Thursday, 12 March 2020 11:32

MiRoR conference recap

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miror conf medium

Methods in Research on Research (MiRoR) is a project sponsored by Marie Curie Actions, a body funded by the European Union. MiRoR’s specific aims are to reduce waste and increase research value in clinical research. SENSE members who attended the METM19 conference last September in Split may have attended presentations by researchers working for MiRoR.

On 25 November last year, I had the pleasure of attending a one-day conference that marked the conclusion of this project. It was titled ‘Meta-research on transforming clinical research’ and was held in the very grand surroundings of the National Academy of Medicine in Paris. All 15 MiRoR fellows were on hand with poster presentations of their individual projects.

The keynote speaker was John Ioannidis, who is known as ‘the father of meta-science’. His 2005 article ‘Why most published research findings are false’ is one of the most often downloaded and cited scientific papers of all time. He and the other speakers in the first half of the program focused primarily on setting up and planning research in ways that can prevent waste. These presentations were illuminating, but didn’t relate directly to language quality in research articles.

The second half of the program, however, was very relevant for those working with academic and scientific English. It was devoted mostly to avoiding waste by writing articles in a more effective and transparent way. Topics investigated by some of the MiRoR fellows included encouraging the use of reporting guidelines, and reducing the number of exaggerated and/or poorly worded claims in research articles. We learned that a number of mechanical methods are now being created to achieve these aims. For example, Halil Kilicoglu of the University of Illinois gave a fascinating presentation on how text mining can be used to determine the use of reporting guidelines in a scientific article.

All in all, it was a great day that provided an opportunity to rub shoulders with some very distinguished academics and researchers. Extensive documentation on MiRoR is available via the website. For the full conference program, click here. Individual presentations can be found here.

ludo waltman uni leiden

Professor Ludo Waltman. Photo courtesy of Universiteit Leiden.

The recent UniSIG meeting held in Utrecht on 31 January drew a large crowd and generated much discussion. This was not too surprising given that the invited speaker, Prof. Ludo Waltman, touched on an intriguing and relevant topic, namely ‘Editing an international scientific journal: The English language challenge’. As the deputy director of the Centre for Science and Technology Studies (CWTS) at Leiden University, a researcher in the field of bibliometrics and scientometrics, and currently the Editor-in-Chief of Quantitative Science Studies, he has amassed unique insights into research management and science policy, and how these impinge on publication practice. In his presentation for UniSIG, Prof. Waltman discussed four main points related to the English language challenge: authors, China, peer reviewers and journal publishers.

Research globalization can have a negative impact on authors from non-English-speaking countries
In an increasingly globalized research publication system (explore here) and under pressure to publish in highly ranked journals to stay competitive and funded, many researchers whose native language is not English submit their work to international journals. From a journal editor’s perspective, a recurrent question in assessing submissions is where to draw the line on language quality. While there is no shortage of available language services, it is unclear whether authors that need the most help can actually afford it, and whether the cheapest of these services are indeed of high enough standard.

Another issue related to authors from non-English-speaking countries publishing in international journals, especially in the fields of social science and the humanities, is the risk that research on locally relevant, impactful topics may go undone in the drive to publish in international journals, or alternatively cost researchers all-important citations when publishing in local-language journals. Being aware of the benefits and drawbacks of research globalization and the use of citation metrics in that setting is therefore paramount, as outlined in the Leiden Manifesto for research metrics.

Recent changes in Chinese publication policy may affect submissions from Chinese authors
A related and subsequent point that Prof. Waltman focused on was the significant rise in publications from Chinese authors. Depending on what database is used, China has now almost caught up – or even overtaken – the US in the number of English-language manuscripts published in international journals. This has been largely driven by science policy encouraging globalization of Chinese research, not only by financially rewarding authors for publishing in highly ranked international journals, but also by funding students to attend universities abroad.

For editors of international journals, the increase in volume of manuscripts alone is a persistent issue, with language quality adding another layer of complexity. It will be interesting to see how these trends change in the near future, in light of the apparent change in publication policy in China, which aims to encourage scientists to publish their best science in China.

