I was about to copy out my notes about the structural development of the Doctrine and Covenants from a lecture given by Bruce Woolley at BYU Education Week, when I discovered that Duane Crowther has put the same information online. That saves me a lot of work! Thanks, Brother Crowther!
Here is the link: Structural Development of the Doctrine and Covenants
In addition, please also see Robert J. Woodford, "How the Revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants Were Compiled", Ensign, Jan. 1985.
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE DOCTRINE AND COVENANTS
My dear old friend, Sadie Sproles, joined the Church many years ago while living on the East Coast. The missionaries told her that Joseph Smith asked questions and the Lord gave him the answers, he wrote them down, and that is the Doctrine and Covenants. She immediately said, "I want that book!" They gave her a copy and she received a testimony of the truthfulness of the restored Church through reading the Doctrine and Covenants. "You're not supposed to get your testimony from the Doctrine and Covenants!" she says. "You're supposed to get it from the Book of Mormon!" But that's where she got hers.
President Benson said, "The Book of Mormon brings men to Christ. The Doctrine and Covenants brings men to Christ's kingdom." (April 1987 General Conference, quoted by Steven E. Snow, "Treasuring the Doctrine and Covenants", Ensign, Jan. 2009) President Gordon B. Hinckley called it, "The constitution of the Church." (ibid.)
THE HISTORY OF THE DOCTRINE AND COVENANTS
Okay, never mind; I can't resist printing up my notes from Bruce Woolley's lecture after all. Everything following comes from his lecture at BYU Education Week, given August 18, 2005.
Sections 20 and 22 of the D & C were called "Articles and Covenants" and were sustained as scripture at the first general conference of the Church, June 9, 1830. They were read at the start of every general conference through Joseph Smith's and Brigham Young's tenures as presidents. In July of 1830, Joseph Smith wrote down previously received revelations
Brother Woolley says there are two characteristics of Latter-day Saints: 1) We're packrats (think food storage), and 2) we all have to have our own copy of everything. The faithful early saints wanted their own copies of the revelations. Oliver Cowdery handcopied them for himself. Then David Whitmer did as well. Others followed. They called this the Kirtland Revelation Book.
BOOK OF COMMANDMENTS (1831)
Finally a special conference was held in which to decide whether the revelations should be printed and published at Hiram, Ohio, November 1, 1831. There were 12 members in attendance, the most well-educated church members (excepting Joseph Smith who was uneducated). There were four more revelations received during those three days. The consensus of the conference was that the revelations should not be published as making them too freely available would be "casting pearls before swine." But Joseph Smith was for publication, and his opinion was ratified by a revelation which is one of seventy revelations published in the History of the Church and not in the Doctrine and Covenants.
The decision was made to publish 10,000 copies initially. (5,000 copies were printed of the first edition of the Book of Mormon.) Olivery Cowderey, Sidney Rigdon, and William E. McLellin were assigned to write a preface for the revelations during a recess in the conference. They were stymied and finally asked Joseph Smith to pray for help. The preface was then revealed to Joseph Smith, the first revelation to be dictated as it was received, and thus we have the only book in the history of the world whose preface was written by God Himself, now Section 1 of the Doctrine and Covenants.
Section 67 (the third revelation received at this conference) was given after the brethren were still balking at publishing the revelations because they thought the wording of them simplistic and unsophisticated. It was then that Joseph Smith issued the challenge to the most educated, William McLellin, to write a prophecy which 1) came from the Lord, and 2) was new doctrine never before received on the earth. Of course, we know the story: Brother McLellin could not come up with a thing, and acknowledged that revelations received through the prophet were best as they were.
You can see that in the original handwritten manuscript which W.W. Phelps was using, that final word "Ephraim" had been circled--the point at which he had stopped for the day. (Herald House includes a facsimile of this page in their replica book.)