RE: Textbook writing

Subject: RE: Textbook writing
From: Jeff Hanvey <jewahe1 -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 15 Jan 2001 09:35:20 -0800 (PST)

--- bryan -dot- westbrook -at- amd -dot- com wrote:
> Usually textbooks are written by actual teachers. A
> couple of my undergrad
> instructors wrote the books for their classes

I've heard of three situations:

1. The professors actually write the textbook.
2. The professors write them, and assign some tasks to
graduate assistants (GA).
3. A ghostwriter writes the textbook, and a well-known
name is stamped on it(with permission, of course).

In case 1, it is rare to find a professor who is
trained in writing to a broad audience (most of them
are trained to write for the journals specific to
their discipline). Since they have no sense of
audience, they don't write to them. The result is a
book that is often too difficult for the level it is

The same may be true for case 2, but more often than
not, the GA's are writing to impress their professors.
Again, these textbooks turn out difficult.

In case 3, the ghostwriter may be an expert or s/he
may be just another writer. That person doesn't know
the material - and makes mistakes. The "name" is
supposed to review the work - well, we all know how
well reviews go over!

The textbook is also supposed to got through a review
process similar to the "blind" review process used by
journals. Since the number of reviewers is limited,
the same people receive books and just don't have time
to do a thorough evaluation. Most of the time, they
aren't really looking for grammar mistakes, anyway.

Furthermore, in order to make money from textbooks,
these publishing houses have to regularly update their
existing books - to force schools and college students
to buy a new book (otherwise, old books would float
around for years). Of course, this is not necessarily
a bad thing - history books won't cover recent history
(like schools ever get that far anyway: I don't thing
I have ever studied any history past WWII), Science
books teaching outdated information, et cetera. During
these updates, material is moved around, cut, or
revised. If the editor isn't careful, errors easily
slip in - including mislabled graphics, mispellings,
non-grammatical constructions, et cetera.

And if that editor isn't familiar with the material,
well, they would't know an error when they see it!

For example, one place I worked struck a deal with a
publisher for the rights to their textbooks. These
books were supposedly written by "experts" in the
field, but it turned out that they were ghostwritten
by someone within the company (This became obvious
when books with different authors contained identical
text, complete with figures. In one memorable
instance, the figure was numbered the same in two
books - and the books used different formats).

Jeff Hanvey

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