What to do about poorly written peer review reports?
Where there are manuscripts, there have to be peer reviewers, and these pose the next challenge for a journal editor. In the days of increasing manuscript volumes, finding appropriate reviewers has become a big challenge. Since journal editorial boards alone cannot handle the volume of manuscripts submitted, other experts in the field are often asked to help with the peer review process. But while help from language editors can rectify authors’ poor English, similar assistance is rarely sought or provided for peer review reports. Reviewers' poor English-language skills, along with an increasing trend for open peer review, can discourage many potential reviewers from participating.

For journal editors, one potential way to mediate this problem would be to adopt a review process similar to that of the journal eLife where the handling editor facilitates a discussion among all reviewers, and then formulates a single clear list of necessary revisions to share with the author. Another possibility is for language editors to offer peer review report editing services, although it is unclear whether the researchers that need such assistance the most could afford it.

Publishers decide on whether open access publication fees cover copyediting
In the final part of his presentation, Prof. Waltman discussed publishers, their wide-ranging views on supporting language quality, and several other aspects important in scientific publishing. As Editor-in-Chief, first of the Journal of Informetrics, published by Elsevier, and currently of Quantitative Science Studies, published by MIT press, he has first-hand experience (more on Prof. Waltman's move from one journal to another can be found here.

We discovered that publishers differ hugely in the amount they charge for open access publication. Within this pricing structure, one publisher may provide no copyediting, while another is able to provide a relatively thorough service to its authors. Therefore, journal editors often have their hands tied, even if they would like to provide more help to non-native-English authors.

The work of authors' editors is unlikely to be affected by new developments just yet
To conclude, Prof. Waltman outlined two possible developments that could ease the English language challenge in the future. One that SENSE members are already keenly aware of is machine translation. Though not yet on par with a qualified human translator, it will undoubtedly continue improving and perhaps soon level the playing field for non-English-speaking researchers, especially those with restricted budgets. Another possibility is that, instead of publishing articles, researchers may one day simply publish their data as nanopublications – defined as the smallest unit of publishable information. In the meantime, though, it is clear that SENSE members will still have a lot of work on their hands helping international authors refine their manuscripts.

This blog post is a summary; for the full event report, please see the SENSE Forum (members only). A final note: The PDF of Prof. Waltman’s presentation is available to SENSE members upon request by contacting the convener, Joy Burrough-Boenisch, but it is not to be posted online.

Friday, 21 February 2020 08:55

SIGS in the spotlight: Utrecht SIG

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Utrecht SIG drinks
In this new blog series, we will highlight the different Special Interest Groups (SIGs) SENSE has to offer. SIG meetings are open to all members, and guests are welcome to attend one or two meetings before deciding whether they would like to join SENSE. Check the events calendar for upcoming SIG meetings. Contact the SIG convener for more information or to suggest a meeting topic. If you would like to start a new SIG, contact our SIG and Social Events Coordinator. In this edition, we talk to Utrecht SIG convener Maartje Gorte.
Can you tell me a little about yourself?

I started out as a language professional in 2010 after I quit my PhD in Genetics halfway through. I quickly found SENSE and the Utrecht SIG. It was – and remains – a delight to be among people whose brains work the same way as mine. Professionally, I enjoy working with technology companies and universities: complex, but broad enough to stay interesting.

What is the Utrecht SIG and who is it for?

The SIG started as the aptly-named Utrecht Translation Group over 20 years ago and stayed true to its origins. It’s for people who enjoy traveling to Utrecht to discuss translations; anything from analysis reports to opera. When we have an interesting text, we spend the first half of the meeting discussing the text and the second half on shop talk. When we don't have a text, there’s more time for shop talk. The SIG is interesting to a wide audience: even if you’re not a translator, it can be good practice to wrap your head around a translation puzzle and think about language and culture in a different way. 

How often does the Utrecht SIG meet up?

Every second Wednesday of odd-numbered months. The last year has been hit and miss due to trouble finding a suitable venue, but we’re trying out a new place for the upcoming meeting. 

How many people generally attend Utrecht SIG meetings?

