Tuesday, 21 June 2022 18:00

SENSEMed Report: June 2022 workshop in Utrecht

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impostor syndrome image from canva for blog 7apr22

All together again: a summary of the SENSEMed workshop in Utrecht

On 11 June, after 27 long months of Zooming, SENSEMed members finally met in person in Utrecht for a one-day workshop on working with medical texts. Daphne Visser-Lees kicked off with a lively session on translating medical texts from Dutch into English. She explained which texts might need expert medical knowledge to translate (such as case reports and articles) and which ones probably don’t (leaflets for patients, medical insurance documents). She then led us through two translation exercises. The first highlighted common terminology issues we might face when translating medical texts from Dutch into English – for example, Hernia typically refers to a herniated or slipped disc in Dutch whereas it generally means an abdominal hernia in English. The second explained how to decipher and translate case notes from a Dutch GP (not always – or never – easy!). Daphne’s extensive medical experience serves her well when tackling these difficult jobs and we were all grateful for the opportunity to learn from her knowledge and expertise.

Sally Hill and Curtis Barrett were up next with their editing slam. Sally and Curtis had both edited an abstract from a medical research article and presented and explained their changes sentence by sentence. This was an engaging session with plenty of questions and input from the audience. Sally and Curtis had both improved the clarity and readability of the text with their changes – but they did not always agree on what changes were best. This session highlighted just how subjective editing can be and that there is never one right solution to a difficult sentence. It also highlighted how we need to be aware of changes in scientific style and keep in mind that our own preferences (such as whether to use the Oxford comma or italicize Latin words) may not align with the style guide our client has to follow. Sally and Curtis finished up by giving a useful summary of what they do before starting an editing project and before delivering an edited file, both of which involve careful and specific communication with the client. A very enlightening session overall.

After a tea break, Sally was up again to talk to us about medical writing. Sally moved from freelance to in-house work last year after accepting a job as a senior scientific writer for the biotech company Merus. The goal of her talk was clear: to make us aware that medical writing exists. Job done. She explained what kind of texts medical writers are typically asked to produce (broadly divided into regulatory writing and medical communications) and what skills a medical writer should have (writing skills, scientific expertise, document expertise, and project management skills). To highlight how important (and complicated!) project management can be for a medical writer, Sally led us through a short exercise where we had to list the things we would need to consider before developing a timeline for a proposed writing project. The session was informative and inspiring, and Sally may well have succeeded in recruiting some future medical editors into her fold.

The participants were all grateful to Curtis, Daphne and Sally for taking the time and trouble to organize such a great workshop. We were all delighted to see each other in person again and are looking forward to many more such events in the future!

 

Thursday, 07 April 2022 16:14

Overcoming impostor syndrome

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impostor syndrome image from canva for blog 7apr22

SENSE’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) is always held at the end of March. It is when the Society’s members get to hear what the Executive Committee (EC), the Special Interest Groups (SIGs) and various volunteer teams have been up to. We approve the previous year’s finances, approve the budget for the coming year, thank outgoing EC members and vote in new blood. We also thank the other volunteers who have been offering their time and help – often behind the scenes. In pre-pandemic times, the AGM was also a great opportunity to meet new members and catch up with each other at the coffee machine outside the meeting room.

Whether or not you attended this year’s online AGM, if you’ve been paying attention you will know that I was recently elected as SENSE’s Chair. For me it’s a great honour and, since we did not have a dedicated chairperson last year, this will put the EC in a stronger position as it steers the Society out of the pandemic. I’m sure that, like me, many of you are keen to start meeting up in person again. In this, we will be ably assisted by the two other people just elected to the EC: Curtis Barrett as the new Treasurer and Maaike Meijer as the new CPD Coordinator.

Back in time

Becoming Chair has reminded me just how far I’ve come personally within SENSE. It seems not so long ago that I was new to the profession, very much in awe of the experience and knowledge of other SENSErs. Back in 2009, I had left my job as a biology teacher to become a freelance medical translator. I had no language or translation or editing qualifications, and precious little experience – I felt like such an impostor! Who was I to expect to be paid for translating or editing? Surely others were much better at it? What were other SENSE members going to think of someone like me?

