How To Reach C&ENACS Membership Number

July 1, 2002
Volume 80, Number 26
CENEAR 80 26 pp. 22-25
ISSN 0009-2347


Writing a textbook is laborious work and is done for love, not for monetary rewards


The first rule of textbook preparation could go something like this: "If you knew what you were going to go through, you'd never write one," according to first-time textbook author David W. Ball, associate professor of chemistry at Cleveland State University.

FRIENDS In 16 years of collaborating on textbooks, Garrett (right) and Grisham (left) have never had a "significant disagreement," Garrett says.
Another first-time author, I. David Reingold, professor of chemistry at Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pa., told himself that he would never write a textbook. Plus, he swore that if he ever did write one, he would certainly never teach from it because it would already include all his best examples, explanations, and jokes. But when he finally got frustrated by the lack of a suitable textbook for the freshman-level organic course that Juniata offers instead of a typical general chemistry course, Reingold had to eat those words.

These two professors and countless others have taken the plunge and written textbooks. What compels them to devote so much of their time to this arduous task? What are their experiences when they do?

To answer those questions, C&EN spoke with the authors of four new first-edition textbooks. These books include one textbook each in general chemistry, organic chemistry for freshmen, physical chemistry, and biochemistry.

Two of the books--Ball's "Physical Chemistry" and Reingold's "Organic Chemistry: An Introduction Emphasizing Biological Connections"--were written by newcomers to the business of publishing textbooks.

When Ball first started teaching at Cleveland State in 1990, he didn't like the physical chemistry textbook the university was using. Neither did another of his colleagues who started at about the same time. "We didn't care for certain ways the material was presented or what material was presented," Ball says. The next year, they switched to another text, but they weren't satisfied with that one either. In his first five years, Ball estimates that he taught from four different physical chemistry texts.

One of his complaints about most physical chemistry texts is that they are "encyclopedias masquerading as textbooks." Professors and graduate students like them because they make good reference books, Ball says. However, "my experience is that students don't like them as the first-time textbook at an undergraduate level," he says.

Finally, he decided to write his own. He wrote sample chapters and got contract offers from two publishers. "When I signed a contract, I was forced to write the rest of it," he says. To avoid re-creating the type of encyclopedic tome he dislikes, Ball left out "specialty topics" such as molecular beams and photochemistry, focusing instead on "developing the core topics," he says.

Like Ball, Reingold got into textbook publishing because existing books didn't suit him. Juniata had changed its curriculum so that the introductory chemistry course focused on organic chemistry. The faculty believed that such a class prevented the first-year chemistry course from being a repeat of high school chemistry. In addition, organic chemistry seemed more relevant to the biology majors who also take introductory chemistry.

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TO MAKE IT APPROPRIATE for all students as a first course, content for the organic class was scaled back. "We took the content of a typical sophomore organic course and dumped everything the biologists don't need," Reingold says. "Then we added a bunch of introductory material because they haven't just finished a year of freshman chemistry." (Chemistry majors take an additional organic class in their junior year to hit the rest of the topics found in a traditional organic class.)

For the first five or six years of the new approach, Reingold taught his class using existing books. But he found them to be unsatisfactory because they lacked sufficient introductory materials and contained many topics that biologically oriented students don't need. He made do by writing his own introductory materials to augment the organic texts.

Finally, he realized that nobody else would write the textbook he wanted, so he decided--reluctantly--to do it himself. As he finished chapters, they were used in the Juniata classes. He started out about six chapters ahead of the students, but by the end of the year, he was only about two chapters ahead. "I had to stay enough ahead of the class that they would have something to read as they went to the next chapter," Reingold says.

He managed to find a publisher--Houghton Mifflin--willing to risk publishing a book without a built-in market. The publisher "understood the concept of organic first," he says. "They knew exactly what they were getting into and how risky it was. They were willing to take the risk and hope that this kind of approach to teaching would catch on and we'd be on the front of the wave." The company paid Reingold to provide camera-ready copy.

