22

There is a professor at our school whose textbook I was using in class A (not taught by the professor). I've studied the textbook from cover to cover and have spotted about twenty typos (many of which are quite serious, e.g. make an exercise unsolvable). I wanted to TeX them into a list and send it to the professor yet the following two aspects concern me:

  • I'm currently enrolled in his class B (not the book's subject). It's a rather small class and he knows me by name. Wouldn't it look as if I'm trying to improve my standing in his class by submitting the list?

  • It's known to me that the professor is aware about some typos (since he commented on a couple of them while teaching from the book two years ago). Yet for some puzzling reason there is no errata list on his website. It gives me an impression that he might be somewhat unhappy to see the extended list of typos.

The professor is working in the field I'm interested in, so I'd definitely like to make a good impression (and more importantly not to make a bad one). So is there a way that sending the list could harm me?

  • 23
    Yet for some puzzling reason there is no errata list on his website. - The "puzzling reason" is almost certainly that he hasn't been able to make time to do this. – ff524 Nov 4 '14 at 2:33
  • 5
    If your expectation and desire is that your errata should end up on a web site, maybe TeX isn't an ideal format for submitting them. – tripleee Nov 4 '14 at 4:14
  • 7
    @tripleee: it's kind of funny that you post that on an SE site, where we use TeX in every single math.SE post. Besides the fact that an errata list would likely be posted as a pdf, making TeX very appropriate. – Martin Argerami Nov 4 '14 at 8:59
  • 1
    It once happened to me. The teacher gave to us, the students, a draft on a book he was writing on the subject. It was very useful to follow the lessons and he even asked us to show him the typos we would find. – fedorqui Nov 4 '14 at 9:58
  • 2
    If your professor is Donald Knuth, you should definitely report errata to him. – David Nov 4 '14 at 11:58
36

Unless the professor is a total jerk, I don't see any way this could hurt. My experience has been that academics in general are quite happy to hear from people who are interested enough in their work to offer corrections. (This has been the case even with authors who, for whatever reason, don't post errata.)

I wouldn't worry about being seen as kissing up. But if you are concerned you could always wait to send it until after the end of the term.

Before sending it, you may want to casually mention: "I've been reading your book which I really like. I did notice a few typos though. Is there an errata list posted somewhere? If not, I could make a list of the ones I found and send them to you."

If there is any chance that a given typo is not really an error, but something you have misunderstood, you can be more delicate by phrasing it as a question. Instead of "On page 34 you forgot to require that X is compact" you could say "Are you sure the argument on page 34 works without assuming that X is compact? Isn't the punctured plane a counterexample?"

15

Yes, if your professor is a decent human being and good at his/her job, you should definitely do so – though it's nicest to ask “Would you like me to send you any corrections I find?” first, rather than baldly pointing out the mistake. It's also much easier for the professor if you accumulate them yourself and give a detailed, consolidated list rather than mention them at random times during the class. Unless the typo might hinder the class's understanding at a particular point in the class, it's also probably best to mention it privately (and let the teacher mention it as he/she feels appropriate).

I had one professor in particular who would give a tiny amount of extra credit to those who spotted typos – enough to add up if one was quite helpful! Another professor gave me a printed copy of the new edition of lecture notes after I had gone through it and pointed out a substantial number of potential improvements.

Academicians, perhaps more so than others, have an interest in making sure that their printed materials are as good as they can be. As long as you are friendly and non-confrontational in pointing out typos, they should appreciate the opportunity of making these materials better while saving time.

  • ... baldly pointing out a mistake? Is that a typo? Can I give you an errata list? – Mehrdad Nov 4 '14 at 7:26
  • 9
    "Baldly" is an appropriate word choice here. It means "in a very direct and blunt manner" – Dancrumb Nov 4 '14 at 13:11
  • @Dancrumb I think that's "boldly"? – Stephen Kennedy Nov 4 '14 at 14:07
  • 7
    They're close. "Boldly" speaks to the OP's courage. "Baldly" speaks to the OP's approach. It's like "the bald truth": unvarnished, not sugar coated, without preamble. – Dancrumb Nov 4 '14 at 14:17
11

In my experience, most textbook authors are happy to receive errata reports. I've sent many off over the years, and as a textbook author I'm happy to receive them. However, many of the reports of errata that I receive as an author are actually cases where the reader has a fundamental misunderstanding of the material.

So, when you submit your corrections to the author, please be polite and friendly about it, and be prepared to find out in some cases that the book is right and that you've misunderstood something.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.