Tuesday, November 23, 2010

What Are Key Terms in a Healthcare Textbook?

New authors often want to know how you decide which term introduced in a chapter should be listed as what we often, but not always, call a key term. I just answered this question for an author team today, so I figured it's a good time to post it too.

A key term is a term important and new enough to the chapter to be highlighted in some way, usually boldface, and defined at its point of entry. If the term has been used in previous chapters, there's usually no need to include it again. However, if it's new and you're defined it, it should appear in the list of key terms.

Abbreviations may or may not be used as key terms. For my projects, I recommend that they not be included. The whole term with the abbreviation, sure, but just the abbreviation? No.

The way I'd like to see abbreviations handled is to spell out the term at first use, using a construct like one of these.

  • An electrocardiogram (ECG) is a diagnostic test…

  • An electrocardiogram, commonly called an ECG, is a diagnostic test…

  • An electrocardiogram, or ECG, is a diagnostic test…

But that's just me.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

All About Fair Use

"Unfortunately, the only way to get a definitive answer on whether a particular use is a fair use is to have it resolved in federal court. Judges use four factors in resolving fair use disputes..."

So begins this Stanford University Library article that explains the concept of Fair Use better than anything I've seen. It also explains the di minimus defense and the potential benefit of disclaimers.

Check it out!


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

How We Choose a Book Cover

I've approved or rejected a whole bunch of book and newsmagazine covers over the years, and it never ceases to amaze me the sheer variety of opinions that can be expressed over any one cover design. Just now I brought around to several colleagues two possible covers for a book to be published next year.

The book will sell in bookstores, so the cover needs to be catchy, it needs to convey a cogent story about the content, and it needs to pass several other marketing-oriented criteria such as placement of the author's name. The color palette used on a cover is typically also used for the interior, so the cover shouldn't be too monochromatic. Otherwise we wouldn't have the flexibility we need to vary colors in headings, sidebars, and other features. So anyway, I bring these two options around to some peeps for their opinion. (I had a third option but I had already rejected it. Looked too much like tennis balls on a Scrabble board.)

Sure enough, as I knew it would come to pass, some people absolutely hated Cover 1, while others absolutely preferred it. Some hated the title font on Cover 2, some found it really interesting. Some really liked the puzzle-like image on Cover 2, some had a clear aversion to it.

That's why I love covers, there isn't any one right answer.

Design lies very much within each person's emotional center, I think. With writing, we can read a variety of authors and like them all even though their style can vary quite a bit. Sure, there are some authors we just can't stand, but on the whole we can read and enjoy a wide variety of writing styles and never give them a second thought.

But with art and design, our response is more emotional, more instinctual, more gutteral. We react to every design. We have to, there's no way around it. The trouble is, for us decision makers in publishing, we have to choose just one design. Oh, ugh.

When I show a cover around, I'm not just gathering opinions. I'm also gauging those opinions in light of the kind of person I know you to be. For instance, I showed the cover to someone who tends to think on a highly detailed level. Many of the book's intended purchasers also think that way, so I considered the opinion in light of that. Another person was more artistic, so I considered the opinion in that light. I certainly weighed the author's own choice as well.

In the end I chose the version I think will do the best job for this particular book. Will everyone be happy? Heavens, no. But we'll have a book with a great cover that fits the need for a product of this type in the market it's intended for.

Happy happy joy joy!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Working with Headings

Whether you're writing a textbook or a journal or magazine article, you're going to use headings to distinguish between sections and subsections within the content. Good headings help break up the visual appearance of the page and help visually organize the content, both of which allow the reader to focus attention on each section.

Here, then, are some basic rules for crafting effective headings for textbooks (though they can also work for many other kinds of writing).

  • No “Introduction” headings. If you’re starting to write a chapter, the first block of actual body text is by definition your introduction. You needn’t label it as such, your reader will know intuitively what it is.

  • Keep headings short. Brevity becomes increasingly important the narrower the column of the final, published piece. A heading that might look fine in a Word document with 1-inch margins might take up two or three lines in a 3-column layout.

