Thursday, 18 April 2019 10:33

Eastern SIG informal meeting 12 April 2019

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Braving the icy north-easterly winds, a gritty bunch of seven SENSE members gathered last Friday afternoon at Café de Beurs in Zwolle to raise a glass (and enjoy a few bar snacks) to put the world – of editing, translation and whatever else we do – to rights. Discussion topics ranged from ‘how to get more clients' (a SENSE-wide topic) to coping with MemoQ, via a large-scale English-to-Dutch medical terminology database project over the coming two years, finding good facilities for children with special needs, English (and Dutch) book clubs and where to find them, what happens when translation clients promise work which they then hand to others, not to mention getting to grips with the A–Z of the Eastern provinces!

Informal meetings are a great way of getting to know other members and hearing all about what their work involves, plus the cross-fertilization that this often brings; not to mention a great way of introducing new people to SENSE!

Tuesday, 02 April 2019 16:48

Utrecht SIG report 13 March

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The Utrecht Translation group met on 13 March to discuss a text from a member who translates quite a lot of urban and spatial planning documents. Accordingly, we had a piece full of choice policy jargon about the new National Environment and Planning Strategy.

From virtually the very beginning we were making our way through a jungle of a nationale omgevingsvisie. Thankfully, the member who had supplied the text was there and helped us hack our way through.

Texts like these may seem vague, but they have to be somewhat concrete. The translator can’t be too free, although a little creativity does help. The passive voice can be aggravating in these documents. A few of us were foxed by the linking words that start sentences (daarbij, hierdoor, etc). Although it’s scary to cut a word that’s been put in a piece of policy by a committee, we were assured by a few of the Dutch native speakers present that sometimes these words really don’t mean anything on their own and they can go. It was quite interesting to hear all the different solutions and learn why some work and others don’t. We got through two of the four paragraphs to be translated but, to be fair, we might have got a few sentences further if the Bistrot hadn’t closed at 21:30.

It was a large and convivial group (14, but 17 had signed up!). Some of the several new faces had experience in this area too.

In other news, I have stepped down as convener (as of this year’s AGM). It’s a fine position that didn’t demand that much of my time, but after so many years it was time to let it go. Maartje Gorte has offered to replace me, and I’m sure she’ll be more than capable.

Tuesday, 02 April 2019 16:38

Eastern SIG meeting 28 February: Breggsit

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The Eastern SIG is officially out of hibernation. And the second formal meeting of the season was appropriately held just before the first day of spring. It was a good turnout with seven participants, and the morning’s topic was Brexit. Or is it Breggsit? Even its pronunciation triggered a discussion. Although Brexit is undoubtedly a divisive topic, our meeting was a model of harmony. We covered a range of Brexit-related topics, kicking off with a newsletter from the Dutch Immigration and Naturalisation Service (IND) and later moving on to letters to the editor of the Dutch quality daily paper Trouw.

It was difficult to tell whether the newsletter had been written directly in English or translated from the Dutch. We had fun trying to figure out which. One thing no-one had any doubts about was that the author was a non-native speaker, considering perplexing headings such as ‘Visitors open Brexit meetings pleased with IND presence’ and the references to ‘British’ when referring to Britons. It also got us talking about the (non)sense of embedded brackets and why it’s ‘Brexit’ in the UK and ‘de brexit’ in the Netherlands.

But we were not only there to linger over language. We had more important issues to tackle. Brexit itself. So we looked at the merits of solutions to Brexit submitted by readers of Trouw, one by our very own convener. Her suggestion was to set up a citizens’ assembly, similar to the one held in Ireland. Just as we had finished talking about this sensible course of action, several of us happened to receive an email from the IND. Attached was their second newsletter and, believe it or not, this one contained none of the errors we had just been discussing. We suspect that the IND is keeping tabs on us. In which case, we might be able to solve Brexit after all!