Anywhere from 4 to 20, usually around 8. Luckily, we always get a good conversation going, no matter the group size. 

When and where will the next Utrecht SIG meeting be?

Wednesday 11 March in community centre Oase, from 19:30 to 21:30. We're still looking for a text to discuss, so if you've recently done a troublesome, funny, cross-culturally complex or otherwise interesting translation, please let me know!

Would you like to attend the next Utrecht SIG? Register at the Events page today!

conference preview

Photo by Michael Hartwigsen, taken at the SENSE 2018 Conference in Den Bosch. All rights reserved.

With the SENSE 2020 conference only a few months away and registration now open, it’s time to take a closer look at some of the presenters. They come from all around the world: Luxembourg, Spain, Finland, Canada, the United Kingdom, Belgium… Several presenters come from outside the Society, but the SENSE delegation is nothing to scoff at! Below are the names of all those representing SENSE during the pre-conference workshops and conference programme:

Ann Bless
Anouschka Schutte
Ashley Cowles (panel coordinator)
Claire Bacon
Daphne Visser-Lees
David Barick
Ellen Singer
Jackie Senior
Jenny Zonneveld
John Hynd
John Linnegar
Joy Burrough Boenisch
Justine Sherwood
Kate McIntyre
Laura Damiano
Maria Sherwood Smith
Marieke Krijnen
Paulien Copper (panel coordinator)
Sally Hill
Tony Parr

For an overview of all workshops and presentations, check out the full conference programme!

What are you hoping attendees will take away from your session?
Claire Bacon: “Language professionals with plenty of good clients and who are regularly turning work away probably don't need to start blogging. My talk is aimed at those of us looking to build our client base. I am hoping that my talk will inspire others to attract the clients they want by sharing useful, good-quality content. I understand how intimidating it can be to put yourself out there in this way, so I will also give tips on responding to criticism – and accepting compliments – publicly.”

Marieke Krijnen on her talk about the mental and physical health challenges faced by digital nomads: “I’m hoping attendees will walk away with some concrete tips and tools, and feel that they are not alone.”

Ashley Cowles: “Unexpected tips, useful tricks and silly ideas that will help or at least resonate with other parents trying to juggle work and kids. The main thing is to remember that even the most experienced juggler inevitably drops some balls from time to time – just try to make sure you don’t drop the most fragile ones.”

Ann Bless: “An example of a four-day course and advice on how to teach a successful course on scientific writing as well as my support, from a distance, if they start teaching.”

Justine Sherwood: “That they will look into alternative ways to travel instead of just hopping on a plane, something we’ve become too accustomed to.”

What are you most looking forward to in regards to the conference?
Jenny Zonneveld: “I'm particularly looking forward to spending time with colleagues and friends I otherwise only chat with digitally. And of course learning from them too. The programme looks fascinating, so it's going to be hard to decide which breakout sessions to attend!”

John Linnegar: “Learning from colleagues, especially from the younger, more tech-savvy ones about using social media to enhance one's business. Networking. Catching up with friends in the business. And savouring whatever Maastricht has to offer.”

Sally Hill: “I’m really looking forward to meeting up with both longstanding colleagues and new people, especially attendees from other countries. For me the conference is just as much about networking as it is about sharing and learning from each other.”

Monday, 10 February 2020 09:32

The Write Stuff recap: making translations sing

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On January 11, 21 translators met in La Vie in Utrecht for an all day workshop on translating from a writer’s point of view. Ros Schwartz has a background as a translator of French literature, but she’s been helping other translators for twenty years, regardless of which language pair they work in. You might think she ought to have some command of Dutch to be leading a workshop about translating Dutch to English, but it didn’t matter. The point of this workshop was to get us past our connection to the source text and see a translation as a self-sufficient English text. That’s what our clients see, after all.

Ros started out with a PowerPoint presentation entitled ‘The Sound of Music – Making translations sing’. It included some general points (know your audience, take a break before doing the final read-through) and some quite specific ones, even down to one word (‘of’’ – couldn’t the ‘minister of finance’ just be the ‘finance minister’?). One of her key ideas is to ‘take ownership’ of the translation – asking yourself what the client wants to communicate and putting that down instead of literally translating. Taken together, these points are a powerful recipe for delivering better translations.

