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Reflections and recommendations on writing textbooks in the course of a career in academia

Jerry H. Ginsberg a)

G. W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering Georgia Institute of Technology Atlanta, Georgia 30332-0405

(Received 4 January 2011; accepted 8 March 2011)

The genesis of this paper was notification to the author that he would receive the 2010 Rossing

Prize in Acoustics Education, which carried the responsibility of giving a lecture at a meeting of the Acoustical Society of America. He decided to draw on his remembrances of writing several text- books during a 40 year career as a professor to discuss the facets of writing that a faculty member might encounter. This paper is an expanded version of that lecture [J. H. Ginsberg, J. Acoust. Soc. Am. 128, 2389 (2010)]. An opening section elucidating the author’s experiences as an author is fol- lowed by a discussion intended to motivate and encourage those who are undecided about taking on this activity. Suggestions are offered as to how to organize and proceed through a writing project as well as what elements should be included. An explanation of the author’s role in the process of pro- ducing a printed textbook is provided. Guidance is offered as to how one can focus on writing a book in the face of teaching, research, and personal responsibilities. The closure discusses current trends that endanger the ongoing flow of high quality textbooks.


2012 Acoustical Society of America . [DOI: 10.1121/1.3676729]

PACS number(s): 43.10.Sv, 43.10.Gi [TDR] Pages: 2356–2366


Shortly after the Spring 2010 ASA meeting in Balti- more, I was notified that I would be awarded the 2010 Ross- ing Prize in Acoustics Education. Although I was delighted, as well as extremely flattered, to be its recipient, I also was puzzled. Our Society has many outstanding educators, and I could not identify the unique things that I had done that war- ranted my selection. There is an aphorism that states “No pain, no gain,” which is exemplified by the requirement that recipients of the Rossing Prize give a lecture on education at the meeting where they receive the Prize. Thus it was imper- ative that I identify the aspect of my career that caused me to be selected. Self-deliberation did not lead to the answer, so I decided to call a good friend to gain his insight. An exchange of updates on our current status was followed by my expla- nation of the dilemma I was attempting to address. A 10-s pause was followed by a twist of a political phase from the 1992 Presidential election. He replied “It’s your books!” He omitted the “stupid” part, probably out of consideration for our friendship. Upon reflection, he should have added it. While our conversation continued, Fig. 1 came to mind. There the reader will find the covers of the textbooks I have written. The first four are first and second editions of under- graduate textbooks in statics and dynamics, 1 4 which are core courses in the curriculum for many engineering disci- plines. I began to write the first editions of these books when I was an assistant professor at Purdue University. My coau- thor was Dr. Joseph Genin, who shared with me the duty of coordinating all course sections in these subjects as well as

a) Author to whom correspondence should be addresed. Electronic mail:

teaching one or two sections. We decided to write these books out of a sense of frustration with the offerings at that time which we felt did not pay adequate attention to three- dimensional phenomena and did not sufficiently support our effort to impart general problem solving skills to students. The second editions followed my departure from Purdue to join the faculty of the Georgia Institute of Technology and Joe’s departure to become Dean of Engineering at New Mexico State University. Second editions have become an economic necessity for publishers whose profits have been eroded for reasons discussed later. However, I had other motives in writing the second editions in that I had gained further experience and insight into what students needed and how to better meet those needs. These books were second editions only in the sense that they retained the organization of the first editions; they essentially were new works. At this juncture, one might wonder how books in basic mechanics are related to acoustics, but to do so would be to ignore Lindsay’s annular diagram, 5 which highlights the catholic nature of acoustics. This aspect will be evident as this exposition proceeds. My instructional activities at Geor- gia Tech were focused on graduate courses in classical dy- namics and vibrations. Here too, I became discontented with the treatments to be found in the available textbooks. In the case of classical dynamics, I was unsatisfied with the treat- ment of real problems in engineering as opposed to the sim- pler types of systems encountered in the study of physics. I also found that the standard treatments for three-dimensional rigid body motion were difficult for students because they lacked a consistent and logical approach. In the case of vibration theory, my primary complaint was that books failed to exploit the advent of mathematical software, which made it possible to address system complexity and

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FIG. 1. (Color online) Covers of textbooks written by J. H. Ginsberg. “real-world” vibration issues.

FIG. 1. (Color online) Covers of textbooks written by J. H. Ginsberg.

“real-world” vibration issues. This too will be a theme the reader will find discussed herein, specifically, that you should write a textbook when you believe you can remedy shortcomings in the available literature. A textbook on advanced dynamics 6 was the first result of my teaching activities at Georgia Tech. My experience using it, coupled with student feedback, both offered and perceived, led to another on the same subject. 7 Although it was titled as a second edition, it was treated as such by the publisher to assure continuity. For me, it was a new book, completely rewritten, but with the outline of the first edition retained. I had contemplated writing a vibrations book for several years but did not do so. It might seem strange for me to say that the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta drove me to begin that effort, but it is so. The Georgia Tech campus served as the Olympic Village. As a result, the period available for instruction following the Games was shortened, but I did not wish to sacrifice course coverage. As the vibrations course proceeded, I realized that I could formulate a way of teach- ing a general approach to continuum vibrations that avoided solving partial differential equations, yet was much briefer and easier to apply to unusual configurations. Once I began to write notes for distribution to my class, whatever impedi- ments had held me back from writing another book were

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removed. This highlights another theme that the reader will find explicitly mentioned herein. An important reason to write a book is that you have developed unique insights and approaches that should be shared with students outside your class. My most recent textbook is another one in classical dy- namics. 8 In addition to improvements gained from my expe- rience as a user of the previous version, and a desire to expand its coverage, I had gained a sense that I was a servant of the great masters, particularly Euler and Lagrange. I believed that it was my responsibility to help students understand the elegant philosophy that underlay their con- tributions, as well as to modernize those contributions to address current engineering applications. These objectives might sound grandiose, if not somewhat pompous, but I am quite satisfied with the result. This too exemplifies a reason to write a textbook—doing so helps one to follow in the foot- steps of the giants of our past. At the time that I was notified that I would receive the 2010 Rossing Prize, I happened to be in the midst of reading Dickens’ David Copperfield 9 in a Sisyphusian attempt to remedy my neglect of classical literature while I added to the technical literature in the course of my career. It is a delightful book, and quite relevant to issues pertaining to writing, in that young Copperfield rose to become a popular

