I want to write a simple textbook on standard high-school level algebra.

Most of what we know about the field, we have known it for centuries. So I'm fairly certain the majority, if not the entirety, of the material to be presented in the text will be part of the open domain.

However, with that being said, it is crucial to mention that I don't remember every single theorem from the field so I will have to consult other texts and resources for compiling the book.

My question lies here. While the theorems may be read from other books, the knowledge is fairly general and well known. This is somewhat of a sticking point in Mathematics. If for example I want to talk about the precedence of the order of operations, it would unfeasible to trace back the development of this idea throughout history and all the notable mathematicians who have worked on it. This becomes more of a problem when I might have to cite texts/resources I've referenced for every trivial theorem. And then, there's also the issue about finding references for theorems and information that I feel is well known and can be considered "general knowledge."

I deeply respect and honor giving everyone due credit for their hard work; I'm just unsure how this is commonly done and accepted for writing math textbooks. I want to have a completely fair yet manageable balance between citing information and actually writing the text itself.

I'm completely new to writing textbooks; though my education and work in the field of math has inspired me to help and contribute to what has meant so much to me in my life.

I am deeply grateful to anyone who can help guide me on this new endeavor. If there are other legal issues that I should know of, I would be delighted to hear about them.

P.S. I am new to this SE site, so I'm not sure exactly what tags will be appropriate here. So please feel free to edit my question.

  • Welcome to Writers! I'm a touch unclear on one point: Are you asking what aspects of your sources you need to consider copyrighted? Are you asking how to cite other books in your textbook? Or both? Feb 26, 2017 at 3:44
  • @NeilFein That is a good question I hadn't considered. I would say asking about both is best for me. Feb 26, 2017 at 21:35
  • Thanks for clarifying. I've attempted a more descriptive title, do you feel it's accurate? If not, please feel free to revert my edit or change it further. Feb 27, 2017 at 1:21
  • @NeilFein Thank you for improving the question title. I feel it is much better! Feb 27, 2017 at 16:18

2 Answers 2


It might be helpful to know that recipes can't be copyrighted Link (so procedures by themselves are not copyrighted although you can't really copy blocks of wording).

It also might help to know about which math titles are in the public domain and can be copied without any penalty. https://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Mathematics_(Bookshelf)

(There might be others online, but Gutenberg usually does a more thorough copyright investigation).

My guess is that all you would need to do is to acknowledge books you referred to in a bibliography at the end.

You might find this Quora question to be useful: Are math problems copyrighted? and this Stack Exchange one: Copyright of mathematical formulas

Finally you could just summarize parts of books (for example) and as long as the organization of material and phraseology is not the same, you would have nothing to fear.

(I am not a lawyer, etc...).

I'd be more attentive to making the examples and illustrations unique and don't worry so much if the sequence of presentation resembles another work.

  • Thank you for taking the time to provide such a well referenced answer. I think it answers my question very nicely. Feb 27, 2017 at 16:40

If you pick up several maths textbooks you will see they don't have bibliographies or give credit. Unless you copy the text, examples or structure of another text book you don't need to reference anything.

However, one thing you need to consider very carefully is exactly who your book is aimed at. In the UK it needs to be aimed at a year group and an exam board. There is no such thing as a general textbook. As well, for twelve to sixteen year olds the book would have to cover more than algebra -- schools don't want to buy one for algebra, one for fractions, one for trigonometry, etc. Other countries may be different.

  • Thank you for providing an answer. That's something I had not thought of. I would certainly need to look into organizing my book to address a larger audience in light of this. Feb 27, 2017 at 16:43

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