I'm looking for inspiration on how to make my book appear more professional with regard to typesetting and page design/layout (although of course these alone don't make it more professional). I found this question:

Examples of good academic poster design

Which is very close to what I'm looking for, except for books (or possibly articles).

Here is a related question on the TeX stackexchance site:


However, that question is very specific to (La)TeX. Although I'm writing in LaTex myself, I'm interested in any examples, whether they are written in MS Word or using a typewriter or anything else. I'm only interested in academic texts that have a serious and professional look about them.

My own field is in history, so if you have examples in history or other scholarly fields, that would be the best.

Also, I know about style guides such as Bringhurst's or Oxford/Chicago's style guides, but these are guides rather than academic studies.

The book will be in colour but any advice is welcome.

Question: What qualities and strategies exist to format a textbook? What are the commonalities well-designed textbooks share in terms of structure, hierarchy, captions, etc..?

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    Will the textbook be color or black and white?
    – Ryan
    Commented Feb 13, 2015 at 14:04
  • 1
    Color. Also, the book will be published both in print and as a pdf. Commented Feb 13, 2015 at 14:50
  • Wish I still had some of my textbooks from. I remember being particularly fond of a full-color Chemistry textbook that I had back in high school. I'll see if I can come up with an answer for you with examples, hopefully the bounty helps get others interested too.
    – Ryan
    Commented Feb 16, 2015 at 13:55
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    I think the reason this Q got very little attention in spite of being a very good one, is that its title didn't reflect its content (anymore?) I changed the title to reflect the actual question, as posed at the bottom. Feel free to rollback or re-edit if necessary.
    – Vincent
    Commented Feb 16, 2015 at 13:59
  • "what makes a book well-designed" is simply too broad of a question to answer here short of "it's designed by someone that understands book design". For a text book this would include good typesetting, good page layout, good illustration, balance, flow, pace, white space, typography, etc, etc.
    – DA01
    Commented Feb 16, 2015 at 19:31

4 Answers 4


The simplest rule on this is usually the best: less is more.

I have often found myself in the position where i was praised for layout that was simply not overdoing it (see also this long-winding answer on the topic). Inexperienced users will over-design and over-layout a document.

Stick to 1 Typeface. You can have two, one for headings. But think if you really need it.

Stick to 2, max. 3 headers. Yes, this means you should re-think your structure. Don'ts: Introduction

When choosing header-styles, start with body text and then go up, not the other way around.

If you are using InDesign or equivalent, use a grid. A grid to structure the content and a baseline grid for the type.

First page of a chapter goes on the right (for visibility). Also, the first page is a right page.

But most of all, you asked for examples for well designed books. Look at books. There are millions of them and they all follow these principles. There are no academic studies to my knowledge of the goodness of book-design. There are just books that focus on presenting content and those that do anything but. And the path to the former is simple: ask yourself what the content needs, not the other way around. You don't decide to make a color book and then decide what to write in it.

  • There is a reason actually, if you flip through a book you catch the chapters as the left pages are on the bottom.
    – KMSTR
    Commented Feb 21, 2015 at 15:42
  • Ah yes, but that piece of info should be in your answer.
    – joojaa
    Commented Feb 21, 2015 at 15:47
  • Feel free to improve my answer
    – KMSTR
    Commented Feb 22, 2015 at 9:41
  • good job on the bounty
    – joojaa
    Commented Feb 24, 2015 at 17:16
  • Just curious: Would you normally place chapter/topic headings on the right page of a spread in a booklet of ~15 pages or less? I understand the benefit of this with larger books however I'm currently working on a booklet where some sections/chapters are only 2-3 pages long.
    – johnp
    Commented Jul 7, 2019 at 22:29

A good textbook is about content. Without something worthwhile to say, the design fades away. Content is King. So let us look at what kind of content you will need.

1. Illustrations

Most subject, need or at least greatly benefit from pictures to clarify things. The right picture at the right place can do wonders for your design. This said you can not just use any old pictures, you must go out of your way to make the picture that fits in the overall feel of your textbook.

Images need to be uniform in style, this speaks quality. Once the style is set you should not deviate much form the overall look and feel. This is unfortunately possibly expensive. As this would mean each image has to be carefully selected, or better yet individually illustrated for your project. So it might mean drawing everything from scratch.

Images need to be used consistently. If every chapter begins with an image then you are imprinting the readers a visual mnemonic. This can greatly enhance learning. The wrong image can also destroy your message, see this TED talk about the solar system for a concrete example.

So its important not too choose a image on coolness and style only. It also needs to be correct from a learning point of view. So preferably your illustrator should have a good grasp of the subject matter. For history books maybe it means pictures of people and places in the pages of the text.

2. White Space

Don't cram everything on one page, spreading the text may enhance learning as again now students have a page mnemonic. So work on fitting your material onto the pages well. You should also limit the number of concepts per page.

Its easy to think that students would read your book entirely, but they dont. They will look for external clues on what is important or fun to learn. Walls of text may not be the most inviting or cost effective way of presenting things. Off course if the book is just text then they dont have choice but then you need a narrative to capture the mind.

People have very limited memory, in fact humans have contextual memory. We tend to forget things once we leave the context, see "Walking through doorways causes forgetting: Further explorations". So you need to fit your explanations on the page or spread so that students can minimize paging between data. This means using the white space cleverly to keep the mind focused.

This also means you can not put data, in separate places. For example: Images need to be where they make most sense not in a full color leaflet in middle of the book. Its cheaper but detracts form good design.