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writer. One passage I found to be particularly relevant. Close

to the conclusion, David Copperfield has achieved success as

a writer. He is in conversation with his aunt, who rescued

him as a young boy. He tells us that “… my aunt, glancing at the papers on my table [said] ‘Ah, child, you pass a good many hours here! I never thought, when I used to read books, what work it was to write them’.” To which he replied “It’s work enough to read them, sometimes. As to the writing, it has its own charms.” It is that last statement that is the most compelling reason to write a textbook. I have found that this activity yields rewards that are unlike those derived from other activities. In the following, I share what I know about why and how to write books without sacrificing other aspects of your professional career and personal life. There is only one ca- veat: The insights I provide are based on a retrospective view I took while I prepared my presentation. 10 I never actually contemplated the process while I wrote, so my com- ments reflect what I believe I did. Hopefully, the adage “Do as I say, not as I do” does not apply here.


I cannot provide you with the drive and focus that will be required to see your project to fruition. However, I can provide several compelling reasons why you should embark on a writing expedition that will preoccupy you for an extended period. Before I tell you why you should write a book, let me tell you why you should not. Financial reward does come to a few who write successful lower-level under- graduate textbooks in subjects that have large enrollments. For the rest of us, there are few activities that pay less per hour than writing a textbook. This is especially so if one adds the hours required to organize your efforts, to review, revise, and rewrite several times, to monitor all aspects of the production process, and to prepare a solutions manual. There usually will be financial compensation in the form of royalties, and it certainly is nice to receive that compensation well after your project is finished. However, if the amount of compensation is important, you probably would earn more if, instead of writing a book, you clerked at a supermarket. It might surprise you to learn that a reason to write a textbook is that it will make you famous. Not with the uni- versality of a political figure or a movie star, only to those who you touch through your role in their education. I have not found any professional activity that makes me feel as good as meeting a person at a university or a professional meeting or even in an airport who pauses to tell me how much they enjoyed and benefited from one of my books. Such rewards are greatly enhanced when the individual who pays you such compliments has achieved a high level of suc- cess. This is not merely a stroking of one’s ego, for it bears on a key aspect of authorship of textbooks as part of our leg- acy. The research we do, if it is any good, will be a stepping stone for further progress by others. Even if you are teaching very large classes, the number of people you affect through your teaching will be relatively small. But a good textbook has a wide reach and great longevity, and it might even

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affect how the subject is taught in the future. I know of no other activity that can claim comparable influence. If you find that the textbook you currently use often causes you to seek different and better ways to explain topics or that it omits important aspects or the commonly accepted

approach is not the way you see the subject matter, then you have identified a primary reason to improve the available lit- erature. It is these contributions that distinguish the truly tal- ented teachers. As you write, you will find that your discontent with what was previously available will increase.

I have already quoted some well-worn adages, so I shall

mention another: “Those who can, do. Those who cannot, teach.” Nothing could be farther from reality. For one, it leaves me to wonder how anyone can “do” without first

learning what they should do? In fact, we all know that a good way to become extremely well versed in a subject is to teach it. However, if you truly want to master a subject, write

a textbook after you have taught it for several years. There is

nothing like the perspective that writing provides. It will ex-

pose the gaps in your knowledge, the profundities that you took for granted, and the areas that you never adequately explored despite their importance. A beneficial byproduct of

the enhanced familiarity and capability you will gain is that

it will prove to be a vital asset to your research, for it will

help you to recognize similarities and connections that are an essential aspect of the pursuit of innovative research. We perform research with a bag of tools that are assembled from all of our experiences. Some aspect of a seemingly unrelated topic that came up when you wrote a book might prove to be the odd-shaped wrench you pull out of your bag to fix a seemingly insurmountable obstacle to your research. A rewarding aspect of writing textbooks that I have come to recognize is that the activity is akin to solving a puz- zle. When you embark on your project, you know there is an end, but you do not yet know the path. To this extent, it might seem that your project is like solving an intricate maze, but I have found that writing a textbook is more like a grand jigsaw puzzle. You begin with all of the pieces arranged more or less randomly in your mind. Gradually, you fit them together, first by grouping similar pieces in an outline, then assembling them as you write sections that

merge into chapters. One crucial operation is the overview.

It is not sufficient that each chapter fits well with those adja-

cent to it. Rather, a well done textbook should be consistent in its approach and methodology from beginning to end. This might require that you make alterations to a nearly completed effort, which is akin to finding as you complete a jigsaw puzzle that some pieces you already placed do not fit as well as some that remain. I have found little that matches the sense of accomplishment when I conclude that I have assembled a well organized treatise that has met my objec- tives and is ready for publication. One of the greatest motivations for writing books is the opportunity it affords to pursue self-guided scholarship. In the days before externally funded research became academic big business, faculty commonly explored, and became expert in, topics that were of intrinsic interest to them. One delved into the subject matter and pursued knowledge for its own sake. For many of us, research directions are often set by

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funding opportunities offered by sponsors. There is nothing wrong with this because it allows us to provide great benefits to society. At the same time, we do lose something valuable, something that evolved over a long period—the scholar who works alone or with a colleague to expand knowledge for its own sake. For the most part, when you write a textbook, you will not add to the basic store of knowledge. However, the insights and explanations, as well as the general approach, you bring to your project are your unique contributions. The activity is the closest I have felt to being one of the pioneers of centuries ago, who performed important research, pub- lished it, then assembled it in textbooks. None of us is likely to gain the stature of Rayleigh, but if you want to feel what it is like to “walk in his shoes,” write a book.


