1 Understanding Open Texts

As a prospective open educational resource author, it’s important to understand the differences between an open text and a standard eBook, and how these contrasting characteristics might affect the authoring and publishing processes. Open texts are a type of open educational resource (OER). Firstly, let’s define what an OER is.

What is an Open Educational Resource?

OER are teaching, learning and research materials that are published under Creative Common licences. These licences specify how content can be used. OER can include textbooks, curriculums, syllabi, lecture notes, assignments, tests, projects, images, audio, video and software.

One of the best things about OER is how flexible they are, allowing you to:

What is an Open Text?

Open texts are a type of OER, created and published in ways that allow anyone to freely access, (re)use and share the text. They are released under open copyright licences, which permit use, access and even repurposing by others. This model is different from how copyrighted materials are typically managed. Open texts are licensed to give users free and perpetual permission to engage in what is known as the 5R activities:[1]

  1. Retain – the right to make, own, and control copies of the content (e.g., download, duplicate, store, and manage)
  2. Reuse – the right to use the content in a wide range of ways (e.g., in a class, in a study group, on a website, in a video)
  3. Revise – the right to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself (e.g., translate the content into another language)
  4. Remix – the right to combine the original or revised content with other material to create something new (e.g., incorporate the content into a mashup)
  5. Redistribute – the right to share copies of the original content, your revisions, or your remixes with others (e.g., give a copy of the content to a friend).

It may be useful to consider how the concepts of and responsibilities for authoring an eBook are different than they were before open texts appeared. You might think about how:

  • Open text authors are members of the sharing community where knowledge is freely and openly distributed so that others can build upon it. The open text becomes community property rather than the property of a single owner.
  • An open text author must accept that their work will be used and changed (often without their knowledge), actions over which they have no control.
  • Open text authors should be willing to share editable files of their text to allow others to make changes and/or add to it in the form of an adaptation.
  • Open text authors should remain open-minded and unafraid to receive and respond to feedback. In turn, you can use the input to begin conversations that will hopefully lead to knowledge sharing and building, and opportunities.
  • An author can easily update and maintain their completed open text by updating content when necessary and correcting mistakes. These steps are necessary for the ongoing quality, relevance, and sustainability of their book and OER in general.

Why OER? What other OER authors say:

“It’s an amazing project and it will especially benefit students from low socioeconomic environments that can’t afford to pay $100+ for a textbook every single semester. I’m proud to be a part of it in multiple ways, it’s an honour.” JCU Associate Professor Carmen Reaiche author of four JCU open eBooks in the project management series which form the foundation for the ‘zero dollar text book cost’ Graduate Certificate in Project Management.


“[The] decision [to publish an OER] was primarily guided by a desire to ensure equitable and sustainable access to our learning resources and increase the level of representation in the curation of themes, images, authentic audio, and video material as well as citation practices.” Dr Adriana Diaz, author of the University of Queensland JUNTXS and + JUNTXS open texts.


“Everything is going online nowadays, and it seems like textbooks are no exception. As the co-author of the first Pressbook in the field, UQ Associate Professor Jane Johnston could not hide her excitement,‘I have to say I love the platform for Pressbooks!’ she said. Written in the Creative Commons, access to the Public Interest Communication book is completely free – consistent with what the public interest is all about to Jane. She was delighted to be able to try her hand at this innovative reinvention of textbooks and described it as an ‘interesting and rewarding challenge.’”


See also, ‘Why I started writing an open text and why I’m glad I did!‘ blog post by UniSQ Dr Bronte van der Hoorn, who authored the open text Visual for Influence: in project management and beyond.

Adapting or Authoring an Open Text?

Before you commit to writing a new open text, it’s worth evaluating some existing open texts to see if you could adapt them to suit your needs.

Some points to consider when evaluating an open text for adaptation:

  • Relevance – How well does the content align with your course?
  • Effectiveness – How well does the text present content?
  • Copyright – Does the book have an open licence that allows modifications?
  • Organisation – Does the text follow a logical structure?
  • Balance – Does the text balance text with visuals and theory with real-world examples?
  • Inclusion and diversity – Is the content (text, images and resources) inclusive? Does it present diverse perspectives?
  • Accessibility – How well does the text follow accessibility standards?

If an open text meets most of your criteria, consider whether you could make some modifications to improve its quality and usefulness (for example, through editing, revising or replacing content).

You will need to weigh up the scope of these changes with the work involved in producing a new open text to help you decide on the best option for your project.

Adapting an Existing Open Text

One of the hardest parts of adapting an open text is maintaining consistency across existing and new content.

When modifying or adding new content to an existing open text, you will need to try to match the style, structure and layout of the original text, or edit the whole book for style consistency.

Some areas you will need to watch out for are:

  • Style – Edit the style to match the JCU style, or style of your choice (for example, change Americanisations for the Australian context).
  • Language and tone – Authors need to be aware of language use, and spelling between national contexts.
  • Layout – Pedagogical features (learning objectives, exercises, summaries, recommended readings, etc.), list style (a bullet or numbered) and heading styles.
  • Resources – Types of resources, placement, and use of labels, captions and attributions.
  • References and citation style – Choose a citation style for in-text references and reference lists, and use a consistent placement (e.g. at the end of each chapter, at the end of the book or as footnotes).

Creating an Open Text

Some general rules of design to keep in mind when you’re planning your open text:

  • Begin with the end in mind – What are you trying to achieve? What is the scope of the text? What knowledge should a student have before and after they use the text? What are the learning objectives?
  • Sketch out the general parameters of your open text – What types of media do you want to incorporate in your open text?
  • Make a plan for the future – Who will review your open text? How often do you anticipate the content will need updating?

Next Steps

If you have an idea or a manuscript for an open text, please use the Contact Us form to arrange an initial consultation.

Chapter Attribution

This chapter has been adapted in parts from:

Open Publishing Guide for Authors by University of Southern Queensland. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

  1. Wiley, D. (2014). The access compromise and the 5th R. Improving Learning. https://opencontent.org/blog/archives/3221


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JCU OER Author Guide Copyright © 2023 by James Cook University Library is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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