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In one of my undergraduate courses, I found that one of the required texts was particularly well-written. It is a textbook about computer architecture, and I found that it explained intricate technical concepts in understandable language, and it managed to exemplify and summarize often difficult concepts quite nicely.

Just so it happens, this textbook was written by someone currently in our Computer Science department (not my professor). Would it be well-received, or at least appropriate, if I sent an email to the author to compliment his textbook? I have no ulterior motive; I'm not trying to win his favor or anything like that, I just simply want to express my gratitude for a resource that was useful to my learning.

(A similar question has already been answered, but I am curious if the answer would still be the same for a textbook.)

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    I've emailed an author to compliment his textbook before, but I didn't cold email, it came up in the conversation at a later stage. However, if you're polite, I don't see why anyone would be annoyed by such an email. – astronat Dec 6 '16 at 22:26
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    In general, I find that people do not praise enough. We take the good things for granted (and loudly complain on the not-so-good ones) and it is always kind to simply say, unsolicited, "great work". – WoJ Dec 7 '16 at 10:31
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    In addition to a nice "thank you" email, you should write a glowing review online - perhaps at Amazon - to help the author in a more tangible way. – James Dec 7 '16 at 12:23
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I would think you don't even need to go into much detail: just the fact that you have found the author's work sufficiently helpful that you want to express thanks... will be enough, I think.

That is, ... perhaps contrary to the fake myth that textbook and course-notes writers have large, expressive fan clubs... mostly one feels that one is speaking to the void, with no response. (Nowadays even to keep track of IP addresses of hits on one's site seems to require an extra load of various things equivalent to "Google Analytics", which slow things down enormously, so are not usabe... I remember the relatively-better-old days when I could see the IP addresses of people who hit my web pages...)

I myself do make a point of communicating to people whose writing is especially good, at all levels, especially if it's not "heroic, prize-winning" glamor stuff, but is simply very, very good.

We, collectively, should do more of this, I think.

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    "the fake myth that textbook and course-notes writers have large, expressive fan clubs" :D Maybe like five people have these sorts of fan clubs, and even those fan clubs aren't very expressive in general. +1 – Wildcard Dec 7 '16 at 5:13
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    This answer needs even more ellipses... – Gallifreyan Dec 7 '16 at 5:35
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    "fake myth". Isn't a myth false by definition? :-) – Faheem Mitha Dec 7 '16 at 9:29
  • @FaheemMitha, perhaps some mythologies are more genuine, insofar as they might reflect some aspects of reality...? – paul garrett Dec 7 '16 at 14:32
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    In other (more on-topic) news, I'd personally be happy if some readers would comment on whatever notes of mine they are reading, though I definitely wouldn't expect it. Some actual data (corrections, criticism, what they want to see more of) would be particularly good, though. Part of what makes writing a pain is that even when there is an audience, you have no idea what it actually wants. – darij grinberg Dec 7 '16 at 19:08
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Sure. Writing a book is a huge amount of work, and everyone likes to hear that their work has been useful to someone. If anything, this is probably more true for books than for papers, since books are typically less useful for career advancement, and are often written with more altruistic motives.

Just be sincere; don't fawn or go over the top. If there are specific aspects of the book that were helpful, mention them specifically. If you have suggestions for improvement, it's fine to mention them too.

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The biggest way to thank someone who writes books is to write positive detailed reviews. They will see the review and feel appreciated. You can always send a link to the author after posting the review.

  • Well said! A review is a public form of thanks, and as such, a lot more valuable to an author than a private email. – Dan Romik Dec 8 '16 at 2:06
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Where a textbook differs from a paper is that it is by definition a compilation of work (of others) and generally doesn't contain original research. Therefore, you are right to think about approaching this differently from complimenting a paper.

While it doesn't happen often (and really should happen more often) complimenting or thanking anyone for any kind of effort is a positive thing. You should keep in mind, though, what work actually went into the production of this work. In case of a textbook the majority of the work goes into the selection and parsing of materials to cover which is an entirely separate skillset from research, which you may have corresponded about in the past - and is in fact closer to designing a course on the subject. Therefore, you should slant your praise accordingly.

That said, there are really no 'wrong' ways to do this.

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Definitely, I imagine that writing textbooks is a bit of a thankless task and I'm quite sure that a letter of thanks would be greatly appreciated.

It is certainly hard to see how this could be seen as a bad thing and if you can be specific about what you found especially good the chances are that it will be useful feedback.

In terms of more general etiquette it can also be a good thing to give some sort of 'hook' which will help them to write a polite reply without appearing to demand one as responding to compliments can often be quite difficult.

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I did exactly that once. I thought the author of a book for undergraduate analysis made a great job compared to many other books I used to prepare my analysis exam. I wrote him that with a little motivation on what I particularly enjoyed. He replied with a brief email saying he appreciated the comment and wishing me the best. As suggested by others today I'd couple that with a review on some online marketplace. As he's in your department bonus karma if you also do this anonymously (also to avoid that you might be interpreted as trying to win his favor, unlikely but you never know and in the end shouldn't matter to you)

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