Wednesday, August 7, 2013

3 Keys for Crafting a Solid Table of Contents

What kind of face do you want your health care textbook to present, this one?

How about  this one?

Correct, neither of those. You want to present one that looks like this:

The face you put on your book is all summed up in the table of contents, or TOC. The TOC provides an at-a-glance overview of the book, its structure and organization. It needs some thought behind it for the book to be successful.

Here are three keys for crafting an effective TOC.

#1  Never call your introductory chapter "Introduction."

Your first chapter should just jump right into the content. Yes, it's introductory content, almost certainly, but don't call it that. That would be as bad as calling the last chapter "Conclusion."

Try not to call that first paragraph "Basics of...," "Essentials of...," or, I don't know, "Prolemogena of..." 

Instead, identify the core point you're trying to get across in that first chapter, the main concept. The bulk of the chapter will, most likely, address that issue.

Title your chapter after that content.

#2  It's the sequence, silly.

Pay attention to the sequence of units and chapters. The sequence should make sense, meaning that a reader should be able examine the sequence and be able to determine with some confidence the author's intent in leading the reader through the book.

For instance, in a book organized by body system, you might choose to organize chapters by a head-to-toe sequence, one that starts with the neurological system, say, then special senses, then integumentary, digestive, respiratory, and so forth.

Or maybe you want a critical-to-less-important organization that starts with the respiratory system, then cardiovascular, neurological, endocrine, and so forth.

For books that don't cover organs, maybe you want to build from simple to complex. Or grand concepts to more minor concepts.

Whatever the organization, make sure you really think about it. Don't just throw down chapters as they enter your head.

#3  Make the titles parallel.

Your TOC should present a consistent, parallel tone and style, just like your writing. If you've got a body systems book, maybe you want "System" at the end of each title, as in:
  1. Integumentary System
  2. Respiratory System
  3. Cardiovascular System
  4. Gastrointestinal System
If so, then stick with that construct. Don't mix them up, as in:
  1. Skin
  2. Respiratory System
  3. Cardiovascular System
  4. Digestion
If you want to use, say, gerund titles (verbs with –ing), fine, just be consistent. Similar chapters should have similarly constructed titles.

Pay attention to your TOC, and you'll be better able to put your best face forward.