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Whereas the Ball and Reingold books are completely new, the other two textbooks--"Principles of Biochemistry with a Human Focus" by Reginald H. Garrett and Charles M. Grisham of the University of Virginia and "Chemistry: The Molecular Science" by John W. Moore of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, Conrad L. Stanitski of the University of Central Arkansas, and Peter C. Jurs of Pennsylvania State University--have their roots in previous textbooks.

Garrett and Grisham had written a biochemistry textbook that was published in 1994. Like many biochemistry textbooks, it's large, tipping the scales at 1,200 pages. After it came out, their publisher told them that there were markets the book wasn't capturing, especially those for one-semester courses and medical schools. "As an author, you feel like you've let somebody down if your book doesn't suit their needs," Grisham says. "It's as if you're prevented from interacting with them for some fundamental reason that's upsetting."

They decided they would write a shorter, less quantitative book. They also decided that they would take a human focus to make the book more interesting to students and more attractive to the medical school market. "Instead of talking about things that might be considered bacterial metabolism, we instead talk about the human equivalent of some of these proteins and enzyme systems," Garrett says. In addition to such changes in the main text, they also covered human biochemistry through focused essays.

In writing their "Principles" book, Garrett and Grisham faced the daunting task of figuring out how to cut about a third of the material from what they have dubbed the "big book." At the same time, they needed to determine how they would organize it differently. "We wanted to bring in all the excitement now present with regard to human biochemistry and health and medicine," Garrett says.

Moore, Stanitski, and Jurs had the opposite problem--they had to decide what to add. The textbook that "Chemistry: The Molecular Science" was based on was shorter than the typical general chemistry textbook, with some topics purposely omitted. The new book "beefed up all those things that were missing," Jurs says.

Although the book is new, Moore, who is also editor of the Journal of Chemical Education, points out that "in general chemistry, nothing's ever really different." His primary motivation was to try to make changes in pedagogy, he says.

One of the things the authors tried to do was to get students "actively involved in dealing with the subject of a given chapter," Moore says. The authors especially emphasized conceptual--as opposed to numerical--problems that reinforce the students' understanding. Much of that grew out of an NSF-sponsored curriculum project called the New Traditions Project, in which conceptual materials and conceptual approaches to teaching were developed, Moore says. For example, each chapter ends with a summary problem that requires students to tie together the concepts they learned in the chapter in an application.

Another big change in the textbook was that the authors decided not to segregate organic chemistry and biochemistry from the rest of the content, Stanitski says. Where appropriate, they used organic and biological examples to illustrate concepts throughout the book, instead of just sticking them in a couple of chapters at the end.

"We're hoping to show that organic and biochem have systems that you can use to demonstrate chemical principles just as easily as if you picked an inorganic system," Stanitski says. For example, rather than using hydrocyanic acid to illustrate a weak acid, bioacids such as lactic acid and pyruvic acid can demonstrate the same principles.

The writers also tried to convey to students the excitement of current chemistry. Moore takes note of the research areas that his newer colleagues are interested in pursuing, such as materials science and biochemical applications. Students ought to be hearing about these cutting-edge topics in their introductory course, he says, so the topics were introduced as examples in the book.

For the textbooks written by multiple authors, the teams typically divide the chapters among themselves, based on interests, research backgrounds, and a little give and take, Jurs says. Although each chapter has a primary author, each author is involved with every chapter after the initial draft is written.

Despite being hard work, the actual writing was described by nearly every author as being the most enjoyable part of the process. "I enjoy the challenge of finding new ways to say things, different ways to present material, looking at all the aspects of the material in a chapter and making sure that the linkages are where they should be," Stanitski says. "I also like trying to put material in context so that learning chemistry is not some sterile exercise." (Stanitski is also the editor-in-chief and senior author of "Chemistry in Context: Applying Chemistry to Society," an American Chemical Society textbook for nonscience majors.)

Moore agrees. "Although it seems as if it would be dog work, I actually enjoy getting the chapter down in the first place," he says, "just thinking about it, thinking it through, and trying to figure out what the students are going to need to see and do as they're trying to learn."