Of the several aspects that precede writing a textbook, the one that I can help you with the least is your technical training. Clearly, you must have studied the subject, but that is not sufficient. If you are to provide a fresh perspective to your project, you need a level of familiarity that comes from teaching it, preferably on several occasions. Here a substan- tial interval between the first and last times you taught the subject is beneficial because in that time you will recognize the aspects that are essential and the weakness of your initial efforts. In essence, this evolution is a revision that you make before you start writing. It might seem paradoxical that at the same time that I am advising that you should gain extreme familiarity with the subject matter of your book, I also suggest that there be elements with which you are not well versed. The idea here is that exploring these topics adds to the adventure of your project in that you are exploring the unknown. Furthermore, the expansion of your knowledge will enhance your recogni- tion of the intrinsic value of your effort, and it will return many rewards through the connections you will make between your writing and your research. Even if no prior textbook covered certain topics, if you are interested in them and believe them to be relevant, include them. Another aspect of preparation is assembling the support- ing components. Collect the books and papers to which you might wish to refer. Be extremely inclusive in the works you collect. Otherwise, you will find that one of Murphy’s laws comes into play in that a search for a reference will interrupt your most productive writing period. Software selection is an important aspect of your prepara- tory activities. I began my career in the era when “cut and paste” was a literal description, but I have come to be totally dependent on computer tools. In fact, on the few occasions when I tried to write by hand, I could not do so. If this is de- scriptive of you, the selection of software will be crucial. Word processing software is, to some extent, a matter of taste, but I believe it is safe to say that the popular software suites are the least suitable for scientific work. You need to be aware that writing a book will place enormous demands on your software in the form of creating equations, sequentially num- bering elements such as chapters, sections, equations, figures, and tables, and cross-referencing those numbers. Searching

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for an equation to cross-reference somewhere earlier in the project is an interruption that must be avoided. The magnitude of these tasks is likely to surpass what you previously encoun- tered in writing research papers. Some available software has been created with the technical writer in mind, and you would be wise to adopt such a package if you have any doubts about your current selection. Graphics is an important feature of most textbooks. Workflow issues pertaining to line drawings will be dis- cussed later. A key recommendation is that figures should be inserted into the manuscript as you write, but doing so places additional demands on your software. If you choose to begin with handsketched line drawings, then simple scanning capa- bilities will suffice. In contrast, you might decide to produce some or all of the line drawings. If that is the case, then you need to be familiar with software for illustration or computer-aided design. This might seem to be an intimidat- ing task, but strong reasons why you should create your own artwork will be presented. Some software for this purpose is reasonably user friendly, so you can quickly gain a usable level of expertise in its use. If you choose this route, you should learn the program prior to beginning to write. Other- wise, you will consider the effort diversionary and therefore not devote the required effort. Assembly of your reference material and selection of your software are actions to be taken, but there also are per- sonal issues to address. You are about to embark on a long- term effort that will require much dedication. You surely will encounter many impediments and diversions that will require perseverance to overcome. It will be much easier to sustain your effort if at the outset you feel a sense of urgency to disseminate the knowledge you have accumulated and would rather write than do any other professional activity. If this attribute is not present, wait until it is. Obviously, as an acoustician, you will not work in a vac- uum. The understanding, cooperation, and assistance of others will be needed. Involve your family in the project by seeking in advance their forgiveness for the inattentiveness and forgetfulness you are sure to display, especially in those intervals where you are at your writing peak. Your depart- ment chair will be a key factor. That individual can facilitate your work greatly through the assignments you do, or do not, receive. Bring her into your circle and make sure she recognizes that your work will bring rewards to the academic program. On the other hand, there were one or two occasions in my own early efforts in which departmental politics were sufficiently vitriolic that this recommendation could not be fulfilled. I found that writing helped me to stay above the fray by giving me a long-term focus that lessened the perso- nal impact of these troubles. Your colleagues will be extremely important. Working with a coauthor can be a great aid, but it also can be quite demanding and stressful. In all likelihood, you both have a reasonable sense of certitude in all that you do and have some trouble handling negative criticism. If you bring these attributes to your project, it is likely to be doomed. It is nec- essary to be willing to exchange ideas and to make major modifications to what has been written already regardless of who wrote it. You must be able to recognize when your

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coauthor’s contribution is superior to what your had written or planned to write. If you are the sole author, your work will be greatly aided if you have a cooperative colleague, an individual who is willing and able to discuss your innovative and unconven- tional ideas and will not perceive your exchanges as an ac- tivity that is to be avoided. Concurrently, it is best that this individual be a good friend, so that they will not resent it when you ignore their advice and insights because you find them to be counter to your own perceptions. One preparatory step that I advise against is dealing with potential publishers. I have gradually evolved to this view for one primary reason. Writing a book is your personal project, carried out on your schedule. Once you sign a con- tract, you will start thinking about the schedule the publisher wants even though most publishers will tell you that they merely need a date for delivery of the manuscript as an aid to planning their work. Many individuals have told me that they are surprised at this recommendation. They worry that it will be difficult to find a suitable publisher. It is important to recognize that textbook publishers require manuscripts to survive. If yours has been completed to your own satisfac- tion, it has strong merit. This, and the fact that there is no question regarding if and when it will be available, will enhance your book’s value to publishers.


I could not, nor would I, endeavor to tell you how to write, but I can give you some idea of how to approach the effort. At the same time, these recommendations are drawn from personal recollections over a long period and therefore are subject to gaps and disorganization of memories. Disregard any or all as you wish, but they do make sense to me now. You never should perceive writing as a chore. Write when you are inspired, with a level of focus that is propor- tional to the degree to which you cannot remove your book from your thoughts. Conversely, do not try to create new content when you do not feel some level of inspiration, for you will find later that what you write in such circumstances is not what you actually wanted to say. These intervals of in- spiration are precious, and not to be lost. Hence, you need to be prepared to write at any time, even on a cruise. (If Ray- leigh could write the first volume of the Theory of Sound while cruising the Nile, 11 so can you!) This is not to say that you should ignore your project entirely when you cannot get the words to flow to your own satisfaction. Even “writer’s block,” which is the ultimate lack of inspiration, need not detract from your overall pro- gress. It is Nature’s way of telling you to do something else, but that alternative activity can be supportive. At any stage in your project, there will be tasks that do not directly add to the number of pages in your book but are nevertheless essen- tial. If you use this downtime to examine references, check solutions of examples, verify the solvability of homework exercises, work on figures, or edit and proofread the manu- script, you will move your project closer to completion. Sometimes you will find that rather than being totally blocked, you are at an impasse regarding how to handle a

