collaborators through synchronous chat, voice, or asynchronous discussion. These web-based platforms or software solutions are sometimes referred to as groupware or computer-supported collaborative work (CSCW). Hundreds of different open-source and proprietary collaborative workspace solutions are compared on Wikipedia’s List of collaborative software page.

Commercial or open-source software

Circumstances may dictate some of the tools that authors and editors use, including availability and cost. But sometimes the free open-source software is the best available. Many users of LaTeX have sought a document preparation system that would be easier to use than this aging, open-source software. With only specialized exceptions (such as for representing German characters and perhaps the May 8, 2011 release of LyX 2.0), the consensus seems to be that nothing is better at what it does, which is to produce perfect typographic output (Unwalla, 2006).

Commercial software has the benefit of employing full-time professionals to write, test, and revise code, rather than rely on volunteers spending their free time, as open-source software usually does. Thus, commercial products like InDesign typically have many features and extensive help.


Despite its positive typesetting qualities, a LaTeX file cannot print on a laser or inkjet printer. Instead, it has a utility that converts the code of a publication in LaTeX format to Portable Document Format (PDF) and other formats.

Microsoft Word files can appear differently on different versions of Word, on different operating systems, and on different platforms. The differences are sometimes small enough to be imperceptible, but in some cases can push a page break onto the next page. PDF files do not have such problems. Furthermore, if a Word document contains a font that is not installed on a host computer, Word will substitute another font. When converting a Word document to PDF, fonts can be embedded in the file so that they are available for that PDF document even if the font is not installed on the host computer.


Sometimes HTML output is a desired product, often as an option to PDF or ePub downloads. The facility and faithfulness of the end result varies, depending on the software. HTML editors such as Adobe Dreamweaver or the open-source Amaya from W3C are likely to most easily produce Web documents that appear as the designer intends. Saving a document as HTML from a word processor such as Microsoft Word, is an uncertain venture. When doing so, most developers recommend saving the document as Web Page, Filtered rather than merely as Web Page, because of the torturous code produced by the latter. However, a word processor is not designed to develop websites, and an HTML editor will offer more options and should produce better results.

EPUB for mobile devices

EPUB, also spelled ePub, ePUB, and epub, is a format standard for display of electronic book content. It is an open-source standard with the extension .epub, which was first established by International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF) in 2007, succeeding the Open eBook Publication Structure (OEB), which dated from 1999. “EPUB defines a means of representing, packaging and encoding structured and semantically enhanced Web content — including XHTML, CSS, SVG, images, and other resources — for distribution in a single-file format” (IDPF, 2011). EPUB is a format standard used by electronic book readers such as those marketed by Apple, Sony, and others.


The Digital Accessible Information SYstem (DAISY) is an international standard for making print books accessible to people with text disabilities. A DAISY book consists of digital audio files containing human narration of the source text, a marked-up file of the source text, a synchronization file relating the markings in the text with the corresponding points in the audio file, and a navigation control file for shifting between text and audio files. Various open source tools are available for authoring, producing, and converting files to the DAISY Standard, as well as converting between the DAISY 2.02 and 3.0 Standards. The DAISY Consortium maintains a list of tools and services including authoring tools and converters such as add-ins for Microsoft Word and guidance for using Digital Talking Book (DTBook) in Adobe InDesign. The source document in Microsoft Word has to be well structured, created using styles, and saved before it can be converted to fully conforming DAISY book.

Math formula editor

Because mathematics uses symbols that are not among the standard ASCII character set, they require a means of creating complex graphical symbol sets that can be inserted into textual material. The software programs that are used to create these symbol sets are known as formula editors. Word processors such as Microsoft Word and Writer have formula editors built into them so that they almost seem like part of the host application. For authors who depend heavily on mathematical notation, a separate program that outputs TeX, such as MathMagic or MathType, may be desirable. Just as important, presumably, would be that the program supports Mathematical Markup Language (MathML), the XML application for mathematical notation for Web browsers. A comparison of formula editors can be found on Wikipedia. The TeX portion would be in a format a publisher can use without transforming or re-creating the characters, and the MathML output would present the formula accurately on most any Web browser.


The term WYSIWIG, pronounced 'wi-zē-,wig, is the acronym for “What you see is what you get,” a phrase that expresses the very close resemblance of the graphical user interface of the computer on which a document is being composed to the printed image of that document. Word processors are WYSIWYG, but some programs, such as LaTeX, are not. LaTeX is reputed to be WYSIWYM or “What you see is what you mean,” (Evans & Power, 2003) because LaTeX markup language specifies how the typeset page will look in the markup, rather than representing that look on the computer’s display.

Images, audio, and video

Figure 1. QR code for Wikipedia

Figure 1.
QR code for Wikipedia

For a standard print textbook, audio and video sources can only be referred to on the page by listing the URL(s) or by including a quick-reference (QR) code that can be read by scanners or mobile picture phones to download or stream the media.

Appropriate uses of video include instruction of procedures that are awkward or difficult to convey with words. Music can evoke affect and can be used for emotional appeal. When these forms of communication are appropriate, electronic media are favored over the printed page. A wide variety of audio and video formats are available in almost any HTML editing program.

IMS Common Cartridge standards

The IMS Global Learning Consortium (IMS GLC) is an international organization dedicated to developing interoperability standards for instructional media with the ultimate goal of ensuring learning impact. The Common Cartridge interoperability standard provides models and criteria by which digital educational content, learning management systems (LMS), and learning software tools are compatible and functional on all conformant course management platforms, They facilitate coordination of publishers, institutions’ information systems, and the LMS. When developers of software tools and course content meet the specifications of the Common Cartridge, the products they produce can function in any conformant LMS, such as Blackboard, Angel, or Sakai, for example. For a complete list of members, affiliates, and alliance participants of IMS GLC, see the IMS members page.

Easy editing

In a word processing program, and in a typesetting program like LaTeX, adding or deleting material automatically updates the subsequent material in the document, such as page numbers and references in the table of contents. But presentation formats such as PDF lack the automation for such updating. Therefore, whenever editing of a PDF is considered, it is naturally better to revert to the original format in which the document was made if at all possible.

Recommended Tools

The following lists of tools comprise the recommendations of various writers. Some links on the lists may go out of date over time, but some lists might be maintained as new versions of tools come out and as entirely new tools appear.

Funded by Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE)