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A yearbook, also known as an annual, is a book to record, highlight, and commemorate the past year of a school or a book published annually as a report or summary of statistics or facts. Virtually all American, Canadian and Indian high schools, most colleges and many elementary and middle schools publish yearbooks.

This article deals primarily with high school yearbooks, although most colleges and elementary and middle schools follow a similar format.


U.S. yearbooks began about 1845 as memory books for high school graduating classes. Early examples were filled with essays, poetry, sentimental reflections on schooldays, on graduation, on prospects for the future, and on "life." As photography, cameras, and the engraving process for printing appeared in the 1880s, the yearbooks began to include individual and group portraits, as well as candid snapshots.

National organizations that had supported student newspaper journalism began to recognize the yearbook as a kindred medium and to give its staffs attention at their annual conferences and conventions.

In the 1940s and 1950s, offset lithography began to be used for printing yearbooks, bringing with it greatly increased use of photographs and significantly reduced printing costs. By this time a few colleges and universities offered courses in yearbook publishing, and national organizations such as the Columbia Scholastic Press Association had published textbooks on the subject.

By the 1970s, the formal yearbook classes had been replaced by numerous summer workshops, short courses, clinics, and conferences, usually covering student newspapers as well as yearbooks.[1]

The staff (editorial team)

Typically a yearbook's editorial team consists of a number of students. While in some parts of the world (including the United Kingdom), this may be an unstructured group with one or two members taking the lead, the roles are often more structured in the United States:

  • Editor-in-chief: This is usually a senior who is in charge of running the yearbook he/she has worked on the yearbook staff during their underclassmen years, and who over sees the book's layout. He/she has one or more assistants. Often, the editorial staff also promotes the sale of yearbooks to students, usually in September or October. Sometimes, multiple editors-in-chief exist in a given year. This is advantageous in that it spreads the difficulty and commitment of the job equally on a few people, but it can be problematic to have multiple people with executive decision-making power.
  • An adviser: Usually a journalism teacher or other member of the language arts department. The adviser helps the editor out by making changes and keeping the class running smoothly.
  • Section editors: They are in charge of a specific section of the yearbook and makes sure all the work is done properly. They also keep track of their sections to make sure that they are in by the deadline dates.
  • Photographers: In charge of taking pictures and editing images. This staff may also include an art editor, who designs the cover appropriate to the running theme; and places art (either his/her own creation or using Clip Art from a CD-ROM).
  • Sales manager: In charge of selling advertising to local businesses, and copies of the completed books to students. In some schools they call a sales manager a business manager, that person maintains all the money that the staff has earned by selling books, ads or fundraising. For private schools if they include a yearbook in the cost of tuition; then a sales manager is not necessary for this school.
  • Other staff: Usually underclassmen, who assist the editors with various duties and writing articles for the yearbook, but this can include upperclassmen.

Laying out the book


Layout is the appearance of the page, and includes the following elements:

  • The Headline: This is a theme, that ties the page into the story and draws attention to the reader.
  • The Story/Copy: Consists of several paragraphs, capturing the highlights of a specific department, sports season, organization, etc., from the past year. Often, yearbook staff members will either send out surveys/interview students, teachers and others for comments.
  • Photographs: Candid shots of students, suitable to the page's topic and theme. Often, editors seek to include a cross-section of the student body (e.g., classes, races, school involvement, etc.). Included with the photographs are one or more captions, which describe each picture; these often begin with a lead-in.
  • White space: The empty area between the other elements of the layout.

The idea is to have minimal white space and a uniform appearance to the pages. However, Yearbooking trends have started to drift towards having minimal trapped white space, white space with one or no exits off of page, but more free white space.

Tools of the trade

Internet Creation

Tools now exist on the internet to create all yearbooks possible, with easy web based creation of pages, collages, personal profiles, and recordings of specific event situations. These methods of creations allow for all yearbook users to access the creation of the yearbook which means that they can be put together in days rather than weeks


At many schools, students use a digital camera to take photographs and download selected photographs using a card reader. Other schools that still use 35-mm cameras often have a special negative scanner, which allows users to obtain more detail from a photograph than from a print.