ADVOCATE Moore encourages change, particularly in pedagogy.
GEN CHEM Whether writing for science majors or nonscience majors, Stanitski likes to show students that chemistry has a direct impact on their daily lives.
COVER ART Ball helped with his cover design (shown on the wall beside him) by suggesting that the words on the blackboard in the background of the cover be physical chemistry words.
ANOTHER ATTRACTION of writing a textbook, Jurs says, is being able to do things your way. "The most enjoyable thing about writing a textbook is being able to incorporate one's own way of explaining concepts and one's own bagful of examples and nifty metaphors," he says. "It's fun to share your neat examples with a wider audience than the classroom."

Ball enjoyed the self-education that he got from having to organize the material. In addition, he class-tested the book as he was writing it. "I've been the recipient of some constructive student feedback" on how well they can read and comprehend the book, he says. "I think I have a good enough relationship with my students that they know they can point out something that needs to be changed or fixed."

Another gratifying part of writing a textbook is receiving compliments from complete strangers, Grisham says. Such comments make "you realize that you're touching lives out there that you'll never know about. You'll never meet them, you'll never know who they were, but you're helping people get a better sense of this wonderful story of this wonderful field. There's nothing better than having somebody write and say that."

One part of the textbook writing process that Ball didn't like was the review stage, which he describes as "a fundamentally depressing and demoralizing process." He acknowledges that one of the functions of reviewers is to find problems so they can be fixed, ultimately resulting in a better product. He wishes, however, that more reviewers would take the initiative to point out what they think is good about the book, to balance out the negative comments. When he received negative reviews, Ball would remind himself that "the best steel is forged from the strongest fire." The experience taught him how to be a better reviewer, he says.

THE PROCESS of writing a textbook takes a long time. Production can add a year or more to the schedule. Grisham calls the process "unforgiving" and says it's easy to fall behind.

"Delays accumulate. You don't fall behind one week and catch up the next. It's all you can do to stay on schedule," Grisham says. "We were only off by a couple of months in a two-year revision process." However, that delay meant that some schools didn't have a chance to consider his text for their classes last year.

Ball's textbook has been eight years in the making. When he first signed the contract, he asked for four years instead of the usual two to develop the manuscript to avoid disrupting the tenure process. Then because of editorial turnover, production took longer than it might have otherwise.

Ball had previously written books, but not textbooks. He found the two experiences to be quite different. "There were some things I didn't realize were my responsibility," he says. "I assumed that people who publish textbooks have files and samples all over the place of art and diagrams. You could say 'I want a picture' or 'I want a diagram of this,' and they could just turn to their in-house expert. It turns out that I'm the in-house expert. They wanted me to supply a sample of every piece of line art that the artist was supposed to render. I'm not sure if my inexperience led to delays, but it led to some back and forth."

Getting the illustrations right is an iterative process, Stanitski says. "Illustrators sometimes take a bit of liberty with the illustrations. Sometimes they get the science right, and sometimes they don't. You sort of work backwards to make sure the illustration not only has scientific accuracy but also has eye appeal."

Moore, Stanitski, and Jurs incorporated "macro/nano" features in the their text's illustrations. These illustrations simultaneously show what is happening on the macroscopic scale--a photograph of a reaction in a beaker, for example--and the nanoscopic scale--an artist's rendering of the interactions of the individual molecules. According to Moore, pedagogical research shows that students have difficulty making the connection between what they see happening on the macroscopic level and what's happening to the individual particles. "I spent a whole day with the illustrator just on one chapter about thermodynamics, trying to figure out how best to illustrate the concepts," he says.

Anybody thinking about writing a textbook needs to do it for love and not for profit. "Especially at the level of physical chemistry, you don't expect to get rich off the royalties," Ball wryly notes.

Garrett and Grisham's first book--the big book that preceded their "Principles" book--took nine years from start to finish. "You're spending a lot of your personal time doing it," Garrett says. "If you start out doing it for the money, then you're even crazier than starting out in the first place. The likelihood of having any real financial success that would outweigh the effort you put into it is rather slim."