First Forum post

It was not long after I joined that, with some trepidation, I posted my first terminology question on the members’ Forum, which in those days was an email-based system where your question got sent to the entire membership. I must have spent about three hours composing a 228-word email asking whether I should use the -ise or -ize spelling in translated textbooks for Dutch bilingual secondary schools. I was so afraid of making a mistake, or sounding stupid, or asking something so darned obvious I’d be laughed out of town. But of course, I needn’t have worried. Fourteen friendly SENSE members took the trouble to reply and offer their advice and opinions, which greatly helped me to decide – if you’re curious, I went with -ise spelling.

Increased visibility

At the time, although I was still very much a starter in the translation and editing world, this positive experience made me realize that other members might be more approachable than I thought. And with time, I also gained enough confidence to offer my own opinion on questions asked by others. In fact, a science-related question that I was able to answer led to someone asking me to help teach a course in scientific writing. That was the first of several such courses that I ended up teaching at Dutch universities, and all thanks to SENSE; not to mention all the other translation and editing work that came in through word-of-mouth referrals.

Don’t be shy!

Fast forward 13 years, and I’m no longer a starter and no longer a freelancer, but still a keen and active member of SENSE. Now I have made it all the way to Chair of the Society, I feel much less of an impostor. And in fact that’s my main message: if you’re new to SENSE and perhaps lacking in confidence, I want to encourage you to get out of your comfort zone like I did and connect with other members. The pandemic has naturally prevented in-person networking for a couple of years, but until that picks up again, you could consider posting something on our closed Forum, attending a SIG meeting, or volunteering your time for SENSE. That way, when you attend your first live SENSE workshop, not everyone will be a stranger. For introverts – or in fact for many of us who have been unable to attend professional events during the pandemic – it can be quite stressful to turn up not knowing anyone. And I’m speaking from experience.

Of course, as I’ve mentioned before, volunteering for a professional organization is an excellent way to network with others and showcase your knowledge and experience, which the Society will be glad to make use of. And if you are a freelancer or have your own business, it’s free marketing! You can read more about how I used networking to build my business in an article I wrote for SENSE back in 2016.

Back to in-person events

The newly composed EC is already hard at work. The first EC meeting is scheduled in the first half of April, with a more comprehensive meeting at the end of May. One of the topics we are already discussing is of course in-person meetings – where, how, and when we are going to get together as members of the Society. I sincerely hope that SENSE will soon be able to offer you a programme of both offline and online events. This includes the SIG meetings which are often a first point of contact for new members. If you are interested in setting up a new SIG or helping an existing SIG to arrange meetings, the EC is available to help in any way we can.

I hope to meet many of you in person sometime soon. In the meantime, if you have a question or would like to share your thoughts, do feel free to drop me a line at chair@sense-online.nl.

 

 

Tuesday, 08 March 2022 17:50

Dutch translation of All God’s Dangers

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 all gods dangers blog post

Over the past year and a half, Frans Kooymans has been working on what he calls his ‘corona project’ – the translation of All God’s Dangers by Theodore Rosengarten.

Frans writes: I picked up this big book (some 580 pages) back in 1975, when I was still living in the Southern US. It is the life story of Nate Shaw, an illiterate Black sharecropper who spent his entire life as a cotton farmer in Alabama. He was already in his eighties when Rosengarten, a young historian from the North at the time, happened to meet him while doing research on a defunct sharecropper’s union.

The old man turned out to be an amazing storyteller, with an even more amazing memory. In the years following, Rosengarten spent hundreds of hours with Shaw in the man’s shelter with his tape recorder, as Shaw unfolded numerous details of his long life in the cotton fields. All these stories were then transcribed, which led to the publication of the book in late 1974 (shortly after Shaw died at the age of 87).