Word processing

Copy is the main story on the layout, and is often typed and edited using a word processing program. The copy is then saved to a hard drive or disk and later imported onto the pages. It is also possible to insert copy straight into the pages themselves as they are being paginated.


In the past, most yearbooks were laid out by hand, with photographs physically cropped and placed on layout boards. The work was tedious, and required multiple deadlines and contact with a yearbook publisher.

Today, virtually all yearbooks are published using computers, which allows for shorter deadlines and easier editing. Some yearbook publishers have agreements with schools, whereby the staff sends photos and copy for layout by the publishing company; the layout is later sent to the school for final editing.

Students typically paginate, or lay out, pages using a computer program such as Adobe PageMaker, Adobe InDesign or Quark Xpress. Students are quickly able to size photographs and place copy, leaving minimal white space behind. Some yearbook companies provide their own computer programs for designing yearbooks. These programs are designed for easy navigation, copy/edit/paste functions, and more.


Most yearbooks have a similar format, which includes individual photographs of students; information on activities; sports; and other activities.

People (Seniors, Underclassmen, Faculty)

In the US, where a yearbook often covers the whole school and not just the final year, these sections are arranged in alphabetical order by class (freshman, sophomore, juniors and seniors). Usually each student will have an individual photo of them accompanied by their name and perhaps one or two lines of text. Senior photographs are usually larger than underclassmen's and are often accompanied by text about their accomplishments throughout high school, and their future plans (if known). Frequently, seniors are polled to nominate their classmates for "superlatives" or "class celebrities" (such as "most likely to succeed," "most athletic," "most spirited" and "class clown"), the results of which are often published in the senior section. Some private schools and smaller high schools set aside an entire page for each senior. These pages are sometimes designed by the seniors themselves, with each senior submitting a digital or physical version of the page he or she would like featured in the book.

In the UK and other markets, where yearbooks often only cover the final year group and not the entire school, each student may have more space for answers to various questions as well as their photo (or photos). In Year 11 (UK) members are usually grouped by form/class; whilst Year 13 tend not to be grouped in such a way, but instead just appear alphabetically throughout the book. Its common in these markets for each person to have between a quarter and a whole page each, depending on the budget available for the yearbook (as more pages means a higher cost). The editorial team chooses questions for members to answer (such as "Favourite teacher?" or "Where will you be in 5 years time?") and these answers appear alongside member photos. Online yearbook systems make collecting these photos and answers quicker and more fun, particularly where other yearbook members can 'suggest' answers to other people.

Student Life

Several pages are often used for pages chronicling activities undertaken by the final year (and in the case of the US market, the whole school), such as trips abroad, activity trips, sporting and other special events. These pages often consist of photo-journals displayed with or without captions.

Sometimes members of a yearbook write editorial and journalistic content about life as a student, current events (local, national and international) and other matters of interest to the peer group.

In books having pages in both color and black and white, the photo pages - collages and other groups of photos - tend to be the ones which run in color; the others run in black and white, reducing the publishing costs (and overall purchase price) per book.


Talks about the classes, projects, and more educational aspects of the school year.


There is often a section devoted to academic honors and other distinctions. These consist of honors won by students as students--in science, mathematics, English or other subjects, or on citizenship qualities displayed by contributions to the school or community. Sometimes the section also covers various beauties, princesses, and winners of popularity contests.[1]


Describes student clubs, organizations, groups, publications, and what they do. In colleges and universities that have fraternities and sororities, each of these is typically given a page of its own.


Often listed by season or club, these pages chronicle the accomplishments of the school's teams. Along with a short article listing the season's highlights, these pages include team photographs, action pictures and a listing of scores from that season.

A good US high school yearbook includes pages for all levels – varsity, junior varsity, sophomore and freshman teams – of each sport. Outstanding accomplishments are often included in the front section of the yearbook, in addition to their usual page.

