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I am working on a website that contains a list of free courses. My aim is to promote our field (semidefinite programming).

Each course consists of a number of articles. Each article is built using different resources (books, posts, talks). Those resources are listed in each article.

I strongly believe that participation could improve the work. For each article, I want to send emails to the professors whose works were used and ask them to give a read the article, check and suggest small improvements if necessary. I will not ask them to write. The participation could be done by mail, github or comments on the website. I will also keep a list of all the participants as a reward to every person who agreed to help (I am trying to find another way to be grateful to participation but).

However, I don't want to feel spammy. Any suggestions on doing that in a good way?

PS: my work is not sponsored by any organization.

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    Will your website have a university (or other recognized organization) as sponsor of your site? – Buffy Sep 16 at 14:22
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    @Buffy no it's not sponsored by any organization. It's an independent work. – Best_fit Sep 16 at 14:22
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    @Buffy Unfortunately, as far as I know there is no such a list. I was thinking to reaching them by mails one by one with a personalized email, no copy-paste. – Best_fit Sep 16 at 14:23
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    'My aim is to promote our field' Promote it to whom? e.g. to research funding bodies, to potential students, to potential end users of research results? Once you know your target audience, you can perhaps focus on finding professors who have already showed an interest in promoting the field to that audience; or maybe even find a sponsoring organization that has showed such an interest. – Daniel Hatton Sep 16 at 16:35
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    So, you're planning on creating derivative work based off of researcher's copyrighted research, then asking them to review and authorize it after the fact? – nick012000 Sep 17 at 4:10
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I will try to be honest. If I received an email from a random person with whom I had never interacted before, asking me to do work for free, without any recognizable institution/organization/group/... behind that person, then I would consider spam, no matter how well the email was formulated. Sorry.

Getting your name on a random website is not enough of a "reward". You have to convince people that investing time in your project is valuable to themselves and/or the community at large, not just that it "could improve [your] work". You also have to convince them that they are not going to sink time in a project that is eventually going to be wasted because it will never gain traction and it is managed by a one-person team that will eventually have other things on their mind.

Think about it this way: you are essentially asking people to conduct a kind of peer review. I would never accept to review papers for a journal run by a single person with no institutional support. This would simply be pointless: a paper published in such a journal has essentially no value, and my effort is almost certainly going to be wasted once the journal inevitably disappears.

I do not think you can "bootstrap" this kind of group project by contacting random unknown people. Start with your colleagues, your peers, your contacts, etc, insist on the importance of outreach once the project starts to take shape, and then let the network expand on its own. If it works then great, if it doesn't then you just had a nice idea but with no audience.

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If you're planning on making this a commercial site with pay-for-access or ads in the future, I wouldn't do this.

You might turn this around. Make the website and articles as good as possible, copy-edited for spelling and grammar, great layout, no broken links, etc.

Send an email to the resource authors just letting them know about the website as a resource for their students. Don't ask for any reviews or participation. If you send the email to multiple people at once, make sure you bcc them, not use the To: line. You might get a response if only from students who have looked at it. However, you also need to be ready to remove links to resources if someone objects.

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  • Didn't understand the last sentence: why would there be an issue in just linking to the resource? – GoodDeeds Sep 16 at 18:06
  • If the site is commercial or plans to be commercial or the author doesn't feel the other content is good or...It's unlikely, but something to be aware of. – mkennedy Sep 16 at 18:08
  • No the website is not commercial, further, it's open source, meaning, anyone could make a clone of it , edit it and host it on his own website if he wants to. I am wondering though how to get the emails of the students. – Best_fit Sep 16 at 18:26
  • Ooh, careful with how "open source" you make it; you clearly mean well but you don't want a dozen copycat sites selling clicks by cloning your content (and the work of the people you diligently based it on). – alexis Sep 17 at 21:03
  • You would only get emails if they looked at the site and had a comment for you. So you don't email students directly, you email the paper authors and suggest they recommend to their students. – mkennedy Sep 17 at 23:16
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The answer is: if you want stuff reviewed, you have to pay for it. Not in terms of money, but in terms of reputation or visibility. Reviewing can be amongst the most dull tasks in a scientist's life, so without a clear frame to do this, it is not something that people will be willing to carry out.

What you aim for may be probably best viewed in the context of free software development. There are core developers and then further contributors, and finally bug reporters.

So, if you create a useful website with a well-curated collection of resources, people may want to contribute and with time to start suggesting improvements. But you have to do the mid-term upfront investment of creating value before hoping for people to join in the effort (if that will at all happen, it may just fizzle out).

Alternatively, a well-regarded expert in the field could chair a relevant conference or workshop, invite the top people in the area, and kickstart a web resource which you may offer to organize. It is not you that would then be the head of this undertaking, but rather the top people in the field. You then would have only a marginal role in the matter. Whether you would want to take such a path, is for you to decide.

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The Professor will usually become happy and encourage the work of student, if kept informed about the work before it gets published.

However, if a Professor is approached for feedback on an already published article that is based on the Professor's work, then the same enthusiasm or encouragement may not be guaranteed.

The easiest way to get blessings and encouragement from a Professor is through in-person communication / phone / formal letter well before the article is published.

The Professor must also be given enough time (one or two weeks) to review the article and suggest minor changes to wording or quotations.


Keeping the Professor informed and allocating sufficient time for review will result in maximum encouragement.

Approaching the Professor after the article is published, or not allocating sufficient time for review will result in minimum encouragement.

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    The question isn't about a publication. – henning -- reinstate Monica Sep 16 at 15:28
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    'Publication' refers to website / online article also. – Gopinath Sep 16 at 15:35
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    Thank you it already helps =) – Best_fit Sep 16 at 16:49
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    This is very naive. Most professors (95+%) have no time to waste reviewing stuff that will go on a random website. – ZeroTheHero Sep 17 at 20:29

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