Next we split into groups of four or five to do a short practice exercise based on these points. We worked on a sample translation that was lacking in out-and-out errors but also in oomph, then discussed it with the full group. Each small group then worked on several texts that had been submitted by other participants in advance. These work sessions were illuminating to say the least. As a rule, the submissions were something the translator had found tricky. Although the problems were usually clear, the key to how to make them sing in English was not obvious. Being armed with some of Ros’ insights did make a difference.

At the end of the day, we shared our findings with the full group. Having colleagues pick your work apart can be terrifying. Ros acknowledged this, comparing it to standing naked in front of everybody, and asked that we make our feedback constructive by saying why something didn’t work and how it could be better. The feedback can be confrontational, but is usually well worth it. It’s also sometimes gratifying to hear that there often isn’t one ‘correct’ translation for a particular word, and that opinions differ on what works and doesn’t work.

Sometimes the problem was not a specific word or words but how the information was arranged: a written-out list might serve your audience better as a bulleted list. Sometimes the source text was not good to begin with. Rather than advocating the ‘garbage in, garbage out’ approach, Ros sees these texts as an opportunity for the translator to take ownership and really shine (tip: point out diplomatically to the client what you’ve done).

I think I can speak for all those participating when I say we left with a little more spring in our step and a few more tools in the tool kit!

Tuesday, 04 February 2020 20:30

We tolk, you listen

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tolken actie

Sworn translators and interpreters protesting in front of the courthouse in Amsterdam on 13 January 2020. Image by Jaike Reitsema.

Although all interpreters do is talk, we’re not known to be very vocal. We are hard-working people who prefer not to be the centre of attention. Many of us work in public service: interpreting for the police, the courts or immigration services. Others specialise in wiretap transcription or healthcare.

Despite lobbying from various organisations that support public service interpreters and translators, hourly rates have remained the same as they were over 30 years ago. Promises about improving working conditions have never materialised. At the same time, the requirements for entry in the register of sworn/certified interpreters and translators (Rbtv) have gone up, as have the costs to keep your registration active through regular CPD courses. Many experienced colleagues feel it’s simply impossible to earn a decent income; as independent professionals, their work load is unpredictable. It also involves a lot of travelling, which means interpreters cannot work 40 hours a week. As a result, there is now a shortage of interpreters into a number of languages.

Things came to a head in 2017, when a government report was published with the unsavoury title ‘Don’t tolk too much’ – a play on words involving the Dutch word for ‘interpreter’. The report highlighted the need to streamline availability and lower costs. This resulted in a programme by the Ministry of Justice and Security called ‘Tolken in de toekomst’ ('Interpreting in the future'). Key points: streamlining the way government authorities purchase interpreting and translation services, while also providing room for innovation. Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?

Unfortunately, the solutions the Ministry proposed (and the position they took in online consultations and face-to-face meetings with stakeholders) have baffled and angered professional interpreters and translators:

  • Further outsourcing of interpreting and translation services currently handled by in-house planners. The first pilots are already running: interpreters are now also being called in for court hearings via intermediaries – at even lower rates. Obviously, interpreters who refuse to work for these mediators are no longer contacted, so an increasing number of sensitive cases is handled by unqualified interpreters.
  • Including B2 speakers in the official register to solve the shortage. Obviously, this was the last straw for many interpreters who spent years studying to get a degree and to get their language skills at C1/C2 level, only to see now that a simple secondary school diploma will be enough. No requirements are specified regarding the professional skills required – simultaneous interpreting, ethics, jargon, et cetera – for entry at B2 level, and there are no plans for monitoring and quality control.
  • A new payment system, including a minimum rate that hasn’t been indexed since 1984. The current travel expense scheme is downgraded to €0.19(ish) per km, which disregards the fact that interpreters can’t work while travelling. Parking and car maintenance (previously covered by voorrijkosten or call-out charge) are no longer reimbursed.