One new member of SENSE commented: "I felt very welcome during my first presence at a SIG meeting. As a starting translator into French and English (a native Dutch speaker), it was very useful for me to hear about the experiences of others – translators and otherwise – working in the field of languages. I was impressed with the thorough comments made by the native speakers in the group on an English text from a Dutch organization, which we analysed during our meeting and which, at first sight, seemed okay to me! I learned a lot, and look forward to more networking within SENSE."

gold nugget 2269847 1280Anyone who edits biomedical research papers for a living will know that many scientists struggle to write clear, well-structured research papers that are easy to read. Many still insist on using an archaic writing style, filled with complicated prose that (they think) impresses their peers, instead of doing what they should do, which is focusing on their readers’ needs. They firmly believe that this is how scientists ‘should’ write, and that if they don’t write in this way, their papers will not sound important enough and will not be accepted for publication. This is what we, as editors of scientific papers, are up against.

We must therefore find a solution to this problem. The truth is that this archaic style doesn’t only make scientific articles difficult to read – it actually gets in the way of reporting credible science.

Enter long-time SENSE member Ed Hull, with his latest book: Health-related Scientific Articles in the 21st Century: Give readers nuggets! In his book, Ed describes an easy-to-follow writing strategy that ensures precise, accurate and honest reporting of research findings. Ed shows scientists how to communicate credible research by focusing on specific take-home messages, or ‘core concepts’.

‘A good scientific article’, Ed says, ‘should teach the reader something’. And people learn better by grasping the core concepts before trying to understand the underlying details. Ed likens these core concepts to nuggets: ‘A nugget of gold is easy to pick up and has immediate value.’ In the context of scientific writing, an author can give their reader valuable nuggets of information to communicate what they want to say more clearly.

Cut to the core

In his book, Ed presents a template of 10 core concepts for research scientists to use when constructing their articles. This template structures the manuscript by bringing the take-home messages together. Core concepts 1–5 form the structure of the Introduction and core concepts 6–10 build the Discussion (see below).

Core concepts

Ed guides his reader through these core concepts, explaining each one in detail and using examples of fictitious studies to show the reader exactly how to write each core concept. There is continuous emphasis on leaving out details and being clear, which is a good thing as many scientists tend to get bogged down in unnecessary details. With this template of core concepts, Ed’s readers have the basis for writing a well-structured Introduction and Discussion. There is also a chapter on how to write the Methods and Results sections of a research paper, and how to structure these sections logically using subheadings, as well as another chapter on how to give the title and abstract maximum impact.

Specific focus

As he guides the reader through his writing strategy, Ed gives plenty of useful tips. One of the most useful (in my opinion) is the instruction to specify the scope of your study. This may seem rather obvious, but many scientists are afraid to – and don’t – do this. They feel that by narrowing the scope of their study, their findings will seem less important and less interesting. This fear is understandable, considering how much pressure scientists are under to publish, publish, publish in journals with the highest possible impact.

But Ed sensibly points out that focusing on a specific scope actually increases the credibility of a study in the mind of the reader because the author does not fall into the trap of mistakenly implying their study is bigger than it actually is. By maintaining this all-important focus, the methods will adequately address the scope of the study and the results will be credibly generalizable to the specific study population. A knock-on effect of this is that scientists will be less reluctant to acknowledge the limitations of their studies, thereby promoting accountability and research integrity.

This is one valuable golden nugget that I will be passing on to my own clients.

Getting the structure right

Ed’s strategy for writing research manuscripts helps solve another common problem among scientists: considering the overall structure of the manuscript and putting the right information in the relevant section. It may seem obvious what should go into the Introduction, Methods, Results and Discussion sections, but for some reason, authors of research articles often wind up interpreting their findings in the Results section, repeating their results and background information in the Discussion, or not answering their specific research question at all.
Ed helps researchers forget about details and focus on their take-home messages when writing their papers. Explaining each of these messages clearly and explicitly means the reader can focus on the scientific content of the research paper instead of struggling to find the point.