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specific topic. You might be having difficulty selecting alter- native approaches or you might have some idea of the scope but cannot decide on the specific content or you might have tried many phrasings of a difficult passage without liking any. In such cases, you need an interruption, such as that afforded by a pet. Dogs and cats are very handy because you can talk to them without people thinking you are crazy. For my most recent book, I had a very large Alaskan Malamute named Tundra (she is the subject of several examples and homework problems therein) who was always ready for a long walk, regardless of the time of day or weather. There were many occasions when we embarked on an excursion at 2 AM, with her acting as my sounding board. I doubt that her “woos” and wolf-like howls as she heard me talk about some topic had much technical content, but they provided the break that I needed to resume writing. Children also work for this purpose, but they seem to object to waking up in the middle of the night to go for a walk. If you infer from the preceding that I work late at night, you would be correct. Doing so fits my biological clock. All of us have a time of the day or night at which we are most creative and work at peak efficiency. That interval is pre- cious and should be devoted to the greatest extent possible to your book. As I grew older, it became increasingly difficult for me to recover from any interruption; working late had the extra benefit of minimizing interruptions. For the same reason, I never allowed my E-mail program to check auto- matically for new messages; I never subscribed to Twitter or Facebook or other interactive messaging services, and I occasionally turned off all telephones if things were flowing especially well. Of course, we have other responsibilities that cannot be avoided. I recommend that you not resume work on your book if you know that something requiring your attention is coming up soon. Doing so will help you sustain a positive aspect in your interaction with others, and it will help you write at a later time because your ideas will not be dissipated by the interruption. I suppose that every author has a personal approach for attacking their project. I have realized that I did not proceed linearly. Rather, the strategy I followed tended to maximize my quantitative output at the early stages, perhaps as a way of avoiding discouragement before I was fully committed to the project. It appears that I established a specific sequence by which I proceeded through the subject matter. First were those topics for which I had class notes. (This tended to be a small component because I usually only prepared notes if the assigned text did not adequately cover a topic.) Then I addressed the topics for which I had innovative ideas. I had been contemplating these ideas for some time before decid- ing to begin the project, so describing them tended to be rela- tively straightforward. The next group of topics to be attacked was those that I considered to have been inad- equately presented in other texts. A corollary of having iden- tified what I did not like is that I had made some decisions about what should be presented. The last topics I addressed were those with which I was the least familiar, concurrently with those whose treatment is standard and common to many texts. Progress through the unfamiliar topics was the

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slowest, especially because writing about them required background work. Balancing this effort with treatment of straightforward material helped sustain the quantitative advance of the project while I spent more time on ancillary activities associated with writing about those topics that were less familiar. What you write is at your discretion, but I have learned that there are some general guidelines as to how the material should be presented. Overall, it is advisable to assume that your book will be the primary instruction for a student in order that the student’s success not be completely reliant on the capabil- ities of the instructor. Indeed, some of my most interesting correspondence has come from individuals who were working independently, without an instructor. I recall in particular a U. S. Navy pilot stationed on an aircraft carrier operating in the Arabian Sea who wanted to prepare to return to school, and a student in Iraq during the period of insurgency who wished to prepare for the university exams. Writing a book that is reason- ably self-contained might require going into more detail in cer- tain topics, but the alternative leaves the possibility of gaps in the knowledge that is imparted. The best textbooks reflect the way the author thinks and teaches. Use your own voice to decide how to describe topics. Indeed, if you cannot decide on a passage, speak it to yourself, either in thought or orally. Do not be concerned that your approach and presentation are different from what has been written previously. Presumably, the differences between your viewpoint and what preceded it are some of the reasons you decided to begin to write. It is for this reason that you should limit examination of other textbooks. Read- ing such works to finalize organizational issues, such as the overall outline or the presentation of a chapter, has two likely outcomes, neither of which is positive. You might decide to alter your approach to match a favored textbook, or you might be intimidated by the quality of that work and therefore question your own attempts. There will be plenty of opportunity to do a self-assessment, but that should come after you have completed a first draft. Regardless of your subject, an element of vital impor- tance is the examples you select. Few students are able to bridge the gap between learning basic principles and apply- ing them without seeing it done by someone else. Many books have tended to use examples that are very simple, for example, by only requiring simple substitutions into derived formulas. Another oversimplification is to use examples whose scope is limited to the topic just covered. Good examples have elements that integrate previous developments. Another desirable attribute of an example is that it attracts students’ attention, possibly because the result is physically interesting or because the exercise is illustrative of tasks that arise in practice. On the other hand, it is impor- tant that the examples not be overly complex in order that they not intimidate the student and obscure the basic con- cepts you are endeavoring to illustrate. The examples in my two most recent books have begun with an explicit statement of its objectives, which I have found assists me as much as the student because it helps me remain on a direct path to the solution. As you proceed through the solution, be sure to explain at critical junctures why you are following a specific