In early 2019, a group of over 100 interpreters joined forces as Tolken en Vertalers in Actie and contacted a lawyer to see what legal action they could take. After calling in the help of lobbying organisation ZZP Nederland, the group adopted a resolution and announced strikes. In the week of 13-19 January 2020, a large number of interpreters went on strike and demonstrated at various courthouses in the Netherlands to demand attention for their position. This has since resulted in a round-table meeting with MPs of the Justice and Security Committee and questions being posed in Parliament, but Minister Grapperhaus has yet to issue a formal response.

What will the future look like for public service interpreters and translators? A lot is still unsure, but we will continue to fight for fair compensation and proper regulation of the profession. The next strike is planned for 19 February at Plein 2, The Hague – the date of the debate between the Minister and the committee. For more information, contact Tolken en Vertalers in Actie.

Thursday, 30 January 2020 12:24

SIGs in the spotlight: SenseMed

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seven restaurant

In this new blog series, we will highlight the different Special Interest Groups (SIGs) SENSE has to offer. SIG meetings are open to all members, and guests are welcome to attend one or two meetings before deciding whether they would like to join SENSE. Check the events calendar for upcoming SIG meetings. Contact the SIG convener for more information or to suggest a meeting topic. If you would like to start a new SIG, contact our SIG and Social Events Coordinator. SenseMed convener Curtis Barrett kicks off:

Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I’m an American, born and raised. I moved here in 2007 to continue my career as a neurobiologist, working as a group leader at Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC). In 2011, I left the research world and started my freelance editing and consulting business, helping fellow scientists and clinicians publish their research and obtain grants. In addition, I have a permanent position as a lecturer at Wageningen UR, where I teach scientific writing to MSc and PhD students.

What is SenseMed and who is it for?
SenseMed is a special interest group that focuses on bringing together SENSE members with clients in the medical and biomedical fields. In a nutshell, SenseMed provides a forum where like-minded editors, translators, and medical writers can exchange ideas, discuss the latest trends and challenges in publishing and funding, help de-mystify obscure medical terminology, and more.

How did SenseMed get started?
SenseMed was started by SENSE members Josefien Bruijn, Julie Box and Daphne Lees to connect members with questions related to medical terminology. For years, SenseMed was strictly email-based, with members joining a Yahoo! mailing list to exchange questions and answers. With the growing ease and power of search engines, however, participation in the mailing list declined, so last year we closed the mailing list and now encourage members to post their queries on the members-only Forum.

How often does SenseMed meet up?
That’s a good question! Actually, with the exception of one event about six years ago, SenseMed has never met at a physical location, and that’s something we’re hoping to change. Our goal is to organize two to three meetings each year.

How many people generally attend SenseMed meetings?
We’ve never really met, but our target is to draw a group of around 20.

When and where will the next SenseMed meeting be?
Thursday 20 February, 2020 from 16:30-18:30, at Restaurant Se7en in Utrecht.

Interested in joining the SenseMed meeting? Register here!

Thursday, 23 January 2020 09:29

2020 Conference: location, location, location...

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2018 Conference Deb Bosch
Photo by Michael Hartwigsen

There is no shortage of conference accommodation in the Netherlands, so choosing one just requires a map of the country and a pin, right? Wrong, especially if it’s for the SENSE biennial conference…

Two years ago, I was asked to recommend a location for the 2018 conference. It was quite a challenge, but eventually the decision went in favour of ’s-Hertogenbosch – not because it was a city nobody could spell, but because it offered the right combination of facilities that discerning SENSE members expected.

So what is the ideal location for our conference? In short, there isn’t one, as everyone has his or her preferences. Some of us want a city location with good public transport connections, others want a monastery in the middle of nowhere with free parking, no distractions, and waking up to bird song. As we are becoming a more international event, simply choosing a place that is accessible by train, bus or bike is not enough.

Starting last January (yes, January 2019!), I longlisted almost fifty locations that, in my experience with other conferences, would be suitable. These included several locations suggested by other SENSE members. I shortlisted this to twelve. Of those twelve, five did not have availability, offered a ridiculously high rate or simply failed to respond. Finally it came down to a straight contest: Rotterdam or Maastricht. My personal recommendation was for Maastricht, partly because they had come in second place in 2018, and were very, very keen to have us this time.