I was fascinated with the book back then, but it sat in my bookcase until a couple of years ago, when I reread it and became fascinated once again by Shaw’s tales. And I decided that, in light of the heat of the Black Lives Matter movement and the attention also here in the Netherlands on our colonial and slavery past, it would be worthwhile to translate it into Dutch. Not an easy task, because the book is entirely in Shaw’s diction, the slang of the Southern states. I succeeded in locating Rosengarten, a professor of both Black and Jewish history at the University of Charleston in South Carolina, and proceeded with his full support.

I have now nearly finished the translation and (after a long and sometimes frustrating search) have found a publisher, ISVW, the Internationale School voor Wijsbegeerte. The book is scheduled to be published this coming fall. The title is likely to be De kleur van katoen.

 unisig 18feb22

At the 18 February UniSIG meeting, SENSE member Linda Jayne Turner talked about her experience working for clients in academia in Germany and the Czech Republic. A teaching job at Charles University brought Linda to Prague in 2004, and while she has remained there, she also has many clients in Germany, where she lived previously. She mostly edits journal articles written by academics to be submitted to journals (mainly in the social sciences); she also edits colleagues’ English translations from German and Czech.

In her talk, Linda touched on some of the differences between working for clients in the two countries. In general, she thinks her Czech clients are more diffident about their prowess in English and more relaxed about deadlines. Her German academic clients pay higher rates and expect to be invoiced per hour’s work (that’s generally equivalent to editing about 1000 words), whereas in the Czech Republic she is expected to charge per page (assuming 1800 characters per page), but can also charge an hourly rate in some cases. Her German clients often have to request bids from three language professionals, but don’t always go for the cheapest, preferring instead to give the assignment to Linda, whose work they trust and appreciate. Invoices issued to German universities should ideally be paid into German banks to avoid additional paperwork, so Linda has kept her bank account in Germany.

It seems that the bugbear in both countries is Kafkaesque bureaucracy. Although Kafka’s depiction of the Czech establishment arises from his own experience of the system in Prague imposed in the days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Linda thinks present-day German bureaucracy is even more convoluted.

Linda makes a point of visiting Germany several times a year, under normal circumstances, and when she does, she contacts her clients in advance to invite them to meet up with her. These informal meetings are usually at the end of the working day and take place in a café, restaurant or bar. Chatting over coffee, a meal or a drink is a good way to get to know more about clients and to get useful feedback from them. It also makes it easier to deal with any subsequent issues that might arise while working together.

At this lively UniSIG meeting there was plenty of input from the 24 attendees. It was pointed out that in Germany and the Netherlands, agencies corner editing and translation work through aggressive marketing, and the texts they supply to their university clients are sometimes in poor English. Linda’s mention of her arrangements for receiving payment from German clients sparked recommendations for companies to use for receiving payments from non-euro clients: PayPal, Wise (formerly TransferWise) and Stripe (cheaper than Paypal).

smaller zoom meeting 10 deceember

UniSIG’s last meeting of 2021 (10 December) was a presentation by Fiona Richards, a 3rd-year PhD student at Sheffield University (UK). Whatever the many downsides of the pandemic, one of the benefits is the increasing geographical spread of SENSE members able to attend our presentations on Zoom. On this occasion, for example, members from the Netherlands were joined by members from countries as far afield as South Africa and Finland.

Fiona’s field of study is Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. Her research, supervised by Nigel Harwood (speaker at a previous UniSIG meeting), involves investigating proofreading practices at a UK university from the perspectives of L2 (English as a second language) students, proofreaders and lecturers. The aim is to determine the extent to which proofreaders can help students improve their English writing, while simultaneously adhering to proofreading guidelines intended to uphold academic integrity. As Fiona explained, her interest in proofreading practices at a tertiary level stems from her background in teaching pre-sessional courses in which she has seen the challenges faced by L2 students producing written work for assessment.