How to be reader friendly

A reader will have an easier time understanding an article that is well structured not only at the document level, but also at the paragraph and sentence levels. To help his reader break the habit of writing in a pompous, archaic style that is difficult to understand, Ed provides 10 helpful techniques for structuring reader-friendly sentences. He makes a concrete case for using the active voice and warns against ambiguous verbs and empty phrases that can leave the reader guessing. He also explains how to structure these reader-friendly sentences into logical paragraphs that tie the story together in a way that makes the reader want to keep reading (Ed provides a list of useful connecting words and phrases in the Appendix, which will be particularly useful for ESL authors). Ed illustrates each of his tips and techniques with helpful examples.

Much needed help

Ed has drawn on his experience as a researcher and teacher of scientific writing to develop an effective strategy for writing clear, well-written research articles – something which is sorely needed in academia. His ideas are well presented and easy to follow and should benefit native English-speaking and ESL authors alike. The book accompanies a successful writing course for PhD students that is held eight times a year at AMC in Amsterdam.

Ed’s book is also helpful to anyone who edits biomedical research papers. I for one am looking forward to passing on his wisdom to my own clients. Want to find out more? You can get your copy of Ed’s book here.

Thursday, 31 January 2019 09:44

SENSE Utrecht translation SIG meeting 9 January

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utrecht

A small but animated group of eight met up at Bistrot Centraal on 9 January for a post-holiday catch-up and to discuss the ups and downs of our professional lives.

(In)visible translations

The topics discussed were many and varied. One issue brought up was potential clients not being able to find your work on the internet if your translation is only used for something like an app, especially one for which people have to pay. (The example was a tourism app from one of the Dutch VVVs.) While you can refer prospects wanting to see samples of your work to a published book/journal, or send them to a web page via a search engine, search engines can’t ‘see’ apps. When the sole destination of your translation is an app, the chance of a possible client finding your pet project is virtually nil. There is no solution yet, but if you’re proud of what you’ve written/translated for that app, beware, and see if there’s a way to make it available (eg, on your own website).

Getting yourself sworn

Someone else was curious about what being a sworn (beëdigd) translator entails, as well as what advantages it might have. Fortunately, one member who was present is a sworn English-Dutch translator and was happy to share her experience. In brief:

  • there is probably more work from Dutch to English; much is short documents like birth certificates and diplomas, but we don’t know enough to say how much work might be longer documents
  • there is no option to register a specialization (eg, medical), so be responsible about what you can do
  • translating the same kind of documents may feel tedious at first, but soon you’ll build up a ‘library’ and it will go much faster
  • since the translated document is supposed to also resemble the original as much as possible, you’re often fiddling with PDF conversion, which is not everyone’s cup of tea
  • if you’re working for a court, they have often contracted with an agency and fees are therefore not negotiable
  • it costs €125 to become sworn, plus €40 for the VOG (Verklaring Omtrent het Gedrag or Certificate of Conduct)
  • you need to keep up your PE points (80 per 5 years) but there’s the option of following a minor at eg, ITV Hogeschool instead of attending several workshops/courses
  • liability insurance is also recommended
  • the status seems to impress customers even if they don’t need a sworn translation.

For those wanting to know about the current terms for registration, they can be found on the WBTV website.

Quoting for jobs

There was also a question about rates and how to quote for a job. This seems to be a hot topic right now, according to people who use other forums, with translators encouraging one another to charge more for their services. Perhaps the economic upturn is making even translators optimistic? One member pointed to the Editorial Freelancers' Association's list of the typical hourly rates for different types of editing and other work including translation. If you’re interested in knowing more, Sally Hill has written three articles on ‘Quoting for jobs’ for eSense. (Part 1 is on p.12 of eSense 41, part 2 is on p.13 of eSense 42 and part 3 is on p.18 of eSense 43.

Upcoming SENSE events

As an aside, we heard during our meeting that work has already begun on organizing the 2020 SENSE conference. Although nothing has been set in stone, there is already some planning and extending of feelers. Spirits were high; we even got as far as proposing Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama as keynote speakers! More information about both the conference and the upcoming (September) Professional Development Day will be forthcoming at SENSE’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) on 23 March.