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procedure. If some aspect of the solution requires special steps or insight, describe how a person at the student’s level can recognize how to proceed. I also have found that occa- sionally using the discussion of an example as a launching point for an exploration of an interesting phenomenon is an effective method to capture a student’s attention. Figures are an integral part of a technical book. Properly displaying data has the same imperatives for a book as for journal articles except that color is seldom an option. (Some undergraduate texts are printed with more than black ink, but that format usually is selected as a design element to improve the book’s appearance.) Line drawings are likely to place unfamiliar demands on your efforts. I have found that it is best to insert graphs and line drawings in the manuscript as contemporaneously as possible with writing the associated text. This allows me to modify what I have written based on what the reader will actually see. This practice also will sug- gest alterations in the figure to convey the desired informa- tion in a better way. How one creates the figures, and their quality, is not important at this stage. If you do not wish to create the final figures yourself, then you can create bit- mapped images by scanning hand drawn sketches and printed computer output. I have become reasonably profi- cient with graphics software, so I create my own line draw- ings (550 in the case of my most recent book). The advantage of creating your own artwork is that it will be exactly what you want, and not the interpretation of an artist who is not conversant with your subject. Obviously, the down side of this self-reliance is the extra effort it entails, which might be compensated by using it as a bargaining point when you negotiate with publishers. Most faculty seem to require that the textbook they adopt include sets of homework exercises, and I think it is wise to accommodate that wish. The primary topics should be covered by several problems having ascending degree of difficulty, ranging from what appears to you to be almost trivial to problems that are challenging but accessible to all students except the most befuddled. To the greatest extent possible, these problems should display the relevance of the subject matter. However, excessive realism usually is not de- sirable because the associated complications will obscure the points you want the students to study. Inclusion of a large number of homework exercises will make your book very attractive to prospective adopters and extend the time before your publisher requests another edition. However, you should realize that each problem might require another line drawing, and it will require that you provide another solution in an auxiliary solutions manual. Students expect that the answers to at least some of the homework exercises will be available. If an answer list for homework problems will be included in the published volume, rather than on a web site, then each additional homework exercise will need to be solved before you submit the manuscript to the publisher. Of late, there has been an unfortunate tendency for many authors to be less attentive to language usage. Proper grammar and punctuation enhance readability, but there is no harm in using constructions that are more familiar to stu- dents. In any event, clarity is essential. Do not forget that your objective is to educate students, not to impress your

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colleagues. It is likely that the academic style you have become accustomed to using for your research papers will need to be toned down. If these imperatives seem to be problematic it might be worthwhile to seek the help of a professional editor, but I have found that there is an alternative. I do not know if it has a scientific name, but I have observed that we have a “memory half-life.” I define it to be the time interval in which I forget half of what I precisely remember about some topic that is not of vital importance. The key adjective in the preceding is “precisely.” I will use an example to illustrate what I mean. T. E. Lawrence, who is popularly known as Lawrence of Arabia, lost most of the manuscript of his auto- biography Seven Pillars of Wisdom 12 when he transferred between passenger trains. He was able to reproduce it in three months to his own satisfaction. Thus, his memory half- life was much longer than three months. Few of us could match this feat. In my case, if I accidentally delete a passage, I seldom can recreate it to my own satisfaction, even if I attempt to do so 10 s after I hit the delete key. It follows that you should back up your work frequently on spare hard disks, removable memory keys, and computers and be sure that some of them are not collocated with your present work location. Loss of memory does have some beneficial aspects. Suppose T is your memory half-life. Wait until an interval of 4 T has elapsed before you review anything you have created. Doing so will make you a much more effective editor. Because your specific memories regarding the material have eroded, you will be able to view your work as would any other individual who sees it for the first time. This is the time to place yourself in the position of a student who must learn from your textbook, rather than a trained professional who is reading an advanced monograph. These considera- tions will help you to decide the level of detail that is required, especially for mathematical derivations. My own approach is to begin by describing every step. When I later decide what can be removed, I ask myself if a student at the intended level could reproduce each step without outside assistance. Divorcing yourself from what you wrote by delaying your incremental review is quite useful, but it is not suffi- cient because you always will retain a degree of favorable bias. This is where your colleagues at your own and other institutions and your students are especially valuable. Most faculty will be too busy to participate continuously as you write, but they might have interest in specific chapters or sections that are relevant to their instructional activities. Provide them with as much as they wish to see and beg them to be brutally honest in their assessment. Remember that early negative criticism from a friend is intended to help you improve the final version, whereas there is little you can do to remedy negative remarks after the book is published. Students can be involved similarly, especially if they are enrolled in a course that is covered by your book. Distribute chapters or sections for them to use as notes. Reward them when they give you feedback. I have found an effective incentive is to acknowledge these students in the preface.

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Completion of your manuscript is an occasion to cele- brate, but your work is far from done. Your first, and most important, task following completion is to attempt to edit it as a single entity. Presumably, you reviewed your work as you wrote, but now you must take an overview. One of the issues to consider is whether your approach is consistent. Do you see coverage gaps, topics that you failed to address suit- ably or that you needlessly included? Did you fail to follow through when you wrote in an early chapter that something would be covered later? Did you switch notation without ex- planation? This editorial review must also identify errors. Typographical and minor mathematical errors are unavoid- able, but it is possible that significant technical errors have entered. This situation is most commonly encountered in the solutions of examples, so it is advisable to solve each exam- ple once again, independently of your prior effort. Regardless of how conscientious you are, you will fail to identify all errors. Presumably, you have furnished some or all of your work to others when you were writing. Now students can assist you. Give a copy of your near-final draft manuscript to your current and former students. Exhort them to examine your work and give you corrections and critical remarks, especially the negative ones. Set up an anonymous drop, but reward any one who identifies themself. Some wel- come an acknowledgement in the book. I tried a modest monetary award for each error that was identified, but very few accepted it. If you have not already done so, completion of a near final draft is the time to seek the help of your colleagues. Offer it to any who are willing. Most will be too busy to give your work more than a cursory review, but any one who is actively involved in teaching your subject is likely to find it very useful. They might not be comfortable in giving you negative remarks, but you must do your best to assuage their concerns, for this is your last chance to make alterations. While you are finalizing your manuscript, it is time to select a publisher. Most will require sample chapters. Give them any that you believe will be most attractive to other faculty. Some of the issues that might arise in your negotia- tions are royalty percentage rate, publication format (hard- cover, softcover, electronic), creation of artwork or compensation for having done it yourself, editorial and proofreading assistance, overall design, indexing, promotion, and number of complementary copies. There might be some variability in royalty rates proffered by different companies. Given that you are not likely to retire on the income from your book, these differences are not extremely important. I am ambivalent about advances against future royalties, which are not always proffered in the negotiations. An advance does have the attribute of financially obligating the company to follow through on the project, but that commit- ment is always present because production entails consider- able outlays on the part of the publisher. My negative sentiment regarding an advance originates from my first books, wherein the amount advanced was sufficiently large that my first royalties were used to repay it. I missed not hav- ing a check as a reward for completing the project.