During the summer, several of the conference committee members visited the location, viewed the facilities and spoke to the staff. In the end, Maastricht won, but as a consolation prize Rotterdam got the Eurovision Song Contest!

Price is not the only issue, though of course this is a major consideration. Flexibility is most important. I had to explain to all the potential locations that if I was organizing a conference for a major national/international/multinational company, I could tell them immediately how much accommodation we would need, safe in the knowledge that the organizers would pick up the tab. It’s quite unusual for conference locations to understand that we are all freelancers, we pay our own expenses, and because the event is not during ‘office time’ (in other words, in our own time), SENSE cannot guarantee attendance numbers a year in advance.

Another important consideration was that the location should not charge more for two half days than they would for one full day. That’s a bit of a cheek, as it’s unlikely that they would be able to sell the conference facilities on the Saturday morning or Sunday afternoon, so in true Dutch tradition, it’s a case of ‘twee halen, één betalen’!* My shortlist was limited to locations that were prepared to meet us on this point, and most of them were.

I hope I have found the right location for the 2020 conference. If I have, you may congratulate me in June; if not, it’s the committee’s fault! The planning of the speakers, the programme, the workshops and the other activities is going ahead at full steam. My job is complete, but I’m already looking discretely at locations for 2022 – just in case the committee asks me again!

Maastricht Marketing/Jonathan Vos

This is where we well be holding the pre-conference workshops and the conference itself: at the four star Amrâth Grand Hotel de l'Empereur in Maastricht. Conference delegates will be able to book a room at the special conference rate once registration for the conference itself opens. 

For more information about the conference hotel, see the hotel's website.

Check this page for full details of the conference, location and programme!

© Image by Maastricht Marketing/Jonathan Vos. All rights reserved.

* for non-Dutch speakers, this is the equivalent of ‘Buy one, get one free’.

2019 AGM small
Photo by Michael Hartwigsen

Taking SENSE and making SENSE

We’ve just started a new decade, and SENSE has entered its third decade as a society. So, the time is ripe to broaden the Annual General Meeting's scope and to take it to a new level.

So, what’s on the menu? We’ll start by reviewing the society’s business over the past year: the 'taking SENSE' part. SENSE AGMs have previously been all-afternoon events. Now, in keeping with many other societies, the business part of the meeting will be much shorter (max. 1 hour) with a request to members to submit any questions in writing in advance. A shorter AGM does not mean compromising on our high standards of accountability and scrutiny, but just that the business will be conducted faster and more efficiently.

Now, of course, you’re wondering what will happen with the rest of the time. Well, we’ll use some of it to take a broader look at the society and what we can expect in the coming year: the ‘making SENSE’ part. This will also include an appropriate reflection on our thirtieth anniversary. Then we’ll take a leap into the wider world of language professionals by treating you to a talk by Claire King. She will be providing the English voice-overs for the Eurovision Song Contest later this year in Rotterdam.

Fortunately, some things are too good to change. Therefore, the afternoon will be rounded off with drinks and nibbles, giving you plenty of time to relax and chat with fellow members.

You can read the provisional timetable for the afternoon below, but first a word about this year’s location. We have chosen to host the AGM at Kargadoor, a cultural podium in the heart of Utrecht. By renting the facilities at Kargadoor, SENSE is supporting the highly diverse programme of cultural events offered there. We have the large room on the ground floor, which includes plenty of space for the traditional pre-AGM book swap.

Provisional timetable

13:45 doors open – book swap and tea & coffee available

14:15 AGM business part (taking SENSE)

15:15 AGM looking ahead (making SENSE)

15:35 AGM tokens of appreciation for SENSE volunteers

15:40 Tea and coffee break 

16:00 30 years of SENSE

16:20 Talk by Claire King

16:50 Members’ questions to Claire King

17:00 Wrap-up, followed by drinks and nibbles

Please note that the AGM is open to all SENSE members and the programme is free of charge.

