Thursday, 25 February 2021 12:00

UniSIG meeting report: Lisa Muszynski on the University of Helsinki’s Language Services

Written by Tanya Barben

UniSIG

The 12 January UniSIG meeting was convened by Joy Burrough-Boenisch, who welcomed all 29 attendees and introduced the speaker, Lisa Muszynski, language revisor at the University of Helsinki. Also present were five non-SENSE members: two from Finland, two from South Africa and one from the Netherlands. South African visitor Tanya Barben, member of PEG, reports:

Lisa explained that the term ‘revisor’ (rather than ‘reviser’) is used to describe the person responsible for revising the English (one of the University's three official languages) of the over 60,000 texts processed annually by staff and freelancers working for the University’s Language Services (the ‘unit’, hereafter). These texts comprise abstracts, articles and books whose publication is anticipated, as well as doctoral theses. The revisors also check the acceptability and fidelity of texts translated into English. They are encouraged to use tracked changes and margin/bubble comments, and any interaction with the client is generally via the easier email rather than by phone.

The revisors establish whether the arguments presented are logical; the focus is on  grammatical and linguistic accuracy as well as reader comprehension. In the case of articles and books, their aim is to get the work to publication standard (although some emendations might be necessary following the peer review process). Essentially, the unit’s purpose is to improve the text’s quality and fluency, to get the client’s ‘foot in the door’ for academic publishing, and to cede the final responsibility for the text to the client.

The freelancers are given guidelines and a list of reference works and citation styles (including clickable links to some) they are expected to be familiar with. Prior to the pandemic, there were meetings and in-person training sessions. Not all the freelancers have academic qualifications, but some are very experienced and some better than herself, Lisa suggested. All are native speakers of English and are expected to have passed a test based on the worst paper ever received by the unit.

There  is a coaching element to what the freelancers and Lisa do. They address lexical problems via comment  bubbles and, where necessary, suggest alternative, more natural-sounding sentences; clients have an opportunity to indicate exactly what they want to say.

Of course, there are limitations to what the revisor can do. In all instances, it should be made clear that any changes are not editorial interventions but rather suggestions that the client can accept or reject. There is a need to recognize that the needs of clients may differ. Revisors should also maintain a balance between revision and editing and be aware of the difference between content and style.

A staff member of the unit liaises with the clients to obtain any feedback. Complaints are rare. The clients are responsible for their texts (and for any plagiarism) and for getting them published.

The meeting lasted about 60 minutes. Attendees participated fully and some of the many questions asked form part of the above account.

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