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One of my profs in college has (after years of students asking him to do so) put forth a syllabus with all the material for the class he is teaching.

With the help of 3 students from previous years (who did most of the writing), he made a neat 90 page syllabus covering what is taught during lectures.

My year is the first year that'll benefit from this as it was finished early September 2017 (currently in October 2017). However, as is to be expected, some typos still exist, and some little mistakes in formulas do too. I read through it and compiled a Word doc containing all the typos and mistakes I could find and was wondering if it would be badly received if I sent him an email with those. He has asked his students to tell him if they found mistakes, so I know I should probably let him know about those, but I'm not sure as to whether fixing typos will be seen as arrogant or even remotely relevant, since I'm probably the only one getting triggered by them because of my OCD.

Thanks !

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    Just FYI, I wouldn't usually call this a "syllabus" in the U.S. I would describe this as comprehensive lecture notes or a lecture guide. – Dawn Oct 27 '17 at 15:46
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    I have less than 90 pages of typed notes/instructions/examples and I offer a bonus point or two to any student that finds an error of any type - typo, actual error, dead link, etc - in the content. Granted, a couple of points really doesn't change a final grade (unless it was so close that I would round up anyway) but it does give some motivation to report errors instead of ignoring... – ivanivan Oct 27 '17 at 18:56
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    Please don't send an MS Word document. Send plain text or a PDF. – UTF-8 Oct 27 '17 at 22:56
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    @UTF-8 I'll edit it in LaTeX ;) – Peiffap Oct 27 '17 at 23:18
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    @Peiffap: You can simply export the MS Word document to PDF. No need to duplicate the work done. – user21820 Oct 28 '17 at 2:17
49

I can only speak for myself, and I'm just a postdoc.

I would be indifferent if someone pointed out one or two typos; on the one hand that's helpful, on the other a bit pedantic.

However, if I received a "Word doc containing all the typos and mistakes [you] could find" in a 90 page document, I would be delighted and grateful.

As an aside, I'm currently working through a textbook to brush up my statistics skills. I'm trying to collect the mistakes that I stumble upon in order to send them to the author once I've finished the book, so he can correct them in the next edition.

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    Thanks, I know it might sound pedantic but given that he asked for it I think I'm gonna go for it. – Peiffap Oct 27 '17 at 15:18
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    @Peiffap I would only consider it pedantic to point out one or two typos, but having a 90 page document proofread is really nice. – henning -- reinstate Monica Oct 27 '17 at 15:19
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    I do not know any professor who would think "How pedantic!" when a student points out even a single typo by email. We all want our material to be flawless while spending as little effort as possible. – HRSE Oct 28 '17 at 6:11
24

If you did this unsolicited, it might possibly be poorly received (though even then most people would be grateful, as long as you approached the issue in a polite manner).

However, given that the professor actually asked for this, I don't think you need to worry at all. You have done a great service, really.

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    I can't see how anyone would poorly receive unsolicited feedback of this kind. Everyone takes pride in their writings, and I can't imagine anyone who is not thankful for getting help in improving things. – Wolfgang Bangerth Oct 27 '17 at 16:08
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    @WolfgangBangerth that ought to be true, but in reality some people respond very poorly to criticism (or perceived criticism). – user24098 Oct 27 '17 at 16:18
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    Oh, people :-( If so, then that's their loss. But I don't think stupid people should stop you from doing what's right and what should be perceived as a positive! – Wolfgang Bangerth Oct 27 '17 at 19:31
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    @WolfgangBangerth I completely agree... And "don't let stupid people stop you from doing what's right" would make a pretty good life motto... – user24098 Oct 27 '17 at 19:55
19

I cannot speak for all professors, of course, but I'm my case I'd be delighted and I'm fairly sure that such would be the reaction of most professors.

Over the last two years I have circulated some lecture notes among my students and a few other persons, and I'm really frustrated by the lack of feedback on typos (or anything else, for that matter).

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10

I would take to them in private and, if they don't know about your ocd let it come up during the conversation as you explain why you made the effort - they are sure to ask...

I spent a whole weekend once doing a massive differentiation based proof to see the result was as stated ( you've seen those in maths / engineering where it says : it can be shown that xyz from abc). Well the proof as shown was incorrect so after doing it several times and getting it checked I took it to the Prof and said I thought I was making an error and could he check it.

Next lecture I nearly fell of my chair when he started with "the proof you were given last week has an error in it, been like that for 5 years, anyway the correct proof is now available thanks to" and gave my name... Not asked for, not expected but a real surprise as he had not warned me either...

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  • Wow that's really cool. I'm quite shy though so I don't know if I'd survive that during class... – Peiffap Oct 27 '17 at 23:20
7

Yes, you should send the errata. (But, as others said, use a format that the authors can definitely read without going extra steps. PDF or text, for example; not docx.)

I have been recording errors in notes, books, papers and even forum posts since forever (I tend to read things very thoroughly, sentence by sentence, as my mind is otherwise tempted to skip the actually important parts and dwell on the easy bits; the list of errata comes out of this rather naturally). Most of the time, as long as I've discovered any mathematical errors (as opposed to just typos), I've notified the authors, and the notification has been either received positively (authors thank and often correct the errors) or ignored (i.e., no reply). In my experience, it gets ignored the more often the older the work in question is; after all a paper you have written 15 years ago could just as well be a paper by a different author to you. But if the work is recent or even currently in class use, then the authors are likely to be thankful and highly responsive. (Out of maybe fifty authors I've contacted, only 1-2 have been defensive, and one of these two was outside of academia.)

Mathematics isn't quite like open-source software where bug reports and community patches are actively encouraged, but it's getting closer (unsurprisingly, given the noticeable social overlap). That said, as an algebraic combinatorialist I am probably closer to computer science than the average mathematician.

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    "as opposed to just typos" Typos should be reported too. They're errors. – Faheem Mitha Oct 28 '17 at 12:00
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As a professor I always welcome suggestions for improvement like these, as long as they are presented politely and respectfully.

If your professor has already made the effort to write down and publish his class notes then your should expect him to welcome whatever helps him improve the material. This is real work and any help is welcome (after writing, rewriting, reading and re-reading, it becomes harder and harder to pick up your own errors).

In addition, I would like to suggest that academia is a place where you should be more concerned about truth (and therefore quality of class notes) than personal feelings, be it of professors or of students. What matters is that the quality of education keeps improving and you can help make that happen.

Having an OCD student willing to do that work for you is a godsent for a professor, so go ahead and expect him to thank you for it!

(of course if he reacts negatively just let it go: that would only reveal a flaw in character...)

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    Thanks, the part about truth being more important than personal feelings makes sense, and it's a point of view none of the other answers have raised. – Peiffap Nov 4 '17 at 11:16
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You need to stay firm , send him the doc state that's it's unaceptable for a university profesor have typos in any text he sends his students and offer to corect/mantain the document in exchange for creds

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  • 2
    I would have some typos to point out for you. – henning -- reinstate Monica Oct 30 '17 at 13:52
  • You should probably also expand the answer somewhat – Joe_74 Oct 30 '17 at 13:59

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