Our next meeting is scheduled for 13 March, venue to be announced.

train3So there I was on Friday evening sitting in the train back to Zwolle after the recent UniSIG meeting in Utrecht. I’d had time for a quick drink with other attendees before heading to the station and was feeling fired up from the stimulating discussions with both new and more established SENSE members, both during and after the meeting.

And then I suddenly remembered what had happened in the train that afternoon just as we were approaching Utrecht station. Oh. My. Word. Did it really happen?

I’d been totally absorbed on my laptop, giving feedback in Word on a student paper. These particular students are novice writers so my edits and comments should not go too far. It’s an educational exercise to help them practise scientific writing and get feedback from a scientific editor. So the text doesn’t have to be perfect and I must be careful not to make unnecessary edits, or perhaps edits I’d make for a client whose text is going to be published.

So there I am, deep in concentration, when the lady sitting next to me reaches over and points to a word on my screen: influences. ‘Why don’t you make that the subject of the sentence?’ she says in Dutch. ‘It’s such a Dutch construction otherwise.’

I was speechless. What a nerve! She admitted she shouldn’t have been looking but couldn’t help herself. I already knew she was a teacher because she’d been reading the teachers’ union (AOb) magazine but never in my wildest dreams had I imagined she’d chip in and help with my onscreen efforts.

I stammered something about it being a student text and hastily packed my laptop away. Thank goodness it was time to leave the train. I was mortified. Partly because I didn’t have a snappy response (I couldn’t work out whether or not she was right, argghh) and of course mainly because she’d been prying.

So if any of you ever find yourself sitting next to a stranger doing some editing on their laptop, and feel tempted to make some suggestions, just don’t. Restrain yourself!

Thursday, 17 January 2019 09:21

UniSIG: a lively encore for Maria, to a full house

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uniSIGJan2019

UniSIG launched its 2019 programme with a presentation by SENSE member and academic editor and lecturer Maria Sherwood-Smith on ‘Outreach and research communication in English: Opportunities for language professionals’. This was an opportunity for members who had missed her SENSE 2018 conference session in June to attend a reprise. The chord she and her subject-matter struck with the 19 participants (including three newcomers to UniSIG) made for a lively, interactive session from which all left seriously thought-provoked. SENSE members John Linnegar and Theresa Truax-Gischler report back.

Communicating one’s research is a challenge at the best of times, but doing so in a second language to a variety of audiences, some of them multidisciplinary, some lay, is often beyond the capabilities of many a researcher. With the increasing emphasis in research funding on communication with non-specialists, policy-makers and the public, this new genre of speaking and writing has become a core academic competency, a reality many universities have been slow to embrace. Enter the language professionals – either as copywriters, editors or translators, or as teachers of writing and communication – to help researchers ‘sell’ their work to funding agencies, industry, government and the general public.

In a master’s course at Leiden University, Maria and two subject specialists work with the students at honing the content and structure of a brief research talk. Maria shared the ‘Daisy model’ applied in this course as a way of effectively organizing and presenting complex research. The model alerts authors to the genres and registers that best suit their target audience. In doing so, it points writers and speakers towards identifying their core message, expressing it in everyday, non-technical language and indicating its relevance to broader societal issues.

The vexed matter of formulating and wording grant applications took up much of the session, with a range of stimulating views being expressed around the room; but the drafting of brochures, blogs, websites, tweets, pubcasts and similar communications has also become necessary nowadays. For these media, experts other than the researcher are often needed. But how will they be accommodated and funded by institutions of higher education? Perhaps in combination with teaching academic writing and presentation skills or via the creation of university writing centres?

These and other issues were echoed in the animated Q&A exchanges with which the event ended – continuing into the drinks session that ensued. The takeaway message? There is a great need for language practitioners with the expertise to convert (or to teach how to convert) texts so that they communicate effectively to diverse audiences; but will the universities be able to deliver?

SENSE has a number of special interest groups (SIGs) which meet regularly throughout the country. They are open to all members, and guests are welcome to attend one or two meetings before deciding whether they would like to join SENSE. See the events calendar for more details.

