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Creating a Leadership Handbook: Part 1

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Mon Oct 19 2009

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What is a handbook? How does it differ from a book or compiled work of any kind? What's it like to edit a handbook and how do you get started? Just over a year ago ASTD, released _The ASTD Handbook for Workplace Learning Professionals._It introduces nine learning and development sections from assessment to evaluation, incorporating contemporary topics such as technology-enabled learning. Each of the chapters is written by a respected leader in the field who specializes in that topic. For example, who better to write about learning in the classroom than Bob Pike?

The handbook, which I edited, also features several luminaries in the Workplace Learning and Performance (WLP) profession; some of them are the practitioners and the implementers of the content. One of the luminaries, for example, is Bill Wiggenhorn, the creator of Motorola University.

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A New Handbook is on Its Way

ASTD will publish another handbook: The ASTD Leadership Handbook, which will be available in September 2010. I will also edit this volume and thought it might be interesting and fun, over the next couple of weeks, to explore what it takes to create one of these volumes.

I've written a number of collected works and a handbook is the most significant type in this class of books. What makes a handbook special? Its name alone implies that it will be written by respected authorities of the topic. You also expect a handbook to be a collection of chapters that are related, yet unique in content.

As the reader you must believe that you will be able to turn to the handbook to find the most accurate as well as useful answers to a variety of questions about the handbook's topic. As a reader who decides to invest in a "handbook," you have high expectations. First of all, the price alone contributes to these expectations, since handbooks are often two or three or even four times the cost of most other hardcover books. The editor must interpret and deliver on these expectations to make it worthwhile. A handbook must be authoritative, complete, and useful.

Authoritative. A handbook must be written by authors whose work you respect and trust. When you pick up The ASTD Handbook, you hold over 2000 years of experience within your hands. You know the authors. You've read their work and have depended on their theories and concepts for years. Who would you select to be in the next handbook, The ASTD Leadership Handbook?

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Complete. A handbook must be fundamental to the subject. Readers have an expectation of key topics that should be covered about the handbook's theme. The ASTD Handbook, for example, covers essentially everything you might name in the WLP field. If you were editing The ASTD Leadership Handbook, what topics would you include?

Useful. A handbook by its very nature is written by gurus who have conducted research, identified theories, and produced volumes of knowledge on a narrow subtopic. Most of you, however, are too busy to unravel the entire string of research content. You want the nuggets of information, the how-to, and the go-do advice. You want answers to question and implementable ideas. If you were editing The ASTD Leadership Handbook, how would you make it useful?

The editor's job is to ensure that the handbook delivers the value that you, the reader, expect. The editor must ensure that the handbook:

  • Is authoritative, providing accurate content.

  • I s complete, delivering the answers to readers' questions.

  • Offers practical information that the reader can implement.

Next Up: Who, What and How?

  • Who are the authors of The ASTD Leadership Handbook?

  • What are essential topics of The ASTD Leadership Handbook?

  • How will we make The ASTD Leadership Handbook useful and practical for you?

I hope you will submit your ideas this week. Check back in seven days and I will give you a sneak preview of ASTD's next handbook.

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