For textbooks: Just the facts, ma’am.

For textbooks: Just the facts, maam.

For textbooks: Just the facts, ma’am.

Amber Hall

The night before my first biology test, there was nothing I would have enjoyed more than putting each glossy, texted page of my textbook through the jaws of a shredder. In-between stressing about the prospect of failing and actually trying to absorb some of the information I was reading, I had to suffer through the textbook’s author trying to be “creative” or inventive while he presented scientific information. Unfortunately, his writing style resembles most of the textbooks required for class: long and unnecessary.

While reading my textbook, it amazed me how the author was able to write an introduction that lasted nearly two pages, and none of it was of any use to me. He spent the first part of the introduction using a completely elementary analogy (building blocks) to describe how they were going to help me understand the next chapter. When in reality, the effort that I spent reading that introduction could have been more valuably spent on learning information that would have been well wasted on my neurons.

I understand that analogies and examples often help the reader to memorize and understand the information, but what the author chooses to compare the scientific material with is frustratingly comical. For instance, while reading in my biology textbook, the author decided to describe the common theory of if one goes up, the other must go down in a teeter-totter fashion. Comparing anything, even science, to a teeter-totter does nothing to help me but exercise my eye rolling.

I don’t have a problem with the author using analogies but at least give us something memorable or at least interesting. Lets say, for instance, instead of teeter-totter, the author could use a plane crash. When a plane is crashing, smoke from the fire goes up, while the plane continues to plummet. Now, that’s an analogy. Unique, a little morbid and memorable.

However, the author can get creative with their analogies but they shouldn’t overdo it. A creative example here and there keeps the reader interested without involving ADHD medication. However, textbooks – my bio textbook especially – seem to think they are writing a piece of winning prose that is deserving of adjectives and adverbs such as “painstakingly” and random exclamations of “Presto!” to generate enthusiasm for molecules. As a journalist, one of the first rules they teach you is to not editorialize. Considering that our textbooks are supposed to be teaching us factual information, not opinions, I think its safe to say that journalism principles should apply to our textbooks as well. And this isn’t just pertaining to my biology textbook. I’ve had numerous teachers say something along the lines of “Now, I don’t agree with your textbook on this topic.” Which I find to be a bit ironic that we are ignoring aspects of our textbooks because they are too opinionated. Encyclopedias can master this art, why not our textbooks?

In fact, I think our textbook should take a lesson from encyclopedias: short entries and to the point, instead of writing deep, thoughtful sentence that just distract me into thinking that Dolly the Sheep would look better with a pencil mustache.