During her presentation Fiona discussed the preliminary findings from the interviews she held with a student writer (high IELTS score), the student’s proofreader, a senior lecturer and a retired senior lecturer, followed by a brief discussion of the implications of her data and their bearing on university proofreading guidelines.

Her focus was on how they viewed the ethical appropriateness of the following types of proofreading interventions made to the student’s thesis:

  • additions (1-5 words);
  • deletions;
  • substitutions (one word for another);
  • reordering (word order);
  • structural editing (eg, moving paragraphs);
  • rewriting (advising changes to meaning and content);
  • mechanical alterations (eg, adding italics, punctuation, applying conventions).

The post-presentation discussions covered issues familiar to many SENSE members, including:

  • The continuing confusion between proofreading and copy editing;
  • Differences between writing acceptable for assessment and writing acceptable for publication;
  • ‘Mixed messages’ from lecturers who sometimes seem hostile to students genuinely wanting to improve their English by having their work revised by a language-editor/coach. In this respect, the guidelines for students are sometimes unclear;
  • Affordability of editing: although universities may provide writing advice services, students are not always aware of them, and not being able to afford a professional editor can put students at a disadvantage;
  • Whether proofreaders should explain their proposed changes (by inserting a comment, for example) or just make the change;
  • Dangers of overzealous proofreading (‘doctoring the evidence’ or ‘silencing the author’s voice’).

Fiona hopes to complete her PhD in the coming year and in future to investigate a wider range of student work, including work by students with lower levels of English as a foreign language. We wish her all the best.

 

unisig zoom 26nov21

“Write about what makes you stand out in the field.”
“Show why the world should care.”

Tia Nutters and Hiske Feenstra, academic editors for the Talent Development (TD) programme of the University of Groningen (UG), shared these insights and much more at the UniSIG on 26 November. Twenty-seven SENSErs dialled in to learn about how the in-house TD editing team works and the kind of writing advice they give to applicants to increase the chances of their grant proposals getting funded.

The Talent Development programme serves to provide career-long support to academics, from PhD researchers to Nobel Prize winners. The TD team has its own management and support staff, including five editors and two trainers who collaborate on applications for personal grants, ie, NWO Talent Programme (Rubicon, Veni, Vidi, Vici) and European Research Council (ERC Starting, Consolidator, Advanced), as well as nominations for prizes and memberships. The SIG session looked at personal grants.

With the TD editors focusing on proposal texts and the trainers providing training in writing and interview skills and individual coaching, their support spans the entire application process: idea collection > proposal strategy > content (structure, organization, logic, argumentation) > proposal set-up > final proposal (language edit) > rebuttal > interview.

Once a call for proposals has been sent out to the UG faculties, the editing team know they won’t be able to support every application. They therefore set a cap and the faculty funding officers identify the most promising candidates within their faculties for TD support. The team then divide the work and provide two substantive editing rounds, if time allows, followed by a final language edit which is usually done by a second editor. The ideal length of support is 3 to 4 months, but this can be as little as 4 weeks.

Tia and Hiske showed some extracts of proposals they received and the advice they gave. Their approach is most often to shift focus, for example:

From: To:
Information reporting, ie, a chronological report of what the scientist did. Looking ahead and telling the reviewers what this proposal means for the world.
Being too general in describing the scientific and/or societal impact of the proposed project or being obvious about the project’s “commercial viability”, which could imply making a profit (knowledge utilization section of NWO grant applications). Explaining how the project will make sure the impact will happen (impact plan) and how the project will track other potential impact the project might yield (eg, a network, a warning mechanism). If relevant, focusing on commerce as a contribution to societal impact rather than an end goal.
Writing generic statements, especially in the academic profile, that can apply to anyone. Avoiding list-like chronologies. Writing statements that make the candidate special. Emphasizing how a result happened or an achievement was made. Looking ahead, eg, what the applicant’s mission and vision are. In other words, selling!
 Focusing on negative emotions or experiences in rebuttals. Positive messaging, eg, how they addressed a challenge, what they could do further, what they learned and changed.


