I noticed a while back that even on the nth proofread of a document there are still corrections. So I decided to keep track of how many corrections there are in a paper I was working on. I chose a non-technical paper so that errors-in-the-math would not be the issue. I chose
Guest Column: The Third P =?NP Poll (see here)
that appeared in Lane Hemaspaandra's SIGACT News Complexity Column.
I kept track of the following:
1) Number of corrections. Anything that I changed. Could be style, a new thought, need not be (though could be) an error.
2) Errors. These are things that really need to be corrected, like having `think' instead of `thing' .
Corrections vs Errors, an Example:
If I refer to Lane Hemaspaandra as Notorious L.A.N that is a correction and an error, as he is Notorous L.A.H.
If I refer to Lane Hemaspaandra as Notorious L.A.H and decide to change it to LAH that is a correction that is not an error.
I didn't keep track of serious errors vs typos, but after the first 3 proofreads there were no more serious errors--- sort of- --you'll see. Most serious was a fonts-gone-wild thing where half the paper was in boldface.
Here is a history of the number of corrections
1) Lane proofread the first draft. κ corrections where κ is some cardinal between the cardinality of N and the cardinality of 2N . Its value depends on which model of set theory you are in. (My spellchecker thinks that cardinality is not a word. I checked and I am spelling it correctly but perhaps it's one of those things where I stare at it too much and keep misreading it.)
Henceforth I omit the word proofread as it is understood
2) Bill G: 81 corrections, 29 of which were errors.
3) Clyde: 64 corrections, of which 17 were errors.
4) Bill G: 40 corrections, of which 21 were errors (I had added a new section causing more errors)
5) Clyde: 30 corrections of which 10 were errors.
6) Bill G: 24 corrections of which 6 were errors.
7) Clyde: 18 corrections of which 8 were errors.
8) David Sekora (A CS grad student at Maryland who at one time wanted to be an English Major): f15 corrections of which 15 were errors. Really! Typos dagnabbit! (Spell check thinks that dagnabbit is spelled wrong. Um---in that case what is the correct spelling?)
9) Nathan Grammel (A CS grad student at Maryland) :6 corrections of which 3 were errors.
10) Bill G, proofreading backwards, a paragraph at a time: 29 corrections of which 5 were errors.
11) Justin Hontz, an ugrad who TAs for me: 10 corrections of which 7 were errors.
12) Karthik Abinav, a grad student in theory at Maryland: 2 corrections both of which were errors. Was this the end or are there still issues?
13) Josh Twitty, an ugrad who TAs for me: 0 corrections. YEAH!
14) Dan Smolyak, an ugrad CS and Eco major:4 corrections, all 4 errors. Error sounds too strong. For example, one of them was to replace ?. with ? Yes, its an error, but not that important. It DOES point to his carefulness as a proofreader.
15) Clyde Kruskal :20 corrections, 10 of which were errors. To call them errors seems wrong when he corrects Group theory' to Group Theory. None of these corrections were caused by prior comments. I think all of the errors were in the paper early on, undetected until now!
16) Backwards Bill G again: 28 corrections, 14 of which were errors. Again, the errors were minor. Most of the errors were relatively recent. As an example, if I list out topics in math like:
a) Group Theory, Set Theory, and Ramsey Theory
then I am supposed to use capital letters, but if I say in prose
Lance Fortnow thinks that the techniques used will be group theory, set theory, and Ramsey theory
then only the R in Ramsey Theory is in caps. Makes me glad I'm in math.
17) Lane got penultimate proofread. Lane found 75 (yes 75 WOW) of which 66 (yes 66 WOW) were errors. Many of these were spacing and latex things that I would never have noticed (indeed- I didn't notice) and most readers would not have noticed (hmmm- how do I know that?) but only an editor could catch (hmmm- when I've edited the book review column and now the open problems column and I never found more than 10 errors). So when all is said and done: KUDOS to Lane! And My point was that you can never get all the errors out. On that I am correct. I wonder if there are still errors? Yeah, but at most 10. However, I said that BEFORE giving it to Lane.
18) Stephen Fenner, the editor of SIGACT news got FINAL proofread. He found that I spelled his name wrong . How many errors are left? I would bet at most 10. I would bet that I would lose that bet.
Why after multiple proofreadings are there still errors? (My spell check thinks proofreadings is not a word. Maybe my spell check is worried that if people get documents proofread a lot then they won't be needed anymore. This blog post refutes that thought.)
1) An error can occur from a correction. This caused a massive problem with another paper. Lane's next column will be by me and co-authors on The Muffin Problem. We had all kinds of problems with the colors and sizes--- Massive Magenta Muffins or Miniature Magenta Muffins? Sizes gone wild! Again Kudos to my proofreaders and to Lane for catching this rather important error.
2) If some passage is added late in the process it will surely have errors.
3) An error correction may clear away the brush so you can see other errors.
4) With LaTeX (or Word for some) we have the ability to get things perfect. So there is no cost to keeping on perfecting things. This lead so many corrections that are not errors.
5) I know of an adviser who would first say change A to B, and later change B back to A. (None of that happened with the paper discussed above).
Are errors inevitable? Clyde Kruskal tells me that his father Martin Kruskal, as a teenager, read Courant and Robbins book What is Mathematics and found some errors in it. Martin's mother didn't believe him and marched him over to Courant's house:
MARTIN MOTHER: Martin claims to have found errors in your book.
COURANT: (laughs) There are errors in every book.
Courant was so impressed that ten (or so) years later Courant became Martin's PhD adviser.