Jerry H. Ginsberg: On writing textbooks

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You should be aware that the actual production of your book probably will not directly involve the employees of the company you select. Art and layout design are often done by freelancers, and typesetting and printing typically are done by commercial enterprises in a remote nation. These partici- pants will require close monitoring because they seldom have any awareness of the subject matter, and they tend to repeat the style of books they have done previously. It often is not treated as such, but a good index is an extremely valu- able asset. If you agree, then you must prepare the index yourself. I used to believe that promotion through advertis- ing and a sales force was a major contribution the publisher would make. That might have been true prior to the advent of the Internet. Now we have our own E-mail lists and web sites, and search engines can identify the availability of your book. However, commercial publishers are more capable of getting your book listed with the large on-line booksellers, and they provide a certification that your book has intrinsic merit. The most important aspect of your dealing with poten- tial publishers is your rapport with the editor and their lon- gevity in the position. Publishing is notorious for its turnover, and there is little in the process of getting your book into print that will distress you more than an editor departing for another company. (This happened to me three times.) Ultimately, the publisher you select should be the one that best convinces you that they share your enthusiasm and that they will make every effort to ensure that your book has the highest possible quality and is given the largest expo- sure to the public. The most demanding work begins after you have trans- mitted the manuscript to the publisher. A major cause for this burden lies in the fact that your creative contributions, and the associated psychological stimulation, are essentially over. What you must do now is necessary and urgent but not exciting. Monitoring production is a major endeavor. The first stage is conversion of the text to the computer format used for typesetting. New errors are likely to enter at this stage to a degree that is proportional to the difference between the format you transmit and the format the printer uses. At the same time that typesetting is under way, your figures will be converted into a printable format. If you transmitted hand drawn figures, either on paper or as bit graphic files, the artist will probably convert them to a vector graphic format. Each figure must be examined carefully. This is so even if you provided vector graphic files because errors can arise in the likely event that the files are translated to a different software package. Artists do not know your intent, they might incorrectly interpret your vision, or you simply might not be satisfied with their work. I also have observed that they tend to make the fonts too small relative to the artwork, which causes difficulty in displaying figures. Make as many corrections and alterations as necessary and be prepared to do so several times. While the text is being set into type, the designer will create a tentative style for the book. This should be submit- ted for your approval. Here too, you should rely on your ex- perience and esthetic sense. Some elements, like trim size, font size, and line spacing might not be crucial, but equation

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formatting, header and footer styles, and sequential number- ing styles need to be carefully considered. The designer or publishing company will also send you a design for the cover. This is another item that requires your critical input, for a well designed cover will draw the attention of a pro- spective adopter. Do not fear altering or rejecting any ele- ment of the design. In all matters requiring your approval, remember that you have used textbooks far more than the people involved in producing your book. At this stage, everything will become a blur. On any day, you might receive some illustrations from the artist, some typeset pages from the compositor, or some pages laid out with figures. All will require your approval, accompa- nied with the request that you return the material quickly. You will consider the date requested for return to be unrea- sonable because the material will arrive when you have an urgent deadline on a research project or a major commitment in teaching or your personal life. It is imperative that you not rush reviewing and correcting the material you receive. This is your last chance to make sure that it is the best product possible, and you can be sure it will not be if you rush your participation in the production. Concurrently with monitoring production, there are major tasks that you will need to carry out. You will need to prepare a list of some or all of the answers to the homework exercises. Traditionally this list has been inserted into the back of a textbook, but lately there has been some movement toward providing it via the Internet. You also will be expected to provide a solutions manual. Some individuals use computer software for this purpose, which requires con- siderable effort. I have always created such material by scan- ning handwritten pages, but that requires extra effort to prepare the material in a presentable manner. In addition, the book cannot be printed until you submit the index. All these chores are very important. Above all, make sure that every aspect of the final product is correct and of the best possible quality, regardless of how long it takes.


A perception commonly held by the general public is

that the life of a professor is boring, with little time required to teach, even less devoted to contact with students, and the rest devoted to sitting in an office in an ivory tower contem- plating grand, but irrelevant, thoughts. Each of these percep- tions could not be more incorrect. Meeting the numerous demands and expectations placed on you is difficult in ordi- nary circumstances. Attempting to do so while you are writ- ing a book will magnify the difficulty. The commodity that

is least available to most of us is time and freedom to pursue

our objectives without constraint. Thus it is imperative that you become an expert in time management. Now, more than ever, you must be aware of your commitments, and be very

selective in the activities you pursue. One of the hardest things for a conscientious faculty

member to learn is to follow the urging of the former First Lady Nancy Reagan to just say no! However, one responsi- bility that should not be neglected is teaching because that is

a primary tool for honing your ability to communicate with

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students. Make sure that every semester you teach a course relevant to your book and avoid teaching unfamiliar courses,

at least until your book is in print. Most academic commit-

tees exist for their own sake and deal with matters that are standard and ongoing. Unless you have a special interest in a particular issue, or your experience and expertise make you uniquely qualified, avoid committee work. If you have trou- ble following this mandate, remember that not everyone on a committee is equally conscientious and actively involved. Let those individuals serve as your role models. Your relationship with your department chair is impor- tant for your professional advancement as well as to assure that your workload leaves you time to work on your book. At all times, that individual should be apprised of your com- mitment to your book and the importance of its completion. However, you should recognize that many administrators have a view of the role and duties of faculty that does not exactly coincide with yours. If you believe that something they request will be deleterious to your project, you need to make this an issue proportionally to its impact on your work. In other words, your relationship with your department chair entails an informal optimization process in which you attempt to satisfy to the minimum extent possible your chair’s expectations and requests. Among your multitudinous responsibilities, the most difficult to handle adequately is your research. It and your writing are open-ended tasks that do not follow a set sched- ule, and each has a hold on your interest at all times. The

essential aspect here is that time is not an unlimited resource.