As is often the case, editing is a balance between the time available and the scope of changes to propose – making changes directly, making suggestions for revisions or rewriting an entire paragraph/section.

Shortcuts

As a professional wordsmith, you of course know what shortcuts are. You are probably using some in your daily work, like CTRL+S to save your work or CTRL+Z to undo whatever you shouldn’t have done. Chances are that you have considered the many more out there that you should be using.

Indeed, you really want to use keyboard shortcuts as much as possible, because they help you work more quickly, make your work easier and they reduce the risk of RSI from swinging that mouse around. No wonder most software programs include many handy shortcuts – Microsoft Word alone includes over 200 of them. But memorizing hundreds of shortcuts is quite a daunting task, so how do you know which ones are really worth remembering?

Luckily, Linda Comyns was so kind as to explain which Word shortcuts she finds most useful as a translator, an editor and a teacher. Attendees of this online SENSE event were encouraged to try out the different shortcuts in their own files and they were exuberant about their new editing superpowers. Below are my personal favourites:

I was delighted by the discovery that I can move to the next word to the left or to the right of the cursor or move up or down a paragraph using CTRL+arrow keys. That is decidedly easier than moving one character or one line at a time without the CTRL key. Similarly, Shift+CTRL+arrow keys will select words or paragraphs in the desired direction. When I try to select bits of texts with my mouse, I usually ended up selecting more or fewer words than I intended. Using Shift+CTRL+arrow keys to select the text before cutting (CTRL+X) and pasting (CTRL+V) it are real timesavers for me.

If you need to do a lot of formatting in Word, you will find CTRL+B, CTRL+I and CTRL+U very helpful to put words in bold, italics or to underline them. Removing all the manual formatting could not be easier than hitting CTRL+Spacebar. Do you need a heading? ALT+CTRL+1/2/3 will apply heading style 1, 2 or 3 in no time.

Naturally, you can do all these things with your mouse, but once you get the hang of it, using the mouse suddenly feels very cumbersome indeed. Although a few shortcuts are fairly universal, not all of these will work across Office applications or on other operating systems. Mac users can try the Command or Alt key, press Shift+Command or look up the Mac-specific keyboard shortcuts they need.

I was not the only attendee who learnt something new that day; many members and non-members got excited about these new ways of working. Some members even spontaneously shared their own favourite productivity tips.

Of course, we could not possibly round off a Southern SIG meeting without appointing the southern-most attendee as Southern SIG Member of the Month. This highly coveted honour was bestowed on Nina Woodson this time, who joined us from Los Angeles, USA – congratulations, Nina!

Thursday, 04 November 2021 12:00

Five things I learned from my editing courses

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Canva Wooden Table with Notebook

Like all other professionals, editors need training. While you may be great at grammar and have always been able to spot typos from afar, the editing process involves a lot more than simply correcting grammar and spelling mistakes (although this is an essential part of it!). In fact, I would argue that the majority of the work editors do consists of other things:

  • Strengthening a text’s message and improve its clarity, flow, and coherence by changing words, phrases, and overly long sentences (depending on their mandate of course);
  • Improving a text’s accuracy by fact-checking names, dates, and titles;
  • Clarifying a text’s structure by inserting and/or formatting headings to create a clear outline;
  • Ensuring that citations and references are formatted correctly, that sources have been properly cited, and that any potential ethical or legal issues are flagged;
  • Ensuring that author guidelines, spelling preferences, and style guides are applied consistently and correctly.

All this requires training because how does one, for example, improve a text’s clarity? This is a vague requirement that is made a lot more concrete with examples and exercises, of which I’ve had plenty in the past years. Since starting my editing training, I have completed three out of the five courses of Queen’s University’s Professional Editing Standards program (“Fundamentals of Editing Standards,” “Copyediting Standards I,” and “Copyediting Standards II”) and one SfEP course (“Brush Up Your Grammar“). I’m planning to take the remaining two Queen’s courses (“Proofreading Standards” and “Structural Editing Standards”) next year in order to obtain the certificate.