Tuesday, 15 January 2019 11:39

Eastern SIG borrel

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Cafe photo 14 December 2018

On Friday 14 December, six Eastern SIG members, one ex-member and a potential member all braved the pre-Christmas crowds in Zwolle to enjoy what turned out to be a very jolly ‘happy hour’ gathering.

Despite best efforts by Sally Hill and myself, the table we had bagged and hoped to hold for the group gradually filled with café regulars. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, however, as we were forced to find extra chairs to ‘expand the circle’ (as in a full-blown traditional Dutch birthday party) so we had no choice but to get even more up close and personal.

The venue – café De Hete Brij – lived up to its fifth place in the Dutch café top 100. Credit to Elles Hetebrij, the owner and creative brain behind this small but gezellig café. I think I can speak for all the attendees when I say it was refreshing to meet and talk with fellow wordsmiths in an informal atmosphere without a pre-set agenda. It’s amazing what a convivial setting and the Christmas spirit can do.

Once the supply of bitterballen had dried up, five of us plus one member’s husband, who joined us later, went in search of a place to have a meal, but could we find a table in the centre of Zwolle? No way. Until someone suggested heading to a shoarma restaurant close by that they'd been wanting to try for a while. And as if by magic, there was just enough space for the six of us. The broad selection of lahmacuns on offer proved to be too tempting for the majority. Washed down with a cool Efes beer, it was just what the doctor ordered.

It must have been around 20:00 when we all went our separate ways – convinced that an Eastern SIG tradition had been born. See you all in February for the next regular meet-up!

SENSE has a number of special interest groups (SIGs) which meet regularly throughout the country. They are open to all members, and guests are welcome to attend one or two meetings before deciding whether they would like to join SENSE. See the events calendar for more details.

Monday, 14 January 2019 14:10

Contrasting learning methods: SENSE Ed SIG

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element5 digital 352043 unsplash

The most recent SENSE Ed SIG took place on Saturday 8 December at Park Plaza Hotel in Utrecht, where Giulia Colacicco, a PhD candidate in mathematics, gave a presentation on ‘Contrasting learning methods.’

Giulia gave a demonstration, drawn from her master’s thesis, of a new way to teach mathematical concepts to high-school students. We looked at several videos in which two dots moved back and forth while we were asked to express our perceptions of what we were seeing. More information was added to each successive video, first gridlines, then numbers running along each line.

If you think back to your high-school maths classes, do you remember functions? It turned out the two dots were the values x and y on which a function is based. Giulia reported that this new approach has quite a few advantages. The students on whom she tested her method reacted positively to both the visual presentation of the material and the opportunity to discuss how things worked with their peers. This meant that they learnt together at their own tempo, instead of being individually pressed to give answers. Giulia then presented the traditional equations with which this concept is normally taught, and the contrast was quite striking.

In the second half of the meeting we investigated two ways of learning a language, namely Chinese. This time we did things the other way around. I started by presenting an ‘old’ method – Hugo’s Chinese in Three Months – which I bought back in the 90s. This starts with long explanations of how the tonal system of Chinese works, and builds up (slowly) to words and then a few sentences. Everything was explained in quite laborious detail.

We then switched to the online method developed by Rosetta Stone. Here, no verbal explanations of any grammar or pronunciation points are given, and there is not a word of English in sight. Instead, the student looks at pictures and learns by example. Once a word is taught, it must be successfully picked out from a series of photos on a later page. Grammar is also taught by inference without stating rules.

The attendees certainly seemed to prefer the new method. However, it is worth pointing out that there are no resources such as dictionaries (you have to learn the word and then remember it), one never hears what an extended conversation is like (Hugo’s audio material does offer this) and the method is pretty expensive. What’s more, once your online subscription expires, you lose access to the materials, so you can’t review anything.

Our group had a very enjoyable afternoon, enhanced by the excellent technical facilities offered by Park Plaza’s newly renovated meeting rooms. It is unfortunate that the turnout was so low. Please keep an eye out for the next SENSE Ed SIG meeting, which will be held sometime in May.