Memorial page

Often, many students must deal with the deaths of one or more classmates, or a teacher(s) for whatever reason – illness, car accident, crime victim, suicide, etc. – during their high school years. Should that happen, these pages are set aside to acknowledge the death(s) and eulogize the deceased. This page usually includes a picture of the student or teacher, along with his/her life dates, candid pictures of the deceased from happier times, a brief article explaining the loss and perhaps an inspirational verse or poem written by a close friend. This page can also include memories from teachers, friends, and or family.


Advertising is a well-established part of the student yearbook, having been used since early times as the major source of income next to sales of the book itself. The ads typically appear in the back of the book, and are usually sold by assigned members of the yearbook's business staff. Occasionally school officials will object to students selling ads, or to the inclusion of advertising in the yearbook.[1]

In recent years, schools have sold advertisements for seniors. Parents, other family members and friends use these ads to congratulate a senior — or group of seniors — for their accomplishments. Publishing companies have partnered with specialized vendors to offer parents and students the opportunity to place such dedications without creating any additional labor for the schools. These "ads" are typically sold as a fundraiser for the schools. By using an outside vendor, schools create an additional source for revenue besides book sales, they improve the quality of their books with professional looking dedications, and build their yearbook program with minimal effort on their part.


Self explanatory; an alphabetical listing of everyone included in the yearbook, along with the pages they may be found on. Usually, an editor keeps a master list of who is included on each page, to ensure accuracy. The index is not always included in high school yearbooks, as it can be extremely time consuming to put one together. Sometimes, the index is used by students trying to compete with their peers by being in the yearbook more than others. For some reason, all school officials encourage the placement of an index in the school yearbook.

Colophon or dedication

Typically the last page of the book. The colophon lists staff members and acknowledges everyone's hard work. Often, this page includes a brief statement from the editor or adviser. Additionally, the colophon will include technical information pertaining to the yearbook such as publisher, total number of pages and paper weight.

In some schools, this page will also serve as a dedication page, usually to a retiring long-time faculty member, a prominent school supporter or the senior class. Sometimes, the dedication will be included in the beginning of the yearbook.

Publishers & publishing process

US market

Yearbook publishing has become increasingly competitive. Many small niche companies publish yearbooks as well. In most cases, the yearbook companies send representatives to work with the adviser and staff at each school to assist in the creation of the yearbook.

Yearbook companies typically require that groups of pages be sent periodically, rather than all at once, to the plant. This is done to stagger the work required to complete yearbooks for all the schools they cover. Most companies now offer internet-based programs for the creation of Yearbooks. These websites allow the students to upload and categorize photographs, create pages, submit completed pages, and in some cases view proofs immediately. While this method is much more convenient for both student and publisher, some complain that the limited toolsets constrain creativity and do not offer enough layout flexibility. Accordingly, the use of software programs like Adobe InDesign and Quark is still relatively common, both for creative freedom and to give students "real world" experience.

After the editors review each page and make changes, the pages are sent to the yearbook plant – either mailed on a CD-ROM or Zip drive or sent via the internet.

If the proofing process is not performed on-line, the adviser and editors receive proofs (typically full size prints) about a week or so after the submission of pages. This gives the school a final opportunity to make adjustments or changes. After all the proofs have been returned to the publisher the requested corrections are made, the books are printed, bound, and then sent to the school for distribution.

A new generation of yearbook publisher is also available that can work with the school to produce the yearbook by also providing designers and production specialists to actually lay out the entire book. These are digital micropublishers that specialize in providing yearbooks for schools that do not have their own yearbook staffs. Some companies provide comprehensive, end-to-end yearbook publishing services for schools that historically have never had a yearbook or a yearbook advisor to help put together their own programs.


