Writing blog articles is a great way to gain exposure and practise your writing skills. If you produce interesting content, you will engage with people and create new opportunities. Marianne Orchard explained how to structure a blog article and make it easy to read in her post published on the SENSE blog earlier this month. Now you know how to write a blog post, you may be wondering what you can write about. Believe it or not, inspiration is everywhere. In this post, I explain how to find enough blog ideas to keep you writing for months.
Good blog articles solve a problem. Think about your target audience – as a language professional your target audience is most likely to be your clients or your peers. What problems do they have? Do you have a solution? If you do, then your reader has a good reason to read your blog.
I write my blog for my clients, who are non-native English-speaking scientists. Many of my ideas come from problems with my clients’ writing. These issues are common among ESL authors – poor paragraph structure, no clear metastructure, redundant information disrupting the flow... and so on. These challenges and their solutions have all made useful blog articles for my clients.
Answer your clients’ questions in a blog post. For example, a client of mine was not sure whether her manuscript needed copyediting or substantive editing. This inspired me to write a post that explained how authors with no real knowledge of editing can determine the appropriate language service for their manuscript.
If you are writing for your fellow language professionals (editors, translators, interpreters, teachers), think about want they want to know. Chances are you know of a problem or two they may be having that you can solve. Maybe you have a few tips on how to handle difficult clients, or how to survive the highs and lows of freelancing? Perhaps you are a computer whizz and can explain how to get the most out of editing software. Share your knowledge and experience.
There is always something to write about. There are new ideas and new developments in every field – you just have to find out what they are. Read relevant publications and follow your colleagues and clients on social media to find out what topics are interesting to them at the moment. Or interview someone who is authoritative in your field about a pressing issue. Don’t get hung up on writing about something that others have already written about – if you have a different take on the subject, put it out there.
Did you try a new product or service recently? Think about writing a review. Maybe you finished an online training course. Tell your readers what you learnt. Don’t vent dissatisfaction in your post – aim for a balanced, honest review that informs the reader and draws clear conclusions.
Conversation can give you great ideas for a blog post. Think about the last time you got into a debate with a colleague or client. Would others find your discussion interesting or useful? Then why not present a balanced argument and share your opinions in a blog post? I got into a discussion with a young researcher some weeks ago about using simple words instead of obscure ones when writing a research manuscript. He was adamant that longer, complicated words and sentence structures are better because they sound clever and are ‘more academic’ (sigh). I argued on behalf of his poor reader. This discussion inspired a blog post on writing for your reader.
Conferences are always a great source of blog material. What interesting things did you learn at the last conference you attended? Why not share your experiences in a blog post? The challenges facing academic editors was a popular topic at the SENSE 2018 conference in June and made me think of my clients and how insights from language editors can help them get their work published. Great blog material.
Hopefully the tips outlined in this article have given you plenty of ideas for interesting blog articles. If you don’t want to start writing your own blog – maybe because you don’t want the pressure of publishing articles on a regular basis – then why not write for the SENSE blog? We are always looking for new contributors. Our articles are shared widely on social media so writing for us is a great way to increase exposure for your business.
Get in touch with the SENSE Content Manager if you would like to post your next article on the SENSE blog. We look forward to hearing from you. And please share any additional tips you may have on finding ideas for blog posts in the comments below!
Claire Bacon is an editor and writer for the SENSE blog and a research scientist turned editor who runs a business called Bacon Editing.
Jackie Senior, a founder member of SENSE, has officially retired. But only from the Department of Genetics at the UMCG in Groningen – not from editing, and certainly not from SENSE. As an occasional editor and translator for the department during busy times, I was invited to Jackie's farewell do at the university medical centre on 12 June. Never one to shy away from a networking opportunity, I accepted the invitation.
The ceremony was held in a seminar room at the European Research Institute for the Biology of Ageing (ERIBA), the building that houses the department. Jackie was surrounded by her four daughters and by colleagues from the genetics departments in Utrecht and Groningen where she helped many a researcher with their grant applications and scientific papers, and many a PhD student with their thesis.
I learned that after obtaining a geology degree from Bristol University, Jackie had a brief stint at Elsevier before starting work as a geologist at Shell International in The Hague. As Jackie mentioned in her presentation, she was lucky to be a geologist during a time of major discoveries in the oil and gas industry. And after moving into the investment banking sector as an editor, there was never a dull moment in the years leading up to the dot com crash, as her editing work was always interesting. And now she’s been working in genetics for more than twenty years, witnessing the completion of the human genome as well as all that exciting new technologies have led to in this fast-moving field.