SENSE has a number of special interest groups (SIGs) which meet regularly throughout the country. They are open to all members, and guests are welcome to attend one or two meetings before deciding whether they would like to join SENSE. See the events calendar for more details.

Monday, 07 January 2019 11:14

Business goals for 2019

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Business goals

It’s time again to put Christmas behind us and get back to work. January is always full of fresh possibilities, and most of us are setting new goals for the year ahead. In this post, we catch up with two members of our SENSE content team – Claire Bacon and Ruth Davies – to find out what they learnt in 2018 and how this influenced their business goals for 2019.

How long have you worked as a language professional?

Claire: I used to work as a research scientist at the University of Heidelberg in Germany. I quit academia and set up my editing business back in September 2015. Now I use my research expertise to help non-native English-speaking scientists get their research published in peer-reviewed journals.

Ruth: I have been editing for around 15 years; before that, I taught linguistics for a few years, working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from all over Australia. I own my sole trader (ZZP) freelance editing business, which I’ve been working in seriously since 2012. I mostly edit research reports in the topic areas of primary production, climate change and remote Australia.

What were your business successes in 2018?

Claire: At the start of last year, my editing business was still a baby. Now it’s more like a toilet-trained toddler that can dress itself. This is all down to the time I invested in editing training last year. I successfully completed three courses run by the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) – Copyediting Headway, Medical Editing, and Brush Up Your Grammar – and this increased my confidence no end! It was probably thanks to these qualifications that I was hired by Springer as a copy-editor for one of their biomedical journals. I was recommended for the job by somebody in my professional network (yes, networking really pays off!) and after looking at my CV, they offered me the job.

Ruth: This year was much the same as in previous years, but the conditions were more difficult, so this feels like a success of sorts. I was very busy in 2017 with work, convening the Institute of Professional Editors (IPEd) conference (which was held in Brisbane in September), and then moving to the Netherlands with my partner in October. In contrast, this year has been relatively quiet.

Looking back, I’m most proud of being able to work hard to solve problems for clients, even in tight timeframes. I took the opportunity to do a little more professional development and have done massive open online courses (MOOCs) about grammar (a refresh), social media marketing (new and scary) and corpus linguistics (fascinating). Of course, I also attended the SENSE conference and have had some work through the SENSE forum.

And what lessons did you learn?

Claire: I learnt that continued effort is necessary for marketing to pay off. Marketing is all about making sure that people know what you can do. I’ve started blogging regularly and getting more involved in networking. It took about six months before I noticed the effects. I learnt that you just have to keep at it and that (annoyingly enough) clients won’t find you unless you make yourself visible.

I also learnt how to prioritize. My working time is limited and I realized that something had to give. I stopped doing low-paid editing work for agencies, focusing instead on building my own client base and being there for my children. I also learnt how to say no to people who do not want to pay you the rate you are asking for.

Ruth: First of all, I learnt that a balance is needed between looking for new work, doing voluntary work and doing work. I worked hard on my professional development, but I now realize that if I put the same amount of effort into chasing new work as I did into MOOCs, I’d probably have more work. The same applies to doing voluntary work, which I do for IPEd and for a women’s group I’m a member of here in Utrecht.

Second, I learnt the importance of identifying gaps in production processes. I had a job this year that lasted a long time because the production process went a little awry. While my role was not that of production editor, I should have seen the gap and made sure everyone had all the information. 

What are your business goals for 2019?

Claire: I will continue to work on my professional development. I want to learn how to be more efficient with my editing, so will take a course on editing with Word. I also aim to gain professional membership of the SfEP, which will allow me to be listed in their directory of editorial services. For professional membership you need to prove you have sufficient training and experience and you have to provide references, so it really proves your worth as an editor. I also plan to increase my marketing efforts and put more time and energy into developing my blog, which will hopefully bring in more clients.

Ruth: The focus for me will be on building up my client base by putting the social media marketing course I did this year to better use. I’ll also try to use the corpus linguistics method to inform my blog articles for 2019. In May, IPEd will be holding its next conference in Melbourne, so I’ll make that my main professional development activity.

What are your business goals for 2019? Why not share them by posting a comment below?

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