3. Don't Use Too Many Gimmicks

One book is a one trick horse. Even if you can do millions of different designs does not mean you need those designs in one book. Sure this is a bit boring from a designer perspective. At the end of the day you want the book to be known for its one thing it does well, instead of the millions it does badly.

Keep it simple, dont use too many different typography schemes, pick two fonts make few styles for headers design your type boxes and artwork. But dont over style or decorate your stuff. Don't use millions of colors, use a few, and use them to maximum effect. In the end the book is meant to be read, not apprised for artwork. Concentrate on the structure of your book.

4. Spend Time on Getting it Right

Don't just dump the book out. Spend time on designing whats in the book, and how its presented. Its a lot of work, in fact half of the work is getting the feel and idea right.

Design up front, you need to have a overall idea what the book will look like when you make the content. Otherwise you wont hit the space requirements. Sometimes it means leaving out things you have slaved over. Don't fall in love with the content, be pragmatic. If it doesn't really have to be there, it doesn't have to be there. Even if its your most beloved creation of all time; put it where it belongs.

Remember the audience, you might need the academic boost. But your students might not need to be seen as academically credible at all times. So think about who your impressing first. If you think the book is for professors then some amount of spartan design might be good for you. But if its for undergraduates they might have different aesthetic sense than your older colleagues.

5. E-Book may Need a Separate Design

Because PDFs flow badly in electronic devices. Its easy to choose same design but in reality that does not make the design great. So the electronic version may need a totally different approach. The medium has different possibilities after all.

And now

I should draw some illustrations for this post. But I dont really have time, so see my design already suffers. Can not be helped.


The recommended option

Well, the real answer on "how to make my book appear more professional" is: find a designer. You should focus on the content, and let the designer focus on the look.

There you have several options. The designer can prepare you a template so you can have the first idea on how the publication is looking, or he can have the design polished when the text and material is almost finished.

The project requirements

You have clarified that you will make a colour book. But you need to define your budget. Do you really need a full color publication? or you can have just a couple of sections on color and the rest in black and white.

Design considerations

After considering the previous points, probably this is what you asked in the first place.

1) Space

First of all. Space. Free air. You don't need your book look like a dungeon, you need to have a fresh look.

People often think that they need to tell a lot. Probably not. Probably you need to say it right.

If you give white space on your master pages, probably you need more pages, so this can modify your requirements and costs.

This space can be around your main column. Around your headings, specially your principal heading on each chapter.

Space, margins

This space can be between lines. You can reduce the font size a bit if you give increase the free air (leading) between them.

line space


2) Font selection

I won't give you some recipe here. It has to be done with good taste.

Choosing a different font can reduce the total page number, without sacrificing the font size.

Make the titles very clear, and nice. A good title and subtitle style gives the brain a hierarchy, a way to compare the previous information with the next one.

The same with foot notes, and side notes.


3) Image style

You can make a good graph or a boring one, a good looking data table or... just a data table.


4) Interesting combinations

You can use 1 column, or 2, or a full page illustration, or use a photo as a background for a chart. Or use 3D graphics, or 3D data charts.

5) The most important thing

Don't think your reader does not deserve to read to a nice looking book. People love good looking books. Academic is not opposite to cool.

So do not google: "academic book" ... Google "Great book design" instead.

https://www.google.com.mx/search?q=cool+book+design&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ei=qpTiVKTWGMrGsQSlnIHACw&ved=0CAgQ_AUoAQ&biw=805&bih=428#tbm=isch&q=great+book+design and see how you can apply a mad typography, a black page with tiny white typography, some silhouettes, a photo and text. A square page format, Just a quote from ancient philosopher on a full page... Just enjoy the ride.

But probably you can use a more experimented design driver.

  • I like the examples under (1), wish there were more like that, not just under (1) but also the other sections. Commented Feb 24, 2015 at 6:54
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    @Dom, Oh. Thanks for the tip. Hysteryteacher, I'll update the post later. :o)
    – Rafael
    Commented Feb 24, 2015 at 12:33

From my experience with textbooks (still in school) the most professional books are very clear and simple, they don't have fancy fonts or very clever designs. There are primarily 2 types of textbook, the plain clear and simple and the colourful and 'more fun' style. Although the content is the same there are a few key differences.

Boxes and layout

In all of my more fun books, there is a large emphasis on curved edges for the text boxes and notes dotted around the page. I find the most professional books have straight edges and sharp corners. They all seem to have a simple layout which is just a simple grid which is very easy to follow. All of the other layouts have a much more random layout with tips placed all over the page.


I think that the most professional books stick to a very simple colour scheme and are designed as if they would be printed in black and white. I don't know what age group you are doing this for, but I assume this is older people and therefore you don't want the colours to distract from the content. In some of my other textbooks, there are lots of different colours with boxes and facts being emphasised to hopefully make it easier for the reader to remember.
I think the most common colours are green and blue.


One thing I have noticed is in most of the textbooks the images are always surrounded in a text box with a description, but the sources and another information is nearly always at the back to save space. Although I don't study history I know that the history books had a very large influence on pictures and would often have 2-5 in a double page spread.


Although in most publications tis is a very important decision I think that all of my textbooks have gone with a font very similar to Arial to keep it clear and easy to read. The only changes are usually in headers and titles, one thing commonly done though is making certain text and words bold. Overall I think the font should be very simple.

If I can think of any more differences I will add them but overall I think it should be kept simple if you want it to look professional. If you really want some pictures I can see what I can do but my scanners not very good.

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