This is not where it ends, of course; any professional editor will engage in lifelong learning in order to stay up to date and hone their skills. I’m definitely planning to take more advanced copyediting and grammar courses and sharpen my MS Word skills in the future (especially concerning macros and wildcards).

For now, I’d like to share a few things that I have learned from my editing courses, thanks to fantastic instructors and colleagues. Of course, I learned much, much more than I can convey in one blog post, but I hope the selection below gives an idea.

Grammar

First, I significantly strengthened my grammar skills. I especially improved my understanding of restrictive and non-restrictive clauses, subject/object cases of pronouns (“you and I” vs. “you and me,” “whom” vs. “who,” and “it is me” vs.  “it is I”), and number agreement (the majority of readers is or are?).

I practiced many of these at Peck’s English Pointers, a great, free resource with explanations and tests (I still refer to my notes on these whenever I am not sure about something!). I especially enjoyed the article “More Dubious Agreement.” Oh, to be able to write so clearly and understandably about grammar! Also, fun fact: did you know that 156 pages were devoted to the subjunctive in An Historical Syntax of the English Language, 1963–73, by F. Th. Visser? The stuff you learn!

Checklists

Second, I learned to approach editing projects in stages and work with checklists, because there are so many steps involved in an edit. I developed several checklists that help me make sure…

  • …that I understand what the edit involves before I start: what is the preferred style and spelling? Are there style guidelines? To what extent is fact-checking involved? Do I check all elements? What is the intended audience of a text? What is its purpose? etc. This also helped me estimate how long a job would take and hence how much I should charge;
  • …that a text is complete: are all references in the reference list present in the text and vice versa? Are all claims properly substantiated? Do the references contain all necessary elements (author, publication year/title, place of publication, and so on)? Are all abbreviations, tables, figures, etc. listed in the lists of abbreviations, tables, figures? Do all visual elements have captions? Etc.
  • …that a text is consistent: Are all headings and captions styled in the same way? Are tenses used logically and consistently? Is language appropriately and consistently formal or informal? Are tables formatted consistently? Is capitalization and punctuation applied consistently? Etc.
  • …that a text is correct: Do percentages in tables make sense? Do graphs and other visual elements show what the author says they show? Are there any spelling and grammar mistakes?
Querying

Third, I learned how to query authors effectively, politely, and clearly. Writers work hard to get their words on paper, and no one is served by unclear or harsh comments. I learned to clearly state what it is that I find problematic, why I suggest a certain change, and, if applicable, which options an author has if they want to rephrase a sentence. Depending on the context, I usually go ahead and change something myself, but whenever I feel that a change needs an explanation, I provide one. I always phrase my feedback citing the reader, in whose interest I work at the end. Some examples of diplomatic queries or comments:

  • “Can you insert a reference for this claim please?”
  • “Please make sure the citation is 100% accurately copied, as this seems to be a mistake.”
  • “The meaning of this sentence is unclear. Did you mean [insert interpretation 1] or [insert interpretation 2]. If you meant [interpretation 1], please write [suggestion 1]. If you meant [interpretation 2], please write [suggestion 2].”
  • “Could you add a time period or year to this event? The reader may not know when this occurred.”
Clarity, conciseness, coherence, and flow

Fourth, I learned a lot about effectively improving a text’s clarity, conciseness, coherence, and flow. Is there a less convoluted, more specific, clearer way of stating something? Through studying textbooks and practicing with countless examples, I learned about noun strings, parallel constructions, nominalizations, active/passive voice, paragraph/sentence structure/emphases/length, comma splices, run-on sentences, dangling modifiers, tone, mood, style, voice, needless words, and more. Some fun examples from my own editing work and course exercises:

