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Modifying an Open Textbook: Home

For those who have identified an open textbook they want to modify.

Summer 2024

Please note: This guide is in the process of being updated during Summer 2024. Check back soon for updates and visit our Open Educational Resources guide for additional information!

Modifying an Open Textbook

Overview: How to Modify an Open Textbook

Once you have made the decision to adopt an open textbook, you may wish to modify or adapt that textbook to fit your specific needs.

How easy or difficult this will be depends on a number of factors, including:

  • How much content do you wish to change? Do you want to remove chapters, or rewrite entire chapters of content?
  • What technical format is the original textbook in? A Word document is much easier to modify than a PDF document.
  • What type of license is the content released under? Does it have a Creative Commons license that allows for modification or adaptation of the content?
  • How comfortable are you with using technology and creating content?

Here are some steps to consider before modifying or adapting an existing textbook.

Some General Considerations

  • Whatever tools you choose to work with, remember that students prefer format flexibility with their textbook. Many open textbook publishers suggest that each book modified or created be made available in PDF, ePub and HTML (website) formats. If you use a tool that does not output those formats by default, you will need to find additional conversion tools to convert your final textbook to those formats.
  • If you wish to edit or create graphics, images, charts, and/or multimedia content, you will need to use additional, specialized tools to create those beyond the tools listed here. The tools listed here are primarily designed to modify text or (in the case of LaTeX) scientific or mathematical formulas.
  • Keep it simple is a good rule of thumb, especially if you are approaching a remix project for the first time. While it may be tempting to make a number of major changes to a textbook before releasing it to your students, think of the textbook as a living resource that you can improve incrementally over time.

Step 1: Check the License

First, check the license to make sure you have the permission to modify the contents. As long as the Creative Commons license does not have a No Derivatives clause, you are able to change the contents of the book. See Creative Commons for more information on licenses.

Modifying a textbook licensed under a No Derivatives (ND) license restriction should be done with caution. The license does not allow changes to the content, but that does not mean that other options are not available to you.

If you are unsure as to the license, please contact Rachel Caldwell at the University Libraries for assistance.

Step 2: The Format of the Textbook

If you wish to adapt an open textbook, you need to be able to have the textbook in a technical format that you can work with. This usually means the original source files used to create the textbook.

Common source formats for open textbooks that you should look for are:

  • HTML files (webpages)
  • Word or OpenOffice documents
  • Text files
  • ePub
  • LaTex files (if the original book includes math or science formulas and equations).

What tools you will use to create your version of the textbook will depend greatly on what format you find the original textbook in and what you feel comfortable working with.

Avoid PDF documents.

It is common that open textbooks may only be available as a PDF document. PDF documents are not editable. If you want to modify an open textbook that is only available in PDF format, you will need to convert the PDF document to one of the formats above.

Before you consider converting a PDF version of the textbook, you should contact the original author and ask for a copy of the textbook source files. Converting a PDF document to an editable format is a difficult, time consuming, and imprecise process.

Step 3: Tools for Editing an Open Textbook

Once you have a source format that you can edit, you can then begin to modify the textbook. What tools you will use to do this will depend greatly on what editable format you are working with, and your comfort level with working with that format.


Many open textbooks are created using PressBooks, a web-based authoring tool based on the popular WordPress authoring platform. Working in PressBooks is similar to working within a Learning Management System like Moodle or Canvas.

You can import a number of different formats into PressBooks for editing, including Word, ePub and HTML. PressBooks will output the textbook as a mobile-friendly website, an ePub document (for use in e-readers), and PDF (for printing).

UT is exploring a locally hosted version of PressBooks. (Let Rachel Caldwell at the University Libraries know if you are interested.) You can try out PressBooks for free using their hosted service.

Other Editing Tools

The chart below shows you some of the tool options you have for working with the various file formats. Note that this is not an exhaustive list. You may have a tool that works for you that you wish to use to create your open textbook.

Original Format Possible Editing Tools (Web-based) Possible Editing Tools (Desktop)
Word or OpenOffice Google Docs, PressBooks Microsoft Word, OpenOffice
ePub PressBooks Sigil, Calibre
Text Google Docs, PressBooks Word, OpenOffice
LaTex  ScribeTex TeXworks, Texmaker
HTML Google Docs, PressBooks, MediaWiki Dreamweaver, MS Expression Web
OpenStax College Connexions n/a

Step 4: Choosing a License

Once you have finished creating your own version of the textbook, you should decide on which Creative Commons license you will use to license your book. This will depend a great deal on how the original textbook was licensed.

For example, if the original textbook was licensed with a Share Alike (SA) license, then you must release your book with the same license as the original source material to ensure it is fully compliant with the original CC terms of use.

CC licensing at this stage can be a complicated process. For assistance, feel free to contact the University Libraries for consultation on how the various CC licenses work together.

Step 5: Output

Students like flexibility when it comes to their textbooks. Some may prefer printed versions of the textbook, others prefer using a website. Still others will like to use an e-reader or e-reading software.

To make your book as accessible as possible, consider making your textbook available in multiple formats so students have the ability to choose the format that works for them. It is recommended to make your textbook available as a website (HTML), ePub document for e-readers, and PDF document which students can print or choose to have printed via a print on demand service.

book cover


For more on accessibility, the B.C. Campus Open Ed Project (University of British Columbia) has created an open textbook toolkit on accessibility. It is written for those creating open textbooks, but is relevant to those making modifications, too.





Step 6: Hosting Your Book (Or, How Do My Students Get My Textbook?)

Once you have edited your version of the textbook, you will need a place to put your textbook where your students can access it.

You can add the files to your UT webpage. OIT offers faculty and staff server space for personal and organizational websites. Alternatively, you may want to add it to the university's open repository, TRACE, where it will be indexed by Google and GoogleScholar and preserved by the University Libraries.

The University Libraries is exploring additional hosting options for open textbooks. Contact Rachel Caldwell for more information.

This content is based nearly entirely on "6 Steps to Modifying an Open Textbook," by Clint Lalonde at BCcampus OpenEd, which is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Only (CC BY 4.0) license. This guide is also under a CC BY 4.0 license.


Want to Know More?

Read more about modifying an open textbook in this open book published by the Open Textbook Network.


Modifying an Open Textbook Cover Page

Adopting a Textbook

Adopting, Not Modifying?

If you want to adopt an open textbook as-is, check out the guide on Adopting an Open Textbook.