At first glance, you might think that the textbook is self-explanatory. After all, it's just revision material for any given subject. While this may be true, it doesn't tell us the whole story. Creating a successful textbook can be more complicated than it looks, and when there are so many choices available, how do we know which textbook is best for us?

Textbook Textbook

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Table of contents

    Remember, just because it's a textbook doesn't mean it should be a book of text! It needs to be coherently structured, well-balanced, and engaging. Today, we'll look at some characteristics of a quality textbook, explore some examples, and look at some textbook functions to ensure you know what to look for when buying your next literature guide! First, though, let's go back to basics and look at the meaning of 'textbook'.

    Textbook meaning

    What is a textbook? Here's a definition to get us started.

    A textbook is a book that contains study material dedicated to a specific topic. People use it to study a particular subject, especially at school or college.

    Textbooks are found in all subjects and used at all levels. They are typically used to aid a student in recalling information for exams, but they have many other uses for students and teachers alike.

    Characteristics of a textbook

    Creating the perfect textbook is hard work! The author needs to help students understand a topic while keeping them engaged and excited. Let's look in more detail at some of the defining characteristics of a good-quality textbook.

    Concise information

    All information provided within a textbook must be concise and easy to digest. Too much text can be overwhelming, making it challenging for students to remember essential facts. Keeping explanations short and sweet makes memorising crucial details easier and reduces the chance of the reader losing interest.

    Keeping the textbook concise also reduces its physical size and weight, making it more efficient for daily use. Anyone who carries multiple study materials to school knows that having a lightweight book can be a lifesaver!

    Textbooks are known for providing clear, concise information on a topic. Ever wondered why we refer to a perfect example of something as a 'textbook example'?

    Blend of text and visuals

    A quality textbook should include a balanced blend of text and visuals. Adding images, diagrams, tables, or lists can break up long sections of text, make a page more visually appealing, and help a reader digest crucial information.

    The writer could even make use of small hints like this one! Features like this break up the text and allow the writer to separate essential facts from extra info and fun details.

    Eye-catching imagery

    Textbooks should include visuals that are bold, exciting, and colourful. A textbook with bland, boring visuals can put even the most dedicated learners to sleep!

    Textbook Bored child StudySmarterFig. 1 - When you're studying for the exam but the textbook doesn't have any eye-catching imagery:

    In contrast, studying can feel inspiring, engaging, and rewarding when a textbook is well-made and filled with exciting visual content.

    A logical order

    A quality textbook will explore a subject in a logical, coherent way. The contents page should be easy to use, and each topic should be grouped with similar concepts to make the textbook easy to navigate.

    A coherent order can also help keep the reader motivated during their studies. Having new ideas build on previous ones creates a clear sense of progression; this can aid the reader's memory retention, and seeing their progress can act as a source of inspiration.

    Further activities

    All high-calibre textbooks should provide additional activities for the reader to complete. Students could be asked to answer quick questions, fill in gaps, match words together, or seek further information. Engaging the reader in various ways can make the textbook more engaging and aid memory retention.

    Textbook function

    Let's look at some of the main functions of the textbook.

    To allow students to study on their own time

    Textbooks allow students to revise independently because they can take their study materials home. This can be invaluable, as students can recap different areas, pick and choose which topics they need to focus on, and reread challenging sections multiple times without time constraints.

    To collect all relevant information on a subject

    The textbook catalogues all necessary topics and subtopics within a given subject. With the addition of a well-structured contents page, a student can quickly and easily access a broad range of relevant information. This makes the textbook one of the most efficient ways for a student to revise crucial material in a short space of time.

    To help the student link different concepts together

    The textbook allows the student to view various topics and concepts simultaneously enabling them to draw parallels that the teacher may not have discussed in the classroom.

    Did you know? Linking ideas together helps the brain form crucial associations and is proven to increase memory retention. Some learning techniques, like 'interleaving', are based on this concept.

    Interleaving means 'to alternate'. Within learning, it is the process of mixing, intertwining, and linking your ideas together to help improve your understanding and retain more information.

