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I'm not sure this is the right Stack Exchange Community for this question, but here I go.

I bought a book on Machine Learning from a (I believe) popular publisher a few days ago. It's a first edition and it was first published on September 2015 (4 months ago). The point is, in the first 50 pages I found around 5 errata. Not huge ones, but errata nonetheless. Even though the book is quite good, finding that many errata made me a bit uneasy.

Could this be considered normal, as it is a "just born" book? Or should I be concerned in any way?

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  • Define "erratum." Typo? bad formatting? Incorrect formula? Dec 26 '15 at 18:59
  • 2 were small code errors and 3-4 minor typos or just mistakes (for instance, using the words "column" and "row" in the opposite order).
    – houcros
    Dec 27 '15 at 12:38
  • On the one hand, to err is human, but I am surprised (and annoyed) if a hardcover fiction novel has more than 3 errors in 500 pages.
    – Stu W
    Feb 2 '16 at 15:33
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That's not acceptable for a $29-$59 book on an established subject from an established publisher. It indicates that the publisher and author are not performing adequate editorial and technical reviews. However, if this was an inexpensive self-published e-book on Amazon, your expectations for quality should be much lower.

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  • 1
    Around 40€ on Amazon, so I guess I wasn't wrong to feel uneasy...
    – houcros
    Dec 30 '15 at 19:47
  • Ouch! I agree with F. Roberts about contacting the publisher with a list of the comments you found. I'd cc the author, too. Who knows, they might offer you a review copy of the next edition...
    – rolfedh
    Dec 31 '15 at 21:58
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I think you mean "errors" rather than "errata". A book's errata is usually a list of errors that have been noted and are corrected on a separate page. You don't see errata so much these days—it's cheaper to correct the error and reprint it, and there's less of a financial inducement to print the errors on a separate sheet.

5 errors in 50 pages might be acceptable, depending on the nature of the errors. If it's a book on programming, and the errors mean that most of the programs don't work as printed, this is unacceptable. But if it's a missing comma here or there, then it sounds normal, and possibly better than average. Some people's "errors" are issues of style—for example, the so-called Oxford comma.

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Annoying as it is, I have often found at least this number of errors. I usually expect most code samples to be correct and work -- expect is different to finding they actually will run. However, I have found numerous errors in explanatory text. Often books will have online errata lists that you can consult.

If you try it yourself, you will find it is incredibly hard to get books like this perfect.

Second and third editions (if they make it that far, which most coding books don't) should have less errors.

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  • Code samples is a special case, because the errors are almost always added during production. A long line of code might not fit on one line and ends up on two which alters the program so that it is no longer functional. Or the programmer’s quotes (double primes) get converted to actual quotes. Computer code was not designed to be printed in paper books. And paper book production techniques were not designed to print computer code. Feb 4 '16 at 16:09
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Yes, it's a lot by almost any standard, and is a sign of inadequate proof-reading.

But from there, one can only say, So what? Are you going to report the author to the Library Police?

If by errata you mean simply typos -- mis-spellings, punctuation errors, that sort of thing -- and otherwise it's a good book, I'd say "oh well" and ignore them. If by errata you mean errors of fact, and these errors really matter, if they render the book unreliable, then I'd say to give up on this book and find a better source of information. You say the errors aren't "huge" so, etc.

If you were involved in publishing this book, I'd say this would be evidence that you need better proof-reading. But if you're simply a reader, there's nothing you can do about it, so I wouldn't worry about it.

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  • You can use this logic to say we shouldn’t have copy editors at all. Feb 4 '16 at 16:05
  • @SimonWhite Did you read my last paragraph? There's nothing you can do about it, so ... where do you go from there? If the book is unreliable or unreadable, then throw it away. Otherwise, all you can do is put up with it.
    – Jay
    Feb 4 '16 at 20:41
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If the errors make the book unusable — for example, switching "row" and "column" makes what you're reading unworkable — I'd look for a way to contact the publisher and inform it about the errors. Then find another book to use as a backup or cross-reference.

If they're just spelling mistakes or the word switching is really obvious, then you're probably okay.

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The number of errors you describe are a lot for a technical manual. More than needing better proofreading to check spelling, it sounds like this book really needed better copyediting to catch the errors in code and word reversals. I would contact the publisher with a list of the errors found. While you may not be able to return the book, you will be providing a service to the publisher (and to those who will benefit by corrections in a later edition) by reporting the problems.

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  • I sure did, they have a section of their website dedicated for posting errata. Not much feedback about it though...
    – houcros
    Dec 30 '15 at 19:48
  • You can feel good that you've done your part to correct the problems.
    – F. Roberts
    Dec 30 '15 at 21:31

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