Why Adapt an Open Textbook

Three Steps Before You Begin

A good rule of thumb when creating an adapted textbook is to keep it simple, 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.

Here are three steps to consider before adapting an existing textbook.

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 Derivative (ND) attribute, you are able to change the contents of the book. See Creative Commons for more information on licenses.

Step 2: Check the file format

If you want to adapt an open textbook, you will need it in a workable technical format, i.e. an editable file type. These include:

  • Pressbooks or WordPress files (.xml or .wxr)
  • HTML files (webpages)
  • Word document (.docx) or OpenDocument Text (.odt)
  • Simple text files (.txt)
  • EPUB (see “Export Google Docs as ePub Files“)
  • LaTeX files (if the original book includes math or science formulas and equations)

Avoid PDF documents

Many open textbooks are only available as a PDF document, which are not editable. If you want to adapt an open textbook that is only available in PDF format, you will need to convert the PDF document to one of the editable formats listed above.

Converting a PDF document to an editable format is a difficult, time consuming, and imprecise process. Before taking the time to do this, consider contacting the author and asking for a copy of the textbook’s source files.

Step 3: Use editing tools

Once you have an editable file, you are ready to begin your adaptation. The tools you use to create your adaptation will depend on the source file of the original textbook and how comfortable you feel working with the format and tool.


A commonly used publishing and editing tool is the online publishing and editing software called Pressbooks. This web-based tool is based on the popular WordPress authoring platform. Working in Pressbooks is similar to working in a Learning Management System (LMS) such as Moodle or BrightSpace by D2L.

You can import a number of different formats into Pressbooks for editing including Word, EPUB, and HTML. In turn, from Pressbooks a number of source files can be exported such as EPUB (for use in most e-readers), MOBI (for Kindles), PDF (for printing), HTML, ODT, and XML to act as back-up files for Pressbooks and WordPress.

For more information, see Pressbooks: Online Software to Make Adaptation Easier in the appendix or the Pressbooks Guide (open creation).