  • As Foucault’s genealogical work and all those who followed him demonstrates -> As Foucault’s genealogical work and that of all those who followed him demonstrate …
  • beliefs that are at war with each other -> warring beliefs
  • may merely be the beginning -> may be merely the beginning
  • Scholars first placed under strict scrutiny -> Scholars first thoroughly scrutinized
  • either due to accidents or gross negligence -> due to either accidents or gross negligence
  • We conducted an analysis -> We analyzed
  • This paper is an investigation into information processing behavior involved in computer human cognition simulation -> This paper investigates how computers process information when they simulate human thought.
Ethics

Finally, while editors are not responsible for the final form in which a text is published, we have a duty to flag issues that can lead to claims of plagiarism, copyright violation, defamation, invasion of privacy, or libel. As a former academic, I was very well aware of what plagiarism is and how to avoid or detect it, but it was interesting to learn about what constitutes libel in different jurisdictions and what the deal is with using trademarks in fiction. However, ethics are not just about avoiding being sued by someone. They’re also about fairly representing people, avoiding racist, sexist, ableist, ageist, and other biased language. Is it necessary to mention someone’s gender, race, age, or hair color? Can we change a sentence like, “A good doctor will use his knowledge and experience when diagnosing his patients” into “A good doctor will use their knowledge and experience…”?

Some resources:

I hope this post has given you an idea of the depth and width of editing training. If you have any questions or want more examples, feel free to contact me!

This blog post was originally published on Marieke Krijnen's blog.

two people shaking hands
“How I had learned to communicate was different than the style used where I now was”

In her two-part panel discussion during the first SENSE Professional Development Day, Nandini Bedi made us aware of our communication styles. Her presentation revealed how style is a fundamental part of cross-cultural discourse. The styles we use and encounter as linguists are diverse, and we need to keep that in mind as we dialog and write.

When speakers use inductive communication, listeners are responsible for discerning the message. They must pick up on hints and patterns as the speaker gradually reveals their main idea. Nandini took her example from English textbooks, which position target structures within a text. After making sure students have understood the general idea, the structure is highlighted so students will notice it. Lastly, how the grammar works is finally explained. The textbook moved from general to specific, indirect toward direct.

In contrast, speakers who use deductive communication state their core message up-front, only filling in details and context as the narrative goes on. Deductive communication is the standard for academic articles written in Western scientific tradition. An introduction or abstract gives readers the main idea, and more details and context are eventually provided in the text body. Deductive communication makes the speaker responsible for comprehension. They must pre-empt any questions recipients might have.

Nandini emphasized that each communication style is nothing more than that: a style. Every style has advantages and pitfalls, and any style can leave their audience lost, especially if speakers don't share the same one. For example, inductive communication might seem evasive to deductive communicators, and deductive communication could feel rude to inductive communicators.

Our preferences for a given style reflect the communication patterns we acquired at home, at school, and at work. In other words, our cultural backgrounds are good predictors for the way we interact in the world. High-context cultures such as India encourage detailed context-giving. Nandini explained that explicit politeness strategies (which often adds to the length of interactions) are key to navigating highly stratified societies. Deductive communication has more social currency in low-context cultures such as Dutch culture. The Netherlands are more socially homogenous than India, Nandini pointed out.

Like languages, we can either acquire or learn our communication styles. The key to success is knowing your purpose and your audience. Nandini emphasized that when we speak, we must put ourselves in our interlocutor’s shoes. We need to think about how they will receive our message, and the method we choose should correspond to how well our idea will be received.

Nandini’s presentation was a wonderful reminder to be mindful of others' expectations for interaction. Following the formal presentation, attendees shared personal accounts of cross-cultural miscommunication. The crux of each example was invariably rooted in cultural assumptions. As professional communicators, we inhabit the spaces between our clients and their audiences. It is our responsibility to mind the gap and leave a footprint that anyone on the other side will recognize.

