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2 Technology

There are a number of software tools that can be used to create an open textbook. Your choice will depend on the functionality you are seeking as well as your interest in reusing existing open textbooks or making yours available for reuse, or both. Below are some of the tools that assist with creation/adaption process, formatting, and wider distribution.

What authoring tools can I use to start writing?

Authoring tools can be used for initial drafting of content before the formatting/publishing stage. An authoring tool may also be part of a publishing or distribution platform (see the sections below).

If you are used to writing and editing textbooks on your personal computer and do not need collaborative functionality, Microsoft Word may be a readily available and simple solution. It allows tracking changes and leaving comments, and the file can be saved as a PDF for sharing externally. Additionally, MS Office provides Accessibility Checker to identify and fix issues with your document. Read more in the Accessibility section.

Google Docs is a free online version of a textbook editor. It supports collaborative simultaneous editing, commenting, and sharing. You can upload files to Google Docs and export them as PDF and EPUB. Additionally, you can use the Grackle plugin to help evaluate and fix accessibility issues in your Google Doc. Read more in the Accessibility section.

Both Word and Google Docs can be used for individual or collaborative authoring before moving the ready textbook to a publishing or distribution platform (see the sections below).

What publishing tools can I use to create an open textbook?

Publishing tools usually provide additional functionality for reviewing, formatting, presentation, and generating different output formats.

WordPress PressBooks

PressBooks is both a web-based authoring tool and a publishing platform, and has been adopted by many Canadian institutions.

It allows importing a number of different formats, including Word, ePub and HTML. It can output your content as a website with an interactive menu and also generate on the fly output in PDF (for printing), ePub (for e-readers) and other formats that make it easier for others to reuse and adapt your content. It comes with easy to use layout templates and supports collaborative editing by authors/editors/project managers, etc.

Open Monograph Press (OMP)

OMP is a free, open source platform for managing a book publishing process. It can also act as a distribution platform.

OMP’s robust editorial workflow allows managing and tracking materials from submission through internal and external review, editing, production, and publication. It is currently geared more towards scholarly monographs and would thus make a good choice for combination with the Open Typesetting Stack (currently in beta) may allow outputting books in HTML, PDF, and ePub formats.


Scalar is a free, open source publishing platform that enables authors to assemble media from multiple sources and juxtapose them with text, annotations, visualizations, etc. in a blog-like structure. The platform also supports collaborative authoring and reader commentary.


GitBook.com is the online platform to create and host books built using the GitBook format. It offers hosting, collaboration features and an easy-to-use desktop editor. Content can be imported in .docx or .html and output as a website or as an ebook (PDF, ePub or Mobi).

Authors familiar with GitHub and Markdown will likely feel most comfortable with GitBooks. It offers themes for different layouts, CSS design customization, media embedding, and is generally very extensible. While its features make it suitable for general textbook writing, it has traditionally been used more for manuals, documentation, FAQs, and IT-related resources.

OER Commons

OER Commons focuses on OER resources broadly and acts as both a repository and an authoring/adaptation tool.

It allows creating an open textbook from scratch, importing text from Google Docs, or adapting an existing OER resource from the OER Commons collection, provided the license allows remixing. It supports collaborative authoring and provides lesson and module builder templates.

All resources created with OER Commons are published on the OER Commons platform and added to the collection.

Summary of publishing tools

Table 1.1. Summary of publishing tools
Name Strengths Where to get it
WordPress Pressbooks Easy to use collaborative authoring and publishing tool with import-export and formatting functionality Download for free to host locally or use the web hosted version (fees apply for ad-free publishing)
Open Monographs Press Has robust editorial workflow; works best for centrally managed text-based volumes Download for free to host locally or use a hosted solution via your institution or Scholars Portal (for OCUL members) or PKP (fees apply)
Scalar Accommodates media, visualizations, annotations, etc. in a blog-like format Download for free to host locally or register and use the online hosted solution
GitBook Flexible Markdown-based tool traditionally used for manuals, documentation, and IT-related resources The online hosted solution is free for open books; charges apply for private books or for organizational projects
OER Commons A repository and publishing tool; all adapted/created OERs become part of the repository Create a free account on OER Commons website

LaTeX for formatting and typesetting

LaTeX is a free open typesetting system. It has features designed for the production of technical and scientific documentation and is particularly useful for math based content and formulas.

While PressBooks has LaTeX capabilities, some STEM faculty may find that they are not robust enough to meet the needs of their content.