Friday, 12 July 2019 10:57

Eastern SIG editing slam

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It was a fairly early start in Zwolle for the Eastern SIG meeting, but fortunately there was a Nespresso machine to help us wake up. The topic of the meeting was ‘levels of editing’, an idea that had arisen from a discussion at a previous meeting where Sally and Kumar had mentioned how different their editing styles are. Before the meeting, Kumar and Sally both edited a 300-word text (taken from a medical journal, though not too specialized). The text was also sent around beforehand, so that other members could have a try too.

The intention was that Sally and Kumar would compare their edits at the meeting and discuss them with the other SENSE members present. Why would you choose whether or not to change something? Are the changes justified? Unfortunately, Kumar had to leave almost immediately, but Sally was so well-prepared that this was no problem at all! For each sentence, we compared and discussed the changes that the two of them had made and compared them with our own edits − it was very interesting to hear the different approaches taken. We also discussed the assumptions that we made when editing the text, some of which were not always correct! (As also discussed in this thread on the members-only forum.)

Besides discussing the actual edits made, we also talked about what the editor’s job should/could be, and how this depends on the time available. We then went on to talk about client acquisition and contact with clients.

All in all, a highly informative and certainly well-attended morning!

Monday, 17 June 2019 09:59

PerfectIt 4: highly satisfying to use

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I’ve been a loyal PerfectIt user since 2015, when I was faced with a 100+-page document with a style guide that required both odd hyphenation and the use of numerals for all numbers, even at the start of a sentence. Back then I was still trying to prove to myself that I was a good proofreader, but that document was the final nail in the coffin for that idea: I do have a keen eye for typos and grammar errors, but variations tend to slip under the radar. Noticing that there are ‘3 policymakers’ on page 12 and ‘three policy-makers’ on page 86? Not a chance.

I heard of PerfectIt through SENSE and it was just what I needed. The time I saved on that last read-through of that initial document paid for the licence three times over. These days, I run everything through PerfectIt and I have PerfectIt styles set up for all my regular clients. So I was thrilled when I got to take a sneak peek at the upcoming edition, PerfectIt 4.

No more ups and downs
The one dislike I had about PerfectIt was the inefficiency of mouse movements. Run a test, click on a highlighted sentence, move your mouse down to the bottom of the window to click on ‘Fix’, move your mouse up to select the next sentence, move your mouse down again, repeat for all the sentences in all the tests.

Of course, this is a minor niggle, because PerfectIt has had a robust keyboard shortcut system for years. Still, I am delighted that PerfectIt 4 gives each individual sentence its own Fix button. It may only save you half a second per fix, but that adds up over long documents and long work weeks. Not to mention avoiding the short, jerky, repetitive mouse movements that can be the most aggravating for RSI.

More elegance and speed
PerfectIt 4 is more elegant in other ways as well. You can now directly create a new style based on an existing one. The user interface has a more polished look. The initial scan time is reduced considerably, though I always liked to take that moment to stretch and pour myself a cup of tea.

All in all, should you subscribe to PerfectIt? My answer to that has always been ‘yes’, although I am enough of a dinosaur to miss the one-time-purchase option. Even if you have perfect hyphen sensitivity, PerfectIt will help you save valuable time. And with the upgrades in PerfectIt 4, you will be able to increase the consistency of your documents in a way that feels effortless, intuitive and elegant.

Monday, 17 June 2019 09:28

Save the literary translator!

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vertaalpleidooi 2 filmpje omslag

In 2009, the Expertisecentrum Literair Vertalen (ELV), the Centre of Expertise for Literary Translation, published a plea entitled ‘Overigens schitterend vertaald’ ('Great translation by the way'), to maintain a flourishing translation culture in the Netherlands and Flanders. This plea motivated the universities of Utrecht and Louvain to collaborate and set up a literary translation master’s programme. Now, ten years later, the ELV is ringing the alarm bell once again, owing to a developing threat to the translation culture in the Low Countries, and has produced another plea, 'VerTALEN voor de toekomst’ (a play on words that roughly translates as 'Translation and languages for the future', not yet available in English).

Internationalization and ongoing globalization have increased the level of English speaking, reading and writing skills in Dutch and Flemish society. But they have also put other languages, including Dutch, under pressure. European languages are disappearing from the curricula of universities. These days, a mastery of English is often regarded as being sufficiently multilingual. The traditional Dutch openness and curiosity about foreign languages, which led to commercial and cultural success in the past, is giving way to a monoculture that focuses on English. We all admire the language skills of Frans Timmermans, who switches effortlessly from French to Italian to Russian to German, but he finds few followers in that regard. Whether on holiday or business in France or Germany, we expect to be able to get by with our knowledge of English.