Regardless of the hard work and sometimes unpleasant experiences, the overall experience of writing a textbook is "immensely satisfying," Ball says. "Despite the downs, it's not something that I regret doing, nor is it something that I would never do again."



When Was That?

It's a natural assumption. A book with a copyright date of 2002 must have been published in 2002. But not when it comes to textbooks.

All four books mentioned in this article are first editions. Three of the four have a copyright date of 2002 but actually came out in 2001. The fourth--"Physical Chemistry" by David W. Ball of Cleveland State University--is coming out this year but carries a copyright date of 2003.

"It's very common practice for the publishers to postcopyright their books as much as possible," says Peter C. Jurs, chemistry professor at Pennsylvania State University. Charles M. Grisham, a biochemistry professor at the University of Virginia, suspects that the practice is intended to make the books "look a little more current than they really are."

Angus McDonald, executive editor for chemistry and physics at the Brooks/Cole division of Thomson Learning, which is publishing three of the four books, says, "It's a completely different language with regard to the calendar in textbook publishing. There were books published this May and June that had 2003 copyrights.

"It's always interesting when you're trying to explain to a new author when you need the manuscript in order to have a book out for 2005, which seems like a long time from now," McDonald says. "In actuality, you're looking to publish it in 2004, which means you need a manuscript in 2003. If you haven't completely confused the author at that point, you can get on the same track in terms of the timing and schedule."



ACS Moves Into The General Chemistry Market

The American Chemical Society has long been known for its college textbook for nonscience majors, "Chemistry in Context: Applying Chemistry to Society." But now ACS is getting into the business of writing a general chemistry textbook for science majors. The book is known simply as "Chemistry."

The project got its start about six years ago when an ACS task force met to determine what the society could bring to the already crowded general chemistry textbook market. The answer: a chemistry book that would reach the 80 to 90% of the students who will be biology majors or premed students, as well as the chemistry majors, according to Jerry A. Bell, the primary author of the book and a staff member of the ACS Education Division. The very existence of such a book from ACS "would say that it's okay to recognize that not all the students are going to be chemists," says Bell, who was a chemistry professor for 30 years.

One of the major ways the textbook differs from other general chemistry textbooks, Bell says, is in its pedagogy, which attempts to involve students. Activities called "Investigate This" are scattered throughout the book, 12 to 15 per chapter. The simplest one calls on the students to wet a finger on one hand, wave both hands in the air, and note any difference between a wet and dry finger. "The discussion that follows is very rich, because most students cannot explain why the wet finger feels cooler. This sets the stage for a discussion of the energy involved in phase changes and why it is so large for water evaporating," Bell says.

Convincing professors to adopt the book will require that they buy into the teaching methods needed, according to Bell. "It really will be a sales pitch not just for the content, but for the pedagogy," he says. "From my point of view, the way to make it successful is to provide workshops for teachers who want to try this but are a little reluctant because it's very different from what they've been doing."

The examples in the book range from biology to earth science. "The flavor you get of chemistry is much broader than you might get in a traditional course, and the way the material is introduced is a little different," says Sylvia A. Ware, director of ACS's Education Division. "The examples are different, the order in which the material is presented is different, and there's nothing quite like it out there at the moment."

A year of field-testing the alpha version of the text has just ended. Approximately 15 schools, 20 faculty, and 500 students participated in the testing. Based on feedback from the field test, Bell is currently revising the text for the beta version, which will be tested starting in September. The final version will be published in 2003 by W. H. Freeman.

All of the students participating in the field test were required to take the conceptual general chemistry exam from the ACS Examinations Institute. The results from the exam are encouraging, according to Bell. The average results from the field-test students are in line with the average results of all the students taking the exam nationally.

Another interesting result is that a larger percentage of the students in the field test are signing up for organic chemistry and indicating an interest in becoming chemistry majors. "We didn't set out to make chem majors," Bell says, "but that can't be bad."


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