The main purpose of the high school or college yearbook is to provide a full, clear record of the year at the school, and to make that record available to members of the class and others. The commonest method of making it available is by selling copies directly, a task often accomplished by the yearbook's business staff. Sometimes, especially in colleges and universities, the book is paid for out of student activity fees. Sometimes it is directly subsidized by the school.[1]

Often, yearbooks are distributed at the end of a school year to allow members to obtain the books and signatures/personal messages from classmates. In the US, those that distribute at this time often publish a supplemental insert with photographs from spring sports and milestone events (such as prom and graduation), as well as other important events. Many schools at which yearbooks are distributed at or before the end of a school year have a tradition of having students sign and leave notes on each others yearbooks.

Some schools distribute yearbooks later – such as at Homecoming (US) or another designated time in order to include year-end activities. In some cases, yearbooks are mailed to the parents' homes of graduated seniors. Clearly however, this increases the cost per book.

Other schools

Most colleges that publish yearbooks follow a similar format as high schools. However, most only publish photographs of seniors, and some may include detailed recaps of football and basketball games. Many college yearbooks are considered a work of journalism rather than a simple record of facts. The Associated Collegiate Press holds the annual Pacemaker competition for college yearbooks as well as other collegiate media outlets. To win the award is often considered to be the collegiate equivalent to winning a Pulitzer Prize.

Elementary and middle schools often have a designated staff member who is in charge of putting together that school's yearbook. Students may or may not be involved with contributing to the book. These books are usually considerably smaller than a high school or college yearbook, and are seldom hardcover.

U.S. Military

Warships of the United States Navy often produce a yearbook style publication upon completion of a long deployment (typically six months or more). These books, referred to by sailors as "cruise books" are produced on board by the ship's Morale, Welfare and Recreation department and Public Affairs staff, and then printed ashore by the same printing companies that publish high school and college yearbooks. The cruise book of a Nimitz Class aircraft carrier typically reaches over 600 pages in length, as it includes portraits of the more than 5000 sailors and Marines assigned to the ship's company and embarked carrier air wing.

The Navy's Recruit Training Center in Great Lakes, Illinois (U.S. state) also produces yearbook style publications for each graduating division of recruits. These publications are much smaller, as each recruit division totals roughly 80 sailors. The book is called "The Keel" after the part of a ship that is constructed first, as RTC or boot camp sets the foundation for the sailor's career. These books contain a color section common to all books published that year, with a specific black and white section added for each recruit division and their "brother" or "sister" division.

Around The World


Yearbooks published by Australian schools follow a slightly different structure to their North American counterparts. Australian yearbooks function as an annual magazine for the school body, with a significant focus on objectively reporting the events that occurred during the schooling year. There is less emphasis on discussion of student life, and the creation process involves minimal student involvement. Yearbook staff predominantly consist of only one or two school teachers who serve as editors in chief.

Australian school yearbooks are predominantly created in A4 format, featuring a softcover style front-and-back cover, typically 250 or 300 gms in thickness. Hardcover style yearbooks are rare to find, and it is a phenomenon yet to pick up in the country due to cost reasons.

To substitute for the lack of student life coverage in school yearbooks, many senior students in Australian schools publish a separate Year 12 yearbook. The Year 12 yearbook typically provides up close and personal coverage of student personalities through profile questions, a large number of personal and group photos and collages, quotes, awards, and humorous light-hearted entertainment. There is rarely coverage of academic, sport and school related matters as these topics are considered in the school yearbook.

Year 12 yearbooks are created almost entirely by school students with a school staff member, typically the grade's year advisor, providing guidance and supervision. School administration are often cautious about Year 12 yearbook publications, as they represent a legal and reputational risk to the school. There have been media-reported incidents where inappropriately published materials have caused major embarrassment to schools.


Australian school yearbooks are primarily published with offset printing technology, with a mix of colour, spot colour, and black and white pages, depending on the school's budget. In the past, Year 12 yearbooks were simply printed using a photocopier, but Australian yearbook publishers have improved the quality of these publications by providing low cost digital printing solutions.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Patterson, N.S. Yearbook Planning, Editing, and Production. 1976. Ames, Iowa: The Iowa State University Press. ISBN 0-8138-1805-2