The dwindling interest in foreign languages other than English is also affecting the supply of a new generation of translators, working both from and into Dutch. Add to that (or because of that) the poor compensation literary translators receive, and we see a declining number of students opting to study language or translation. The financial prospects are simply not good enough. This is reflected in the general lack of interest in literary translation among SENSE members, and their focus on language products that are financially more worthwhile.

An article by Abdelkader Benali, born in Morocco but now a leading Dutch author (Bruiloft aan zee, Brief aan mijn dochter), recently appeared in NRC Handelsblad. ‘Save the literary translator!’ he calls out, because the shortage of translators is a cultural disaster. Just like bees, they do their work in silence, away from all publicity, but without them an entire ecosystem falls apart. Without them, the possibility of contact with other cultures disappears. To get to know a country, Benali says, read its literature. Read the characters it creates, the stories that originate from its history, its silent tragedies. If Fjodor Dostojevski, Franz Kafka, Primo Levi, Albert Camus and so many others had not been translated, it would have proved impossible to gain the other’s perspective and to discover what has shaped the European landscape.

According to Benali, the translator risks becoming an extinct species because fewer students decide to study language. The low financial reward may be fatal to the translation profession. The ELV therefore calls upon the Dutch and Flemish governments to initiate a campaign: Kies voor taal (Choose language), analogous to the Kies exact (Choose science) campaign of some years ago. Likewise, it calls upon publishers and other clients to respect the standard amount mentioned in the Model Contract.

Could this be an opportunity for those of us working as legal, medical, financial or technical translators and editors?

Friday, 07 June 2019 15:09

Utrecht SIG: translate what it says?

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Canva Wooden Table with Notebook

For the Utrecht SIG, the 8 May meeting marked a return to the Park Plaza after a long remodelling period. The upstairs bar was an excellent new addition, but we all thought the large workshop space was a bit much for only five participants.

The translation of the evening was an analysis document about a company struggling with an unfavourable work culture. The company, historically Dutch but with a large contingent from a specific other country, was recently purchased by an American company. The Dutch consultant who had written the document needed it translated into English as a starting point for conversation with the American management.

Despite a few odd turns of phrase ('de juiste maat en modus vinden', 'deze notitie vormt de onderlegger voor het gesprek'), the text had very few grammatical issues. But boy was it vague. The consultant firmly refused to put their finger on many of the actual pain points and left a lot to be read as subtext. This is fine for an 'onderlegger voor een gesprek' – you can clarify the finer points during the actual conversation – but it makes life difficult for a translator. Instead of translating what it says, we ended up trying to find the right translation for what it didn’t say. That required extensive mindreading.

If something 'doet iets met het al dan niet vertrouwen hebben in mensen', does that mean lack of confidence or lack of trust? Especially if some people then 'koppelen dit aan de [other country’s] versus Nederlandse cultuur'? You get the sense someone is being racist, but who? And are they implying that they’re sick of some people showing up late or being stiff and judgemental, or that they’re afraid to leave their wallets out in the open?

We spent some time going round and round with this. With a text like this, the nuance is very important. Still, the client was very happy with the original translation, which was not all that nuanced because it had a really tight deadline. I guess the fact it was an onderlegger works both ways.

As usual, the main conclusion of the evening was: ‘If we could do all translations in a group, like this, all our clients would think we’re brilliant.’ Also want to feel brilliant? The next Utrecht SIG meeting will be held on 10 July at the Park Plaza Hotel in Utrecht. With a fancy upstairs bar!

Friday, 24 May 2019 13:17

SENSE Jubilee 2020: Get Ready!

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SENSE 30th anniversary

In 2020, it’ll be 30 years since SENSE was founded. Is that not a ‘pearl’ of an anniversary worth celebrating with an international conference?!

Well, the SENSEConference2020 team certainly thinks it is, and it has already begun planning for the June 2020 event. While the search for a location and a venue is well underway, it’s still too early to even hint at possible candidates. Nevertheless, you can be sure we’ll find somewhere just as special as the venues of the previous two conferences…watch out for our next blog post!

Of course, to secure a venue and keynote speakers, you also need to know when the conference will be happening. And that much we know: Saturday 6 and Sunday 7 June, probably preceded by workshops. We’ll be following the well-received format of the 2018 Conference. If you have any suggestions for workshop topics and presenters, please email – the team will welcome your contributions.

We’d also welcome your suggestions for sponsors of the conference, whether individuals or businesses.

What we can also share with you are the makings of a conference theme: ‘20/20 (Re)Vision: Honing our skills to meet market challenges.’

We’re looking forward to attracting a stimulating range of presentations in response to this theme, so look out for the Call for Papers in August 2019. And if you’d like to offer your services as a peer reviewer during September and October this year, do send an email to the conference team.

