Monday, March 17, 2014

What should go at the "front" of a "book" on the web?

Where is the first place you turn to when you open a physical textbook?  Table of Contents?  What is the first thing you read?  The Preface?  Chapter 1?

What is the first thing you want to see when you connect with a textbook in your web browser?  The first time, the one-thousandth time?

This is just one of the many things David Farmer and I have been grappling with where the physical world of books offers little guidance.  We don't have any clear answers.  (Though for a research article, the answer is easier - title and author, then the abstract).  Ideas, desires and advice are welcome, since we will be acting on it.

There is a typical blank slate at  What would you fill it with?
  1. Preface
  2. Table of Contents (presumably navigation is already present)
  3. Huge graphic that looks like a book cover
  4. Copyright, license, ISBN, URL, Dedication, Contact info,...
  5. Nothing
  6. Chapter 1
  7. Something else

And a related question:  what do you like to put in the "front of the book"?  Preface, Prologue, Acknowledgments, Table of Contents, "copyright" page (w/
ISBN, etc), ...  What else?

Rob Beezer
University of Puget Sound


  1. The "front" for an on-line book would probably need to include some things that don't (or can't) appear in a traditional text. A list of adopters, links to reviews, links to ancillaries, a link to purchase a hard-copy (if such is available), etc. Personally, I'd say that from there we ought to go to the table of contents. At some level it may not matter so much how the user is first "entered" into the text as they will probably bookmark their preferred starting point, plus their browser will most likely remember where they left off...

    1. I agree it would be good for the book to remember where the reader
      left off, but I think this requires something on the back end. A related,
      and more interesting and difficult problem, is allowing the reader to
      leave notes and internal bookmarks.

  2. Rob's question is of practical interest to me because I am writing code which
    outputs the HTML version of a textbook. The following seem like reasonable
    landing pages for the first time a person visits the book.

    1. Title page
    2. Last un-numbered chapter
    3. Chapter 1

    The title page is boring but harmless. The last un-numbered section may be
    a message to the student (I would consider that to be a good landing page)
    but if it isn't, then the author may prefer something else. Chapter 1 may
    leave the browsing reader feeling lost. I do not consider the table of
    contents to be a friendly place to start, and it would be a wasted opportunity
    anyhow because I put the TOC in the left margin of every page.

    It would be nice to have a standard way for authors to indicate the landing
    page of the electronic version of their book.

  3. For myself, when I find a book on the interwebs that I may be interested in (or may not), I want to find out subject, approach, and audience, which have traditionally been part of a Preface.

    Jim Hefferon

  4. I like all the replies here. Thanks for the comments, I'm just getting caught up after being offline all of Spring Break. Maybe it makes sense to use a mix of Joe's practical ideas (e.g. link to purchase), and Jim's pre-adoption type of information (what we try to discover first), with David's idea for some degree of choice by an author.

    I imagine a book backed up by a website, typically, so some things can go there. But an obvious link to that site would be good to include as part of any landing page.

    Maybe a landing page is something an author designs for a book, which is only intended for an electronic version, and does not appear in a print version? Maybe this is a place where the opportunities, or requirements, of an electronic version deviate so far from tradition that it should be done much differently and independently of print?