For the younger researchers present, Jackie was keen to point out how editing was done back in 1973 when she started out: with coloured pens and proofreaders’ sheets. It’s hard to imagine now how much time editing a manuscript actually took back then, when all pre-publication processes had to be done by hand and marked-up papers physically transported by post. The digital age has sped this up no end.
Jackie’s position as an editor is rather unusual for a clinical and research department at a Dutch university medical centre, and many researchers consider Genetics a privileged department. Her former boss, Professor Cisca Wijmenga (a winner of the prestigious NWO Spinoza Prize), was the one who insisted that Jackie move with her from Utrecht when in 2007 Cisca took up a position in Groningen. She needed help to make the department an international leader and wasn’t going to be without her editor!
Jackie is convinced that this was one of the key reasons for the department’s continuing scientific success – not only in terms of the numbers of papers and PhD theses that have been published, but also regarding the impact factors of the journals accepting their work for publication. Although Jackie was only planning on staying with Cisca for one year, the reason she ended up staying for 11 was not just her wonderful colleagues, and the research retreats she helped organize, but the sheer amount of work that needed doing.
The never-ending pile of work is also why Jackie is very pleased that the department had the foresight to appoint a younger editor after her retirement: Jackie has been co-working with fellow SENSE member Kate McIntyre over the past five years and Kate is now well prepared to take over.*
Jackie was keen to point out to the researchers listening to her talk what her work involves and how it has contributed to the department’s success. She also talked numbers, explaining why an in-house editor also makes financial sense. For example, if a four-year PhD project in the biomedical sciences costs the university about €250,000 and the PhD student writes four or five papers for publication, the costs of getting those papers edited will only be about 1% of the entire project.
She also pointed out that editing teaches PhD students to be more aware of their use of English and how to express their thoughts clearly and concisely. But editing is not just good for PhD students: an editor can save principal investigators several hours of correcting per paper and allow them to concentrate on the scientific issues raised. After all, says Jackie, ‘scientists and MDs should be scientists and MDs.’
Jackie is not planning on resting on her laurels or ‘sitting behind the geraniums’, as the Dutch expression goes. Once an editor, always an editor. She will take on some freelance assignments and get more involved again with her beloved Society. Jackie has made numerous contributions as a volunteer since she helped found SENSE back in 1989 , including positions on the EC as treasurer and chair, and she was made an honorary member in 2010. Now the distractions of her departmental work are fading, we hope she can also be persuaded to become a regular contributor to the SENSE blog!
* Read more on Jackie and Kate’s editing work at the Department of Genetics in an interview in the June 2018 newsletter of the university’s Research School for Behavioural and Cognitive Neurosciences (BCN), in which SENSE also gets a mention. And for readers of Dutch, an article on the significance of Jackie’s work can also be found in the May 2013 issue of Transfer magazine, published by Nuffic (the Dutch organization for internationalization in education).
Sally Hill is an editor and writer for the SENSE blog and newsletter and a British biologist-turned-linguist who runs a business called Scientific Texts.
We were particularly pleased to see so many members of our sister societies MET and NEaT attending the SENSE 2018 Conference. Here, some of the MET members who attended tell us what they thought of the conference.
The SENSE conference was my first-ever visit to the Netherlands. I encountered a Den Bosch that was warm (warmer than my hometown Madrid), traffic free (a welcome break from polluted air) and full of bicycles (city cycling is too risky at home).
And the conference itself? A small, friendly group of some 80 people living under one roof meant we could get to know one another over breakfast, at a presentation or even in the loos! There was some good content too. I particularly enjoyed John Linnegar’s review of Garner’s Modern English Usage. Not only did we hear about the benefits of this new corpus-based resource, but we were also able to leaf through the book ourselves at the end of the session. Valerie Matarese’s talk ‘Bad Textual Mentors: how awkwardly written research articles complicate the work of an authors’ editor’ was also interesting. Valerie explained how poorly written texts are propagated through citing, and as a result, scientific terminology is distorted. Food for thought indeed.
(For more information about Emma, see her website.)
I arrived a day before the conference started to participate in Margreet de Roo’s workshop ‘Making the best, most optimal use of MS Word.’ I am delighted with everything I learnt in the workshop as it is going to save me so much time when editing. The content of the conference itself provided a good mixture of stimulating presentations, which were very relevant for my work as an in-house authors’ editor (eg, Maria Sherwood-Smith on ‘Outreach and research communication in English: opportunities for language professionals’), and entertaining stuff that everybody comes across and could have a good laugh about (Lloyd Bingham’s ‘Dealing with Dunglish – and other source-language interference’). There were plenty of opportunities to chat to other participants about work, living in a country other than the one in which one grew up, children and bilingualism, and life in general! And, to top it all, there was an abundance of snacks, lovely fresh fruit and drinks in all of the breaks! Thank you SENSE – it was a wonderful conference and I look forward to the next one!