Talking of the team, we are indeed fortunate that essentially the same players who contributed to the success of the 2018 SENSE Conference have volunteered their services for the jubilee conference: Jenny Zonneveld, Theresa Truax-Gischler, Nigel Saych, Ken McGillivray and John Linnegar. The continuity that this will provide bodes well for the next conference. But it certainly won’t be a case of ‘same old, same old’, thanks to an injection of fresh new blood in the form of SENSE CPD coordinator Erin Goedhart-Stallings and someone who hails all the way from Wales: SENSE and ITI member, Lloyd Bingham. Both have already made their mark on our deliberations, so welcome aboard Erin and Lloyd!

Pearls, it is said, symbolize wisdom acquired through experience: how appropriate, therefore, for SENSE to provide an enriching experience through which both its members and other professionals will be able to share their collective wisdom in June 2020.

Monday, 06 May 2019 09:00

PZO: Did you know?

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pzo 3

  • The Dutch platform for independent professionals known as Platform Zelfstandig Ondernemers, or PZO, was set up in 2002 to champion the interests of freelancers in the political arena. It is based in the Malietoren in The Hague and works closely with the Confederation of Netherlands Industry and Employers (VNO-NCW) and with MKB-Nederland, which represents small to medium enterprises.

  • PZO is also a member of the European Forum of Independent Professionals (EFIP). PZO lobbies for freelancers’ interests on matters such as the Wet DBA, pensions and mortgages. There is an ongoing discussion on all these topics with officials, Dutch members of parliament and, where necessary, ministers.

  • Since 2010, PZO has had a seat on the Dutch Social and Economic Council (SER). This means that it can participate in discussions with employers, unions and other organizations in matters concerning the freelancer.

  • Apart from lobbying, PZO supports its members in their business practices by offering advice on incapacity for work or on liability. It also has a free helpdesk for tax and legal matters.

  • PZO members are eligible for discounts with companies offering a wide range of services for freelancers, from insurance and GDPR compliancy to software packages and mobile phone contracts, and even rapid phone repair services.

  • The PZO Academy organizes workshops throughout the country. Subjects range from raising your Google ranking to successful job acquisition and the secret to a good email!

  • PZO also organizes knowledge-sharing lunch sessions or Kennislunches which bring freelancers up to date on subjects such as marketing, innovation, and financial matters. The next Kennislunch will be held on 9 May in Almere and will revolve around disability insurance. For more information, see the website.

  • Individual membership of PZO costs 135 euros per year. However, if you join the collective SENSE membership, it will only cost you approximately 35 euros per year.

  • As SENSE's Membership Secretary, I am our liaison to the PZO Board, which means SENSE members can pass on any ideas and issues relating to freelancers through me.

curtis unisig web

On Friday 12 April, 14 SENSE members gathered at Park Plaza Utrecht to receive an answer to the question: ‘Do online editing services have a place in your client portfolio?’

After a short introduction round, Curtis Barrett took the floor to share his past experience working for one of the largest international online science editing agencies. A scientist originally from New York, Curtis emigrated to the Netherlands nearly 12 years ago to work as a senior researcher at Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC). As a native English-speaking scientist, he realized that his PhD and postdoc years had given him a wealth of scientific expertise as well as sound academic writing skills, and he discovered an affinity for science editing. After leaving LUMC and accepting a freelance contract position at the editing agency, he learned the ins and outs of editing and discovered his full value as a science editor. During his presentation, Curtis explained how he progressed from being a junior editor to a senior editor at the agency, identifying the potential pros and cons of working with an online agency, and enlightened us with some excellent take-home messages.

Curtis identified the following advantages and disadvantages of working for online editing agencies:


  • On-the-job training: working for an agency proved a valuable learning experience. They had guidelines and a glossary available, which included explanations about the split infinitive, the serial comma, why the first person is preferable to the third person, ‘which’ vs. ‘that’, etc.;
  • Work acquisition: the agency was saturating the internet, thereby guaranteeing a high volume of editing jobs;
  • Variety/diversity: editing jobs were offered for a wide range of topics varying from biology to genetics;
  • Anonymity (also a con);
  • Assurance of payment.


  • Relatively low pay (but editors could often negotiate);
  • Tight deadlines;
  • Anonymity: at this agency, editors only have contact with the managing editor, not the author.
  • Editors often receive little or no feedback from either the client or the agency. There is usually no opportunity to discuss anything with the author, for instance if important pieces of text seem to be missing.
  • Low-cost, short-turnaround editing;
  • Quality can suffer in order to maintain quantity;
  • The agency’s house style may be pushed on you.

Take-home messages:
To answer the key question: yes, online editing services can have a place in your client portfolio, provided you do some research in advance. If you are considering an offer to work with an agency but are in doubt, enquire on the members-only SENSE forum. And don’t shy away if the agency wants you to take a test, even if it's not a paid test.