Screenshot Harwood slide 1

Nigel Harwood, now Professor in Applied Linguistics at Sheffield University, is no stranger to SENSE. In 2014, when we were developing SENSE’s Guidelines for Proofreading of Student Texts, he and Liz Austen came to talk to SENSE about their research on proofreading practices at Essex University and that university’s policy and guidance on proofreading. At the SENSE conference in 2018 he presented his findings on proofreaders’ interventions in a Master’s text, and now he gave us an online presentation on The ethics of ‘proofreading’ at UK universities and reported on his recent study into students’, lecturers’ and writing tutors’ attitudes to proofreading practices.

Nigel explained the outcome of his recent research, which was driven by three questions:

  • How far do university content lecturers, English language tutors and students feel it is ethically appropriate for proofreaders to intervene in students’ writing?
  • Why do lecturers, tutors and students feel the way they do about the ethics of the various proofreading interventions?

The term 'proofreading' was used to cover a range of interventions including minor/major copy editing, structural editing, content editing, indirect editing, and no intervention. SENSE members raised queries about the definition and Nigel clarified that his terminology was based on his own work and that of Brian Mossop (York University, Ontario). Nigel’s definition – quoted in SENSE’s Guidelines – confines proofreading to student-authored texts by stating that it concerns making changes to ‘assessed work in progress’. After reminding us of this careful wording, he noted that it doesn’t apply to the practice in the Netherlands and elsewhere in mainland Europe of helping PhD candidates achieve publishable articles for their thesis.

Nigel’s study involved lecturers, EAP tutors and students (122 in total). The vast majority in all three groups were in favour of some form of proofreading. Unsurprisingly, students took a more permissive stance, with most approving of proofreading intervention. Lecturers and tutors took a less liberal view and voiced concerns about how proofreading interventions might affect student grading. Nigel explained that some lecturers believed that proofreading interventions should not be allowed where language usage and accuracy was being explicitly graded. Conversely, if the language was not part of the assessment criteria, why would the student need proofreading intervention? If the message and ideas were communicated adequately, especially in the case of multilingual authors, then the lecturers were satisfied: language accuracy was not an issue.

To put the results into perspective, Nigel elucidated the findings from the two extreme outliers among the lecturers. The ‘ultra-permissive’ lecturer believed that accessing proofreading intervention was completely acceptable and played a role in inclusivity. Nigel explained that while some students may have access to university-educated parents and well-educated networks they can turn to for proofreading and feedback, access to support via proofreaders and academic editors was a form of equality for those less fortunate. The extreme opposite – the ultra-non-permissive lecturer – believed that no intervention should be allowed, with an inference of cheating. Nigel contextualised this viewpoint by saying the assignments set by the non-permissive lecturer included assessment criteria for language accuracy. Summing up, Nigel pointed out that there was less agreement among the interviewees on how far proofreaders should be permitted to go. His three recommendations on how universities might safely authorise proofreading were to ‘permit only a lighter-touch version of proofreading which eschews content interventions; regulate proofreading by taking it in-house; and allow departments to permit or prohibit proofreading from assignment to assignment, depending on assessors’ aims, outcomes, and assessment criteria.’

One recurrent theme from the research was that ‘proofreaders’ (as defined in Nigel’s research) should not be commenting on or adjusting content. He did concede that some lecturers accepted comments and questions from the proofreader to prompt the author to consider faulty argumentation or missing information. This type of intervention is referred to as ‘editing for educational purposes’ by some universities.

In wrapping up his presentation, Nigel remarked there was still no consensus on how much intervention is acceptable. Some UK universities ban proofreading altogether, whilst others take a non-committal stance. Sheffield University, for example, has placed a blanket ban on proofreading but all students (English native speakers and international) are entitled to six hours of advice from the English Language Teaching Centre. One solution suggested by Nigel was to have ‘in-house’ staff to support academic writers through the university writing centres. However, this would not satisfy university staff who believed any intervention to be unethical and could lead to a return to unseen assessments.

Nigel’s presentation was enlightening and provided a clear message about the perspective of UK universities. We are grateful for Nigel’s time and look forward to hearing from him in the future about other EAP research interests.

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