  • Make the meaning clear. An effective heading should clearly indicate the content to come. That means: No cute headings. Cute headings might work for some magazines, absolutely, but for a textbook, they’re almost always a no-no.

  • Use parallel headings, when appropriate. Parallel headings are those that possess the same characteristics; they all start with an action verb, they’re all gerunds, they’re all one word nouns, and so forth. When you have three or four headings in a row that all relate to the same concept, make sure all those headings are parallel in format. Here’s an example:

    • Preparing mentally for tests

      • Playing private detective

      • Using practice tests to prepare

  • Never put two headings in a row without content in between. Always put some kind of content under each heading. Otherwise why have a heading?

  • Use two subheadings at a minimum beneath each heading. Think of headings as bullet points or outline items; you wouldn’t have just one bullet or one item in an outline under a heading. So don’t do it with subheadings.

  • Never assume in the first line of text that the reader has read the heading. Readers don’t expect you to refer to a heading without being explicit. For instance, let’s say your heading is “Chronic Renal Failure.” Don’t start the body text with, “This is a long-term condition....” The word This is an unclear pronoun reference in this case. Start instead with, “Chronic renal failure is a long-term condition....”

  • Don’t use a colon after a heading. Colons after a heading is redundant. Headings are typically in a larger, bolder font and thus are already set up visually as an introduction to content.

  • Avoid unnecessary articles in headings. I’m big on deleting “the” and other articles from headings. In nearly all instances they’re unnecessary, and in a heading there should be nothing that isn’t absolutely necessary.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

How to Develop Strong Textbook Features

In the world of healthcare textbook publishing, having a strong set of features can prove critical in gaining adoptions. A feature is an item in or characteristic of a book that be used on its own to sell a book.

Let's take a look at features and how to build a strong feature set.
What are features?

The term feature is used differently depending on the type of publishing being done. Features can include any of the following, presented here in alphabetical order:

  • Case studies

  • Chapter outlines

  • Chapter summaries

  • Citations of an association's standards and guidelines

  • Student exercises (typically at the end of a chapter)

  • Key terms

  • List of outcomes or objectives

  • Online resources

  • Pronunciation of key terms

  • Reading level

  • Recurring sidebars (boxed elements that may or may not fit a particular theme)

  • References or a bibliography

  • Type of organization (alphabetical, body system, and so forth)

  • Unusual or unexpected appendices

  • Use of concrete examples to explain key points

A sales representative talking with a faculty may be able to point to any of these items and say, "Look what this book gives you that others don't." We publishers try to help authors develop a compelling set of features so that faculty and other potential purchasers see the book as one they just have to buy.

Oh, and note that I didn't write "up-to-date" in any of these features. Being up-to-date is expected for any book we publish for health care. If it's expected, it's not a feature.
Building a feature set

Consider these questions when building features:

  • If you were teaching this course with this book, what features would you want? For instance, is the level of complexity within each chapter worthy of a detailed chapter outline, a simple one, or none? Would your instruction of this kind of content be enhanced through the use of case studies?

  • Would it be helpful to align your content with an association's guidelines or standards?

  • What features do your competitors have? What features could you develop that would give your book a leg up?

  • [caption id="attachment_611" align="alignright" width="300" caption="One kind of themed sidebar. Note the icon next to the heading "Reality Check.""][/caption]

    What kinds of recurring sidebars that could be repeated in all or many chapters would help make the interior design more engaging? Could the sidebars be categorized somehow so they could be given a special icon? Think of categories like legal challenges, ethical dilemmas, patient education, avoiding malpractice, and so forth. If you can develop two or three themes like this, they would serve to break up the text, give the reader something quick but important to read before the main text, provide a sense of cohesion throughout the book, and give the designers an additional element to use to create interesting pages.

If you plan your feature set well, you'll save yourself a lot of time during development and you'll sell more books too. That's a feature all authors can live with.