(Gráinne can be found in the MET directory.)
A highlight for me was Tom Johnston’s talk ‘Mid-Atlantic English: which mid-Atlantic English?’ because it offered a solution to something I’ve been struggling with for years: which English to ‘adopt’ when – like me – you don’t have your own, native English. The Mid-Atlantic English (MAE) Tom proposed takes the strongest elements of UK and US English and merges them into a variant of English for use in international contexts; in other words, a standardized lingua franca. To create this variant, Tom first applied Google’s Ngrams to corpora of British and American English for a close look at actual usage. Based on the result, he then formulated guidelines to select words, abbreviations, verb endings, punctuation and even certain grammatical forms for MAE. The criteria for selection include frequency, logic and practicality. It was appealing to imagine that MAE might become the standard to replace the vague and poorly defined ‘international English’.
(Marije can be found in the MET directory.)
I travelled to my first-ever SENSE conference with friend and fellow presenter Ailish Maher. This is fitting because Ailish was the person who took me to my first-ever Mediterranean Editors and Translators Meeting (METM) meeting in 2005. On arrival at Eindhoven airport, Ailish and I got talking to a Dutch couple who had missed their flight to Portugal. They chatted to us about Den Bosch and its people and taught us how to pronounce the official name for the city, ’s-Hertogenbosch, and explained what it meant. It was a good start for two linguists!
Half an hour after arriving at the hotel, I was seated at a restaurant table for an informal intersociety dinner with Jenny Zonneveld and John Linnegar from SENSE, Kenneth Quek from NEaT, Sarah Griffin-Mason from the ITI, and fellow MET council member Emma Goldsmith. We spent a pleasant and productive two hours chatting about different aspects of our respective associations and exploring informal mechanisms for further collaboration. John had wisely prepared a checklist of points to discuss that we had prioritized in advance.
The conference venue and organization were top-notch and staying in the same place as most of the other conference-goers made for easy connections and networking. There was no shortage of interesting talks, but I particularly enjoyed Maria Sherwood-Smith’s account of how she and her team apply the daisy model to help researchers communicate their core message effectively. Maria, if you’re reading this, MET would like a presentation on this part of your work next year – and another one sometime on medieval manuscripts! One of the things I enjoyed most about the conference was hearing about the challenges facing people doing similar work to me but in a very different language and culture. SENSE and Den Bosch, thank you!
I thoroughly enjoyed Stephen Johnston’s workshop ‘The Impossible Blog’ on how to write a readable blog post from unreadable material. The principles we applied to transform wads of technical and business documentation into an engaging read for asthmatics will come in useful when I’m struggling to make complex research findings accessible to a lay audience. And for someone who’s been working as a lone editor for far too long, it was great fun to brainstorm with other participants and to hear everyone’s brilliant ideas.
Like a good blog entry, the conference ended with a call to action. In her closing plenary talk on ‘Trends in translation and interpreting to 2050’, Sarah Griffin-Mason encouraged language professionals to organize and make our voices heard. We need to show people what we do – and to communicate the skill and value in what we do. One way of helping to shape the future of our professions is to get involved in organizations such as SENSE, MET and NeAT … and potentially a German sister organization in the years to come?! So come on, fellow SENSE members in Germany – let's get our heads together!
(Susannah can be found in the MET directory.)
My decision to attend the SENSE conference was somewhat spur of the moment, after hearing about it through MET, having a quick look at the programme and deciding I’d quite like a weekend in the Netherlands!
The conference was very well organized and the venue and food were excellent. There were also plenty of opportunities to chat to colleagues during meals and breaks. In terms of content, there was an interesting mixture of presentations on topics related to translation, editing and English in general. I found the session by Tony Parr and Marcel Lemmens on ‘Identifying and rectifying translatorese’ particularly interesting, since the Dutch to English examples were a different type of ‘translatorese’ than I am used to seeing in texts translated from the Romance languages I work with.
Overall, I found the event to be very worthwhile and enjoyable, and I will definitely try to attend another SENSE conference in the future.
What did the delegates think of the SENSE 2018 Conference? We caught up with some of them to find out
I thoroughly enjoyed the conference and was especially pleased with how much time was allotted to meeting up and chatting with other professionals. I tend to get over-tired at conferences and the breaks gave me time to recover while catching up with people I knew already and getting to know new people.