I recommend that you avoid leading the preparation of

research proposals that require much preparation time but have little chance for funding. (Some might say that this applies to all areas in the current economic downturn, but you must sustain some effort in this activity in order to not be left behind when the situation improves.) Fortunately, there are ways to synergistically fulfill both interests. Pro- pose research in areas that are related to some aspect of the subject matter in your book, even if it is merely an area that is peripherally related. You will be surprised how many good ideas will come to you as a result of pathways that you initiated with what you write. If you wish to branch off into areas that you have not thoroughly explored, let your gradu- ate assistants lead the way. Give them your initial ideas, then launch them into their individual and group efforts. Let them carry the burden of advancing the work, while you closely monitor what they are doing, not just from an overall per- spective, but with detailed study at critical junctures. In this way, you will be able to reintegrate yourself as the research leader when you have finished your book. In the same vein, be receptive to research issues that arise because you are

working on your book. You will find that attendance at pro- fessional meetings is especially helpful to sustaining your research activity and to your writing. The presentations you hear and your discussions will keep you posted about current interests and also lead you to decide where you wish to go when you have finished your book. A personal experience illustrates the synergy that can result from integrating writing and research. While I was writing the chapter in my vibrations book that describes

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state-space modal analysis, which is a concept absent from the older textbooks on vibrations, I began to think of using it as the basis for performing experimental modal analysis in which modal properties are identified from measured data. I introduced my ideas to one of my doctoral students, and he came back to me a month later with the initial concept for a new algorithm. 13 Several years and several theses later, my research group had developed what I believe continues to be the best algorithm in terms of accuracy, simplicity of imple- mentation, and independence of the user’s expertise. 14 Another experience illustrates how writing books can assist research in a seemingly un-related area. A few months after I retired from the Georgia Institute of Technology, I was working on a NASA project involving acoustic resonance in the open cabin of a 747 aircraft to be used as an aerial observ- atory, 15 and I also was working with a visiting graduate stu- dent from China whose doctoral research at home involved issues regarding interaction of structural vibration and the acoustical field in a cavity. One day, as I was sketching out some ideas for her to pursue, I began to think of the way aux- iliary constraint conditions are handled in classical dynamics. Such a capability is commonplace when one wishes to formu- late equations of motion for nonholonomic mechanical sys- tems, but they rarely appear in the context of acoustics. The concepts were familiar to me as a result of my authorship of classical dynamics books, especially the most recent one. The result was journal articles, 16 ,17 as well as seminars and presen- tations, that occupied a good deal of my attention. I doubt I would have launched into this area if I had not written the dy- namics books.


I must confess that my enthusiasm for writing books is being dampened by emerging threats that have the potential to have broad impact. One concerns the deleterious eco- nomic consequences of violations of intellectual property rights. Until the advent of photocopiers, copying books required a level of technology that surpassed what was gen- erally available. Even with a photocopier, most individuals respected copyrights and reserved duplication of books for those that were out-of-print with expired copyrights. The advent of electronic media has altered the situation funda- mentally. The last stage in production typically is a PDF electronic file created by the compositor at a foreign, usually third-world, location. Who has access to that file will not be known to you, but some day after your book is published, that file might appear in a peer-to-peer file sharing service, most commonly using the Bit Torrent protocol. In addition, there presently are web sites hosted at hidden locations whose URL address typically contains the word “share” at which one can download electronic copies of books of all kinds. Even if the vector graphic final print file is protected, individuals seem to create their own version for these sites using scanning technology. These file sharing sites claim they are not aware of any copyright issues, which is prepos- terous because almost everything they host (music, films, and software, in addition to books) is protected. I periodi- cally perform an Internet search for mention of my books on

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these sites. They do respond positively by withdrawing the material when I complain, but the effort is tedious and time demanding, and another posting often appears soon after- ward. Furthermore, the peer-to-peer sharing services have no one to complain to, so illegitimate copies of my books, as well as those of many of our colleagues, continue to be avail- able. This issue was the focus of an Op-Ed contribution in the New York Times 18 and a U. S. Senate Judiciary Commit- tee hearing. 19 This appears to be a classic case where an individual’s actions benefit them but seriously harm society. For a long time, publishers have had to account for sales of used text- books, which has now become a very well organized intercolle- giate activity. They recognized that the vast majority of sales would come in the first year or two after its publication, and therefore priced their books to recover their costs and attain a profit within that interval. (If you are wondering why textbook prices have been rising steadily, you now know a primary rea- son.) Further erosion of sales caused by illegal downloading will exacerbate the situation. Rising prices will lead to fewer sales and more copyright violations in a downward spiral. This situation also has negative consequences for an author. I noted earlier that few textbooks lead to prodigious royalty returns. Nevertheless, it certainly is nice to receive a royalty check, especially because royalties are paid well after you have completed work on the book. By that time, you will have forgotten how much work you expended. Furthermore, when we decide to write a book, we recognize that we will need to make sacrifices elsewhere. I doubt that there are many individuals who would begin to write a book if they were told at the outset that there would be no financial compensation. Those who would, with the exception of individuals with a philanthropical educational desire, would not have substantial research interests. Such individuals have already written text- books, mostly at the fundamental undergraduate level. Their work tends to be superficial and to lack insight. Thus, every time an individual illegitimately acquires a book, they make it more likely that later books in the subject will not be as good as they could be, even though they will cost far more. The advent of electronic media as a medium for distrib- uting and viewing books has other consequences beyond copyright issues. Here, it is sufficient to note that more than a half millennium following its printing, we can still read the Gutenberg Bible. In contrast, I wonder how many readers still have a computer that can read a 5 1/4 in. floppy disk? Of course, printed books require proper care, but the technology on which they depend to be read will not change as long as people have eyes. Another aspect of the change in format is an emotional one that I know I share with many others. There is a certain joy in holding, smelling, perusing, and then reading a printed book that cannot be duplicated by an e-reader. A purely electronic format will also remove one of the greatest pleasures derived from writing a book. When you receive your complementary copies, you will send them with great pride to those who were your mentors, your past students, your colleagues, your friends, and your relatives. The good feelings generated by this exchange cannot be duplicated by an e-mail in someone’s inbox. I have given autographed copies of my books to students who helped me