Thursday, 18 April 2019 10:44

Editing tips from The Subversive Copy Editor

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Last month I took the train from Heidelberg to Sylt (one of the North Frisian Islands, and Germany’s northernmost point), where I was planning to run the annual 33-kilometre Syltlauf. Looking forward to a nine-hour train journey with no children to look after and nobody to talk to, plus lots of guilt-free relaxation in the face of the impending run, I finally had time to read Carol Fisher Saller’s The Subversive Copy Editor, which had been sitting on my ‘to read’ pile for ages.

The Subversive Copy Editor is an established classic in the editing world. Saller worked for many years as an editor for the University of Chicago press and has handled countless requests about writing style on the Chicago Manual of Style Online’s Q&A forum. Clearly, anything she has to say on the subject of editing and how to do it must be worth reading.

It certainly was. I wasn’t far into the book before I found myself nodding in approval and making notes. Although many of you have probably already read the book, I couldn’t resist sharing some of Saller’s valuable advice. So here it is...

Do no harm

According to Saller, this should be our first goal as an editor. While none of us would dream of harming our client’s text on purpose, you may be surprised how much damage you can do to a text if you insist on imposing all the grammar rules you have learned. Rules are often style choices after all, and the author may have broken a rule on purpose.

Both the experienced and the novice editor can fall into this trap. Grammar ‘experts’ may assert a specific rule because ‘that’s the way it has always been’ without realizing that said rule is now outdated. And the less-experienced editor may cling to the limited rules they do know without realizing that the ‘mistake’ they are correcting is a perfectly suitable alternative.

That doesn’t mean you should forget all you know about grammar. Far from it. A thorough knowledge of grammar and usage is essential for good editing because it allows us to decide when the rules should be broken to help the reader. So before you make a change, keep the golden rule do no harm in mind. To help you make the right decision, stay up to date with the latest changes in grammar and usage and, if you are still learning a style guide, show restraint and look something up if you are not sure.

Cultivate a good author–editor relationship

As editors, our first loyalty is to the reader. To help the reader, we have to work through the writer, so it is a good idea to build a good working relationship with our clients. In her book, Saller explains how to lay the groundwork for a collaborative author–editor relationship:

  • Carefulness: show the client that you pay attention to detail. Identify issues, make informed preferences (make sure you know your stuff when doing this) and, where appropriate, let the writer decide. In your introductory email to a client, ask questions that show you have read the manuscript carefully and that demonstrate your competence.
  • Transparency: start by reassuring the client that you won’t make big changes without permission or without letting them know why the change is necessary. Saller’s advice is to always be prepared to defend your changes. And before you challenge a writer, check that you have your facts right.
  • Flexibility: show your client that you are willing to listen and negotiate. This may be the most challenging virtue for a copy-editor to master, as it sometimes involves ignoring what we think is right. Remember that style guides are arbitrary and changeable. If they weren’t, then we wouldn’t have different style guides. Simply offering to discuss why your preference is different from that of your client’s is usually an effective strategy for ensuring the best decision is made (for the reader).

Know thy word processor

In her book, Saller says ‘if you charge money for editing services and you aren’t an expert word processor, you’re not doing honest work.’ Oh dear. Sure, I know my way around Word, and I don’t waste too much time shouting at my computer to do what I want it to. Still, I know that I don’t use Word to its full advantage when I’m editing. Saller emphasizes that becoming an expert at the keyboard will make you faster, more confident, more accurate, and more valuable. Sounds like a good idea – tell me how.

Learning to use keyboard shortcuts instead of your mouse is a great way to start improving your skills, Saller says. Many of these are already built in, but you can assign your own (I have discovered the power of Ctrl F6 for switching between documents and Ctrl Shift W for underlining one word. I also assigned my very own shortcuts for square brackets, which I use all the time). I also signed up for the SfEP’s Editing with Word course, which has introduced me to the delights of wildcards and macros. How did I live without them?

Meeting deadlines

Saller also offers a wealth of good advice on managing projects. To be able to meet deadlines, we should master three skills, she says: prioritization (deciding which job is most important), organization (monitoring our tasks in lists, schedules and logs) and documentation (keeping track of any changes in a project’s schedule). The most useful advice for me in this chapter was to keep your inbox as empty as possible and file messages away as soon as you have dealt with them. I acted on this advice as soon as I was home (nursing very tired legs after successfully finishing my run!). Now, instead of having more than 1,000 emails in my inbox, I have two. The rest have been dealt with and filed away, and I really do feel much better.

For more great advice from Carol Fisher Saller, or to buy your own copy of The Subversive Copy Editor, visit The Subversive Copy Editor blog.

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.

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