My biggest struggle was choosing which presentations to attend; I was often torn between going to what I felt I ‘should’ see (ie, those that spoke very directly to my current work) versus attending those that lay outside my current work but sparked an interest.
I think I struck a good balance in the end. Stephen Johnston’s ‘The impossible blog’ workshop on Friday seemed outside my current field of work but intrigued me. The workshop challenged us to comb through reams of technical information to find the points relevant to a general audience, and participating made me realize that it is a skill I actually use quite often. I also enjoyed Maria Sherwood-Smith’s talk on ‘Outreach and research communication in English: opportunities for language professionals’. Maria touched on the same theme of how to take abstract technical information and hone it to a message appropriate for a public audience, and I found her examples of how students worked through that process in her course especially enlightening.
On the closer-to-home front, I found the panel discussion moderated by Valerie Matarese about ‘Invasive species: language versus subject specialists in biomedical editing and translation’ enlightening. In it, Anne Murray, Marije de Jager and Emma Goldsmith shared their career paths and experiences on the road to becoming biomedical editors/translators. The discussion revealed, to me at least, commonalities behind what makes good language professionals: a curious mind, a ragged tenacity, a flexible approach and a willingness to take on new challenges. The theme of commonality came back again in Sarah Griffin-Mason’s closing plenary talk ‘Trends in translating and interpreting to 2050’ when she unabashedly pointed out that all the language professionals in the room were ‘the ones who get it’, the three kids in the class who don’t need to be taught the lesson a second time.
If there was one talk I wish I had been able to attend it was Kenneth Quek’s ‘Chinglish as she is writ: on the uses and abuses of English by native Chinese speakers’. I work with increasing numbers of native Chinese speakers, and I respect their tenacious assault on their especially hard path up English mountain, so I hope I get to see Kenneth’s talk at another conference. I also enjoyed Lloyd Bingham’s ‘Dealing with Dunglish – and other source-language interference’. It was a good framing of all the Dunglish I see on daily basis and a good reminder to not let it slide when I see it. It also taught me that ‘beamer’, a word that came into use after I moved to the Netherlands, is not the UK English word for a projector.
All in all I enjoyed the conference immensely and thank the organizers for all their hard work in putting it together.
The Golden Tulip Hotel Central in Den Bosch was an ideal location for the SENSE 2018 Conference, and I enjoyed the guided tour of Den Bosch on the Saturday morning, where we saw the magnificent St John’s Cathedral.
Later in the day, I attended Charles Frink’s presentation 'Disrupting the inheritance of poor writing habits: an alternative approach to editing and teaching writing (in the health-related sciences)', in which he mentioned that 500,000 new academic articles are published each year. Apparently, the originality of the research is dubious from the perspective of journal editors. His suggested solution was to focus on core concepts, then support them with details. Clarity was the essence of his presentation.
Nigel Saych’s presentation ‘“…divided by a common language”: cultural, topical and geographical Englishes’ was enlightening. He discussed the words lavatory and toilet, and pointed out that Geoffrey Chaucer and Thomas Crapper had contributed to lavatorial English, which I found rather amusing.
Carol Norris’ presentation ‘Developing a modern, journal-acceptable manuscript style’ focused on getting to the point as quickly as possible, which I believe is essential. I also enjoyed Jackie Senior’s presentation 'International science needs editors' and agree wholeheartedly with her opinion that international science needs English editors. In the same session, Joy Burrough-Boenisch focused on using the SENSE Guidelines for Proofreading Student Texts as a map to edit English-language doctoral theses in the Netherlands. Her sound advice was that they can help you achieve transparency in editing a thesis.
In 'Outreach and research communication in English: opportunities for language professionals' Maria Sherwood-Smith made us aware that research communication to non-specialists is now key in many areas. She pointed out that more courses on research communication are necessary for early career researchers.
The conference ended with Sarah Griffin-Mason’s talk on ‘Trends in Translating and Interpreting to 2050’. She told us that humans are more important than machines, and gave us hints as to how we can get this argument across to our clients.
The picturesque boat trip on the Binnendieze was a perfect end to the conference!
(Enid can be found on LinkedIn.)
I only joined SENSE earlier this year, having seen the conference advertised on social media. It was great to find a network that focuses so heavily on skills for my target language – as translation events traditionally focus on source-language skills – and one based in the Netherlands too, just a 50-minute flight away.