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create them. I gave some more to students on the occasion of my retirement. An electronic file cannot have the same impact. When you visit another university, there is no better gift for your host than an autographed copy of your book. Try doing that with a memory key. A short time ago, I saw one of my nieces, who remarked that she had received from my deceased brother’s estate a copy of one of my books. She felt good about the remembrances it generated, and I felt good knowing that. It is inconceivable that an e-mail attach- ment could engender the same sentiments. The preceding issues originate outside academia, but I believe that the greatest threat to a sustained flow of high quality textbooks originates internally from individuals who do not use them. There has come to be a rapidly accelerating growth of the number of administrators at research univer- sities. Presidents need many provosts and executive vice- presidents who beget many vice-provosts and vice- presidents who manage many assistant vice-presidents and program directors, deans demand many associate deans who need assistant deans, and department chairs need many asso- ciate chairs. Every one of these individuals claims to need a large supporting staff. At least one book 20 has been pub- lished to raise public awareness of this unhealthy trend. This engorgement of the administrative bureaucracy requires sub- stantial financial resources, a major part of which comes from overhead funds generated by externally funded

research. Rising indirect costs lead to a growth in the over- head rate, which reduces the funds that actually are available to the researcher, but that is not the concern here. Rather, it

is that this growth leads administrators to place increasing

emphasis on the acquisition of large externally funded grants, which in the current environment tends to be work that has immediate application, and sometimes is proprietary to the sponsor. A corollary is that the creation and dissemi- nation of knowledge through the performance of high quality basic research, teaching, and writing papers and books, all of which are unique capabilities of universities that have long term benefits for all, are valued less. Faculty understand reward systems, and adjust their actions accordingly. Because authorship of textbooks conveys no direct economic

benefit to an administrator, the importance of this activity is increasingly downgraded at the time that faculty are assessed. When a young person sees a colleague with a strong funding record but weak performance in teaching, ba- sic research, and contributions to the technical literature we have the collective desire to do, granted tenure, or named to

a leadership position, they do not need to be told how to

advance their own career. How long will anyone desire to write a book in the face of this contrary indication? If allowed to continue unabated, this trend will have significant consequences for the faculty. It also jeopardizes the funda- mental role of universities and thus is a issue of national importance.


The concerns I have expressed pertain to trends that can be addressed positively if we have a desire to do so. I do not believe that they currently outweigh the many positive

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reasons to embark on authorship of a textbook in a subject in which you are expert. In addition to assuring that your knowledge is transported to many students, faculty, and practicing professionals, you will learn much along the way. Between the time when you submit the manuscript and the date when you have fulfilled all of the publisher’s requests, you will only think of how much work it required. Then one magical day you will receive your book, contem- plate it with great satisfaction, realize what an awesome accomplishment it is, and put it on display for all to see. At that time, your remembrances of the amount of effort you devoted to the project will begin to fade. When they are for- gotten, you will be ready to write another book.

1 J. H. Ginsberg and J. Genin, Statics, 1st ed. (Wiley, New York, 1977). 2 J. H. Ginsberg and J. Genin, Dynamics , 1st ed. (Wiley, New York,


3 J. H. Ginsberg and J. Genin, Statics, 2nd ed. (Wiley, New York, 1983). 4 J. H. Ginsberg and J. Genin, Dynamics, 2nd ed. (Wiley, New York, 1983). 5 A. D. Pierce, Acoustics: An Introduction to Its Physical Principles and Applications (McGraw-Hill, New York, 1981), p. 2. 6 J. H. Ginsberg, Advanced Engineering Dynamics, 1st ed. (Harper and Row, New York, 1986). 7 J. H. Ginsberg, Advanced Engineering Dynamics , 2nd ed. (Cambridge University Press, New York, 1995). 8 J. H. Ginsberg, Engineering Dynamics (Cambridge University Press, New York, 2008).

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9 C. J. H. Dickens, David Copperfield, Barnes and Noble Classics 2003 reprint (Barnes and Noble, New York, 2003). 10 J. H. Ginsberg, “Can you fit authorship of textbooks into an academic career?” J. Acoust. Soc. Am. 128, 2389 (2010). 11 “John William Strutt, 3rd Baron Rayleigh,” (2011). Available at Baron-Rayleigh-9452863 (Last accessed Jan 4, 2011). 12 T. E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom: A Triumph, 2nd ed., reprint (Anchor Books, Garden City, New York, 1991). 13 M. V. Drexel and J. H. Ginsberg, “Mode isolation: A new algorithm for modal parameter identification,” J. Acoust. Soc. Am. 110, 1371–1378 (2001). 14 M. S. Allen and J. H. Ginsberg,“A global, single-input-multi-output (SIMO) implementation of the algorithm of mode isolation and applica- tions to analytical and experimental data,” Mech. Syst. Signal Process. 20, 1090–1111 (2006). 15 N. A. Veronico, “NASA’s new airborne observatory sees ‘first light’,” Mercury 39, 24–28 (2010). 16 J. H. Ginsberg, “Derivation of a Ritz series modeling technique for acous- tic cavity-structural systems based on a constrained Hamilton’s principle,” J. Acoust. Soc. Am. 127, 2749–2758 (2010). 17 J. H. Ginsberg, “Implementation of a constrained Ritz series modeling technique for acoustic cavity-structural systems,” J. Acoust. Soc. Am. 128, 2562–2572 (2010). 18 S. Turow, P. Aiken, and J. Shapiro, “Would the bard have survived the web?,” New York Times, February 15, 2011, p. A29. 19 “Targeting websites dedicated to stealing American intellectual property,” Meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee of the U.S. Senate, February 16, 2011. Available at id=4982 (Last viewed March 6, 2011). 20 B. Ginsberg, The Fall of the Faculty—The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why It Matters (Oxford University Press, New York,


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