The SENSE EC looks forward to welcoming you all at this year’s AGM. Further information about the business part of the AGM and the rest of the afternoon will be sent to members in the coming weeks.

Dave Thomas

SIG and Social Events Coordinator

In early December 2019, both the Ed SIG and UniSIG focused on academic writing. Below, Marianne Orchard reports back from the UniSIG presentation on editing texts for the humanities and social sciences. Jackie Senior tells us how the SENSE Ed SIG members discussed the use of online resources for academic writing.

Photo by Theresa Truax-Gischler

UniSIG: Editing humanities and social science texts: theory and practice (Marianne Orchard)

Fourteen of us turned up for the UniSIG meeting at Se7en in Utrecht on Friday 13 December – as if we’d thought the venue would only accept multiples of seven. We’d come for a presentation by Theresa Truax-Gischler and Maria Sherwood-Smith on the American Council of Learned Societies’ Guidelines for the Translation of Social Science Texts.

The guidelines, Theresa explained, were developed to help those who commission edits and translations. ‘Given the potential of the social sciences to influence … millions of lives’, they declare, ‘it is incumbent upon both translator and editor to produce the most reliable translation possible.’

But what is a reliable translation or edit? Should you domesticate or foreignize? Maria had faced this conundrum when translating a Dutch book on 19th-century correspondence. In a more cerebral version of Snog Marry Avoid? she had had to decide whether to translate, gloss or borrow archaic forms of address such as uedele, wel edele and gij.

And given the importance of storytelling and voice in the social sciences, should you level stylistic peculiarities or allow a note of foreignness to enter the text? And what about errors in the source text? Translators and editors, say the guidelines, ‘…must not attempt to correct what they perceive to be errors in the text.’

We decided it boils down to whether you privilege the source text, as the guidelines prescribe, or the target text. However, as many of us have a direct relationship with the author, perhaps we are like quantum particles and can exist in two states at once: as both author’s and reader’s editor/translator.

Photo by David Barick

SENSE Ed: Online Resources for Academic Writing (Jackie Senior)

First, David Barick reported briefly on the EU-MIRoR conference (Methods in Research on Research) that he’d attended in Paris. This project aims to reduce wasteful clinical research and increase the value of research practice. Then we moved on to the main subject of the afternoon: discussing the numerous online resources for learning about writing in English and about academic writing. Such resources need to be chosen carefully to match the learners’ individual needs and the course being given: no easy task given the number of websites available. It is essential to first specify who will be using the resource, at what level, and for what purpose.

David provided a list of resources and we looked at some together. These included the Springer, Purdue University, Columbia University and CARS model websites. As these are generally large, text-based websites, selecting what to look at was sometimes rather difficult. We had a lively discussion on some of the advice given (so many language professionals, so many opinions) and then we did some of the online tests offered to students for them to check what they had learnt. However, we found we sometimes needed more than one go to work out what the correct answer was. This highlights one of the difficulties for students using websites on their own: there’s not always an explanation of what they’ve done ‘wrong’. A face-to-face teacher can point students in the right direction.

We found each website missed some points we would have expected to be covered, for example, the use of the passive, nominalization, writing for a specific field, or relating the instruction to the student’s native language and to their concept of formal writing. We then looked at the AWL (academic word list) Highlighter. This tool highlights the formal words used in academic texts and gives the writer an idea of how much they are using the correct sort of vocabulary. It also offers help on meaning and pronunciation.

For the second half of the afternoon, we looked at videos that explained aspects of academic writing. Some of these were less than inspiring and consisted only of a person talking to the camera, while others (e.g. a TED talk on How to use semicolons) used visuals to attract attention and explain more complex points. Several videos were rather simple and proved a slow way of gathering information (since many people can read a text more quickly than listening to a speaker).

In the end, recommending one website over another proved rather difficult. We finished on a lighter note with the suggestion that all writers and students should watch Helen Sword’s YouTube video on Zombie Nouns, and follow her advice on writing vigorous, verb-driven sentences.

Please consult the SENSE Members’ Forum to see a complete list of resources used during the SENSE Ed SIG meeting.

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