    To help teachers plan their syllabus

    The textbook isn't just a valuable tool for students! It can also help teachers to make crucial decisions on the structure of their syllabus. The design of textbooks is typically backed by years of adjustments and experience. This makes them a reliable source for both lesson and term planning.

    English literature textbook

    If someone asks you to think of a textbook, you might imagine pages of formulas, diagrams, and equations; but don't worry, textbooks aren't just for STEM subjects! In fact, there are thousands of informative, exciting textbooks dedicated to English literature.

    As the scope of our subject is so vast, the list of topics that can be written about is endless. Writers could explore a specific novel, character, or theme, examine an author's life, or detail the history of a literary movement. With scholars regularly proposing new theories and new books being added to the literary canon each year, the catalogue of literature textbooks is constantly expanding.

    To see some of the different topics a textbook can approach, let's explore a selection of examples and briefly summarise their contents.

    Textbook example

    As we look through these examples, you'll note how vastly the content of literature textbooks can vary, both in size and scope. Some authors focus on one author or text, some on multiple, and some on entire movements. Let's look at five examples that illustrate the different approaches an author can take when writing a textbook.

    TextbookAuthorDate publishedBrief explanation
    The Connell Short Guide to J.B Priestley's an Inspector CallsDavid Hughes2016This textbook analyses and interprets J.B Priestley's (1894-1984) An Inspector Calls (1945). It's common for literature textbooks to focus on one text, because it allows the author to discuss interpretations, themes, and characters in depth.
    Metaphysical Poets: York Notes AdvancedPamela King2001Within this textbook, King discusses the history, importance, and legacy of the metaphysical poets. It's common for textbook authors to group writers or poets based on the movement they were involved in.
    The Norton Anthology of American LiteratureRobert S. Levine2022This textbook analyses different texts linking them through the contexts surrounding American literature. This is a valuable resource for students who intend to compare and contrast similar texts within their essays.
    The Art of Writing English Literature Essays: for A level & BeyondMichael Meally2015This English literature textbook focuses on teaching the art of writing. While the author occasionally includes an analysis of specific novels, this textbook primarily instructs the reader on writing high-quality essays.
    The Oxford Companion to English Literature (7th edition)Dinah Birch2009This textbook acts as a literary dictionary by defining various concepts related to English literature. It briefly informs the reader about hundreds of novels, authors, genres, historical contexts, and literary movements.

    Textbook - Key takeaways

    • A textbook is a book that contains study material dedicated to a specific topic.
    • Textbooks are used by people studying a particular subject, especially at school or college.
    • Textbooks should be concise, coherent, and logical. They should also strike a balance between text and visuals, like images and diagrams.
    • The primary functions of a textbook are to allow students to revise in their own time and link ideas together. Teachers also use textbooks as guides when planning their syllabi.
    • As the scope of literature is so vast, the list of topics a literature textbook can explore is endless. Writers could explore a specific novel, character, or theme, examine an author's life, or detail the history of a literary movement.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Textbook

    What is a textbook?

    A textbook is a book that contains study material dedicated to a specific topic 

    How to reference a textbook? 

    The basic form of a textbook citation is: Last name, First name. Book Title. City of Publication. Publisher. Date of publication.

    However, remember that citation rules vary. Be sure to check which citation style you need to use for your referencing!

    What are the types of textbooks? 

    Some of the key types of textbooks are manuals, reference books, exercise books and workbooks.

    What is the purpose of a textbook? 

    A textbook's primary purpose is to help someone revise, recap and remember information related to a specific topic.

    What's the difference between a textbook and a book? 

    The main difference between a book and a textbook is that the textbook is designed specifically to inform and educate.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    It doesn't matter whether an author adds images, diagrams, tables, or lists to a textbook, so long as the information is concise. Is this true or false?

    Most textbooks will include visuals that are bold, exciting and colourful. Is this true or false?

    Further activities in a textbook can help engage the reader and improve learning. Is this true or false?

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