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It’s a lot of pressure to write a book!

Regression and Other Stories is almost done, and I was spending a couple hours going through it starting from page 1, cleaning up imprecise phrasings and confusing points. . . .

One thing that’s hard about writing a book is that there are so many places you can go wrong. A 500-page book contains something like 1000 different “things”: points, examples, questions, etc.

Just for example, we have two pages on reliability and validity in chapter 2 (measurement is important, remember?). A couple of the things I wrote didn’t feel quite right, so I changed them.

And this got me thinking: any expert who reads our book will naturally want to zoom in on the part that he or she knows the most about, to check that we got things right. But with 1000 things, we’ll be making a few mistakes: some out-and-out errors and other places where we don’t explain things clearly and leave a misleading impression. It’s a lot of pressure to not want to get anything wrong.

We have three authors (me, Jennifer, and Aki), so that helps. And we’ve sent the manuscript to various people who’ve found typos, confusing points, and the occasional mistake. So I think we’re ok. But still it’s a concern.

I’ve reviewed a zillion books but only written a few. When I review a book, I notice its problems right away (see for example here and here). I’m talking about factual and conceptual errors, here, not typos. It’s not fun to think about being on the other side, to imagine a well-intentioned reviewer reading our book, going to a topic of interest, and being disappointed that we screwed up.

20 Comments

  1. Robert says:

    When that book will appear in the bookstores?

  2. D Kane says:

    You should put up a website with a full copy of the book now. This will generate lots of comments/corrections, especially if you put it all on GitHub (as I assume it is behind the scenes) and allow for pull requests.

  3. Yes, there are thousands of ways a book can go wrong, but the occasional error rarely ruins a book for me. It’s when I encounter one flaw after another that I get turned off (and even then, not always; certain qualities can override the errors).

    Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France has been criticized for its factual errors, Mill’s On Liberty for its flawed logic. Yet both works are much too compelling for me to dismiss.

    It matters what kind of book it is. If it’s essentially an instructional book, then precision is paramount. But if it has a different purpose, the errors may or may not get in the way.

    All that said, I know no writers who relish their published mistakes.

  4. The only alternative is not to publish a book!

    With probability almost one, that would be worse.

    There are only three things in a book, mistakes/errors that have been noticed and those that have not yet been noticed.

  5. Fbaucyjsjagdnfd says:

    Making mistakes is ok as long as we correct ourselves (unless you’re a surgeon, engineer or doctor w/ subjects who’s lives/health depend on your work or diagnosis, etc).

    But who cares if someone points out your mistake. Wouldn’t we all benefit if someone corrected the authors instead of being shamed for making “mistakes”?

    Have critics open a P.R. Let’s remove ego from the situation.

    I’ve noticed a culture in academia to shame people for mistakes long after the mistake is corrected. This is childish and it’s helping no one, except people boost their own careers.

    • Andrew says:

      Fbaucyjsjagdnfd:

      Here’s the problem. If I publish a book with a mistake or confusing bit, readers can get confused and do mistakes of their own, which could lead to negative consequences including economic waste and even death (to the extent, for example, that someone makes a mistake in analyzing medical study because of something that I explained misleadingly in my book).

      This has nothing to do with ego, shaming, or careers.

      I want to make fewer and less serious mistakes in my published work because I’m concerned that these mistakes could lead to bad outcomes. This is just the flip side of that I want to publish good work because I hope that this good work could lead to good outcomes for other.

      • Fbaucyjsjagdnfd says:

        One could say “you need said desired prerequisites to do this” however this can be impractical for many reasons. A class might only address what the educator things is effective or regurgitate stuff from a previous era that may be ill applicable now.

        May be make it an exercise for those who are confused to voice their confusion, as many software devs do, on a medium such as GitHub or a forum of some type (perhaps discourse). This is potentially a lot of work for the authors, but the response effort could be shared by those with domain knowledge and could be observed by those who genuinely care about improving their abilities.

        If this is too much for those who are spread too thin (as a lot of senior academics are), perhaps some middle ground can be made? A temp forum for the book that addresses confusion between elementary, intermediate and advanced readers?

        For example, musicians will often give potentials students to their students if the new student will ask questions that the senior musician’s students can offer with ease. an organic hierarchy.

    • Nick Adams says:

      You made a mistake with your user name. Should be “Gftbnxswertypx”

  6. GianP says:

    The perfect is the enemy of the good.

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