Creating Technical eBook Templates: An Introduction

Writers of fiction often place words on a page with a chapter heading and maybe the occasional picture. Technical writers use a lot more features for their books, including (but certainly not limited to):

  • Callouts.
  • Tables.
  • Figures (or pictures).
  • Annotations.
  • Mathematical formulas.
  • Bulleted lists.
  • Numbered lists.
  • Callouts.
  • Various font styles such as bold, italic, and strikethrough to name a few.
  • And much more.

If you jump into any word processor, you can use all these features without worry, but does it look right in the ePub or Kindle Format? The short answer is, probably not.

In this first post in my Creating Technical eBook Templates series, I will introduce you to the problems technical writers face. In future articles, I will dig deeper into creating your own templates. For the most part, I will show screen captures from Microsoft Word, but I have worked hard to share best practices for all the traditional word processors.

Wait, a word processor? Products like MadCap Flare, Framemaker, and iBooks Author provide much more flexibility and can sometimes help alleviate the problems I am about to share with you. This article is for those who want to remain in their familiar word processor. Also, there are products like Sigil, LaTeX, and Scrivener (to name a few), but these are niche products that

[in this author’s humble opinion] are not typically suited to building a full-blown technical book.

The challenges

To understand why I am creating this series of posts, here are some examples that show the problems with writing technical eBooks.

Take a look at the following example. Notice anything wrong?

Comparing bullets, numbers, and image formatting.

Here are some of the problems the author encounters when converting the document from a word processor to eBook format:

  • In the word processor, the text is nicely aligned along the left side of the page. In the eBook example, the text is indented.
  • In the word processor, the author uses an interesting bullet made up of small diamond shapes. In the eBook example, those bullets are hollow squares.
  • In the word processor, the image has a fancy border and casts a cool reflection. In the eBook example, the image does not even have a border.

Here is another example using tables:

Compare word processor tables to eBook tables.

As you can see, using tables can cause many problems as well. Here are some of the problems the author encounters when using tables:

  • In the word processor example, the there is a callout image with an icon representing a note. In the eBook example, the note icon and the table cell has shrunk down to a point where is is unreadable.
  • In the word processor example, the notes callout table and the text have a clean formatting with a cell background color. In the eBook example, the table is a different size, the font is smaller, and the font background color is different than the table cell background color.
  • In the word processor example, there is a clean table with legible text. In the eBook example, the table stretches out further than the eBook reader can display. Also, the text is tiny, and the text background differs from the table cell background.

Addressing the challenges

As you witnessed earlier in this article, there are challenges to overcome when writing a technical eBook. This series of posts will bring awareness to the challenge and attempt to explain why certain things happen when the do. More importantly, I am going to show you some ideas, best practices, and workarounds to address these problems in your template.

This series of articles will just keep coming as I share things, so I do not know how many posts to expect. There will be times you may disagree with me or wonder “why?” and that is okay. Feel free to use the comments section and join in the conversation.

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