First Draft: How to write a book introduction

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Editor’s Note: First Draft is a monthly blog series that breaks down the book writing process. Written by the ASCD Book Acquisitions Editors, this series will help educators understand how to go from a book idea to a first draft in order to share their expertise and passion with the field.

By ASCD Book Acquisitions

You have your book idea, your unique hook, and a first draft of your book outline. You know what you want to cover, but how do you start? This is something we see many authors —novice and experienced alike — struggle with.

The biggest mistake authors make when starting their manuscripts is spending too much time on introductory material before getting to practical application. We receive many proposals that have several introductory chapters, including lengthy retellings of education history and exhaustive reviews of the literature. While framing the topic at hand is important, oftentimes this can turn into “admiring the problem,” as opposed to providing actionable solutions.

For example, a proposal for a book on co-teaching practices might include a chapter on the history of IDEA and special education legislation, followed by a chapter on the importance of collaboration, followed by an overview of co-teaching models and related research. While readers do need some background information, they might not want to keep reading to Chapter 4 before they find any information they can actually apply to their own teaching.

We would advise this author to combine the first three chapters into a single introduction, streamlining to include only the essential information, and to focus instead on what teachers need to know and do to be effective co-teachers. Of course, there are books — typically for higher education—that do spend a lot of pages discussing educational history, theory, and legislation in depth; however, we’ve found that the best professional development books are ones that stay focused on practical application.  

When writing, always consider your audience and their needs. If educators have purchased your book or had it purchased for them for professional development, they are likely familiar with the problem and looking to you and your book for ways to address it. Busy educators have limited time for professional development and need to quickly get past introductory material to the guidance that will help improve practice and outcomes for students.

What we’ve seen work best for professional development books is to keep the introductory material contained in a single chapter. This isn’t always appropriate, but in our experience, this works for most books. What should you include in that introduction?

  • Frame the problem. Start out the introduction by explaining what problem you’re trying to solve. This may be a brief part of the introduction, if the problem is well-known, or may require multiple subsections to explain the many facets contributing to the issue.
  • Offer your solution. Briefly explain what this book is about and how it addresses the problem you’ve just introduced.
    • Why this solution? Part of offering your solution is also making the case to readers why they should listen to your advice. How do you know your solution works? Here, you’ll describe research from the field, original research, personal experience, and other evidence that supports the efficacy of the ideas in your book.
  • Provide an overview of the book. Now that we know what the problem is and generally how this book will help us tackle it, what can we expect from the pages to come? Is this a book that needs to be read straight through or are there standalone chapters that readers can dip into when looking for targeted strategies? Are there recurring elements in the book (e.g., reflective questions, real-world examples, try-now activities, etc.)?
  • Explain the outcome of the book. One way to close out an introduction is to clarify succinctly for readers what outcome(s) they can expect after reading the book and enacting its practices. What will your book help readers understand and be able to do?

After this chapter making the case for the book, you’ll then be able to dive into the heart of the book and explain to readers the methods, model, and strategies they can employ to make a difference in their work, the field of education, and in the lives of their students. In the next post, we’ll cover how to write robust, effective, and engaging chapters.

As always, you can head over to our Write for ASCD page to get more writing tips and to learn more about writing an ASCD book or article.

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