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In the scope of the first weeks of a postdoctoral position in a company where one has the task to read a thesis manuscript written in this same company, suppose that one finds typographical mistakes (punctuation, grammar and so on). Is it worth it to contact (by email for instance) the thesis manuscript author and/or the professors that supervised the thesis?

Also, the manuscript is already published online, 2 years ago and one of the professor that supervised the thesis was in the Jury of my thesis, just before the postdoc.

Currently, I have only found "language" typos, but what if I found mathematical/logical mistakes, or typos within the equations? Does the answer remain the same?

Maybe this is pointless to tell them because it is already published online anyway?

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  • This person has already graduated?
    – user176372
    Commented Nov 28, 2023 at 16:19
  • @user176372, yes he did and the manuscript is available online. My PhD supervisor was part of his thesis Jury.
    – JKHA
    Commented Nov 28, 2023 at 16:20
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    What sort of ‘company’? Are you talking about a publisher, so you’re editing/proofreading the manuscript for publication? If so, then the author definitely needs to be told, yes. Commented Nov 29, 2023 at 9:16
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    What would you gain from doing this? What would you expect the student or supervisor to do in response?
    – N. Virgo
    Commented Nov 29, 2023 at 12:45
  • What is your understanding of 'worth telling' in this situation? 'Worth' is a value to whom? Commented Nov 30, 2023 at 2:01

3 Answers 3

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Personally, I wouldn't contact any of the authors about typos and grammar. In most cases (talking from an engineering background), unless those mistakes impact the readability or how easy it is to understand, they don't matter. Don't get me wrong, when one submits any manuscript, they should make as few mistakes as possible and use grammar/spell checkers or other means.

If it was published or accepted, the quality is sufficient to understand it.

If you find a mistake in equations, assumptions, or methods, then you should:

  • make sure that you haven't misunderstood anything
  • contact the authors as this is important to get right.

I had a co-PhD student (back in the day), who noticed a major error in an equation within a journal paper. He wrote a paper fixing the error and results. The original authors tried to contest this and it was a big issue in the end. So, if you find a mistake in a publication that impacts the thesis/result. Contact the author first and do a joint publication correcting it.

But common/obvious typos or grammar mistakes are usually not worth it.

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Since the person has graduated: No, it's not worth contacting them. The author is likely aware of their work's strengths and weaknesses. My thesis, f.ex., is one I wouldn't direct anyone to read. It's not bad, but the subsequent papers are significantly higher quality. Unless you think these typos are substantially degrading the transmission of important knowledge that affects you, it's simply not your problem to provide unsolicited advice on.

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While it is fine to contact the author about such things, I'd suggest it is improper to write to their supervisor or others about it.

Punctuation and language usage errors are less serious than are errors in the content of the work. The latter may need correction, especially if they affect results.

If an author isn't a native speaker of the language of the thesis, such things are likely to occur and may not be caught in editing. But, informing authors, providing corrections, is fine. Sometimes errata can be published.

But informing third parties, including former supervisors, seems improper to me.

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    Please note that not only “native speakers” can be good at a language and that being a “native speaker” does not prevent one from making mistakes… :)
    – user126108
    Commented Nov 28, 2023 at 17:55
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    @leonos, yes, of course, and it is difficult to notice one's own errors.
    – Buffy
    Commented Nov 28, 2023 at 17:56
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    @leonos indeed. Several of my PhD colleagues in the UK were German. They were generally very good at spotting sloppy use of language by us native speakers, especially the sort of thing that's acceptable in informal speech, but out of place in academic writing.
    – Chris H
    Commented Nov 29, 2023 at 13:48
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    @terdon it was a former colleague who pointed out the off-by-one error in the code in my thesis. It cancelled out in the way I used it then, but not in every use case (including, funnily enough, some data processing for which I've just picked it up). That was worth it!
    – Chris H
    Commented Nov 29, 2023 at 13:51
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    I often read text in Spanish and note sloppy mistakes without being a native speaker.
    – Tom
    Commented Nov 29, 2023 at 18:06

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