I was impressed with the conference on several counts. First, the venue and host city. Den Bosch is very charming indeed, and the hotel itself was pleasant and conveniently located. Second, the programme. I appreciate that SENSE is geared towards English-language editors, but for into-English translators like myself, the sessions were superb and highly focused on improving my target-language skills, something which translation-specific conferences sometimes lack (surprisingly enough). The range of speakers was excellent. It was rather humbling to be counted amongst such experienced speakers, who more than knew their onions, and I was pleased that, with a mere seven years of experience, I could contribute too. Third, the general organization. It must have taken a great amount of effort to put the event together, especially for a relatively small association. I knew very few people in SENSE, so it was a wonderful opportunity to meet and converse with many of its members, whether long-established or fellow newbies. This, coupled with the peer-to-peer structure as opposed to top-down, created a gezellig atmosphere. I look forward to the next conference!
(Lloyd is the owner of Capital Translations.)
The conference was a great match for me personally. I felt at home because it mirrored what I do as a translator and editor working with Dutch and English. Specifically, I liked the focus on honing language skills rather than on social media use, marketing, running a business, etc. The SENSE team were very welcoming, always making sure people were happy and enjoying themselves. And it was lovely to finally meet some faces I had worked with virtually and to meet new colleagues too.
If SENSE have another conference, you can count me in!
I heard about the SENSE conference via Twitter and decided to attend as it seemed a good opportunity to meet up with other English-language editors and translators in this part of Europe.
The first pleasant surprise was Den Bosch, which is a charming city, and I wish I had had more time to explore. At least I got to enjoy the guided tour on the Saturday morning.
Saturday’s opening session with presenter Jeremy Gardner provided some entertaining insights into EU English and raised a few questions about the future of English in the EU after Brexit and the ensuing lack of British translators. I also found Iris Schrijver’s talk ‘Translation quality (assessment): insights from Translation Studies in the quest for the holy grail?’ very interesting – a pleasant change from some academics’ presentations, which can be somewhat inaccessible for those of us working outside universities.
As a translator, not an editor, not all the sessions were relevant to my work but this allowed me more time for networking. It was great to meet colleagues from all over Europe and I especially welcomed the collaboration between the various professional associations.
On Sunday morning I found the workshop with Tony Parr and Marcel Lemmens on ‘Identifying and rectifying translatorese’ very worthwhile. I don’t speak Dutch so it was particularly interesting to compare my changes to the English translation with suggestions made by colleagues who also understood the source text.
The conference finished on a high with a very upbeat talk by Sarah Griffin-Mason, the Chair of ITI. It was inspiring to hear her views on the changing translation industry and the ITI’s plans, when so many translators are all doom and gloom when it comes to the future of our profession.
The whole weekend was extremely well organized and I found it both worthwhile and enjoyable and hope to attend the next conference too.
Thank you SENSE!
I wasn’t overly enthusiastic about signing up for the SENSE conference – I just thought it was something I ‘should’ do for ‘continuing professional development’. By the time I left, I was on a high and even felt that I’d made new friends.
Attending such a conference is not just a question of learning things that you can apply to your work (translation in my case), or dealing with clients, or, indeed, of following developments in the industry, but of something more subtle, of orienteering yourself in the industry, of discovering what you already know or don’t know in relation to others. I’d allowed myself to become quite isolated as a translator and my only contact with other English-language professionals until now had largely been combative; revising or being revised by other (fairly poor) translators and having to deal with non-native project managers who think I’m being overly picky or subjective, while all the time very much aware of my own deficiencies. The SENSE conference was like the proverbial warm bath, and I felt genuine respect and curiosity between professionals at different stages in their careers. ‘Who’d have thought?’ I tweeted. ‘Translators can be good company!’
This was my first SENSE conference, and I enjoyed it very much. The feedback on my abstract was thoughtful, and there was a sense the peer review process had been done rigorously but fairly.
The conference itself was very well organized, with helpful directions to the venue available on the SENSE website. The venue and facilities were excellent and the conference fee was very reasonable.
I enjoyed the friendly atmosphere and found the conference was stimulating. I had many helpful and enlightening conversations with delegates about editing in the Netherlands and other countries. I learned a lot, made some very valuable contacts and left with fond memories and no regrets about attending!
Having been rather negligent in my attendance of SENSE events lately, I decided it was high time to show my face again, and remind people that I’m still around at the SENSE 2018 Conference. It was indeed great to see many familiar faces again and chat with people I hadn’t seen for a while. And it was also very gratifying to see many new faces, showing that SENSE is alive and well.
Being mostly in the business of editing medical and health science research papers, I attended the talks by Charles Frink, Valerie Matarese and Lloyd Bingham on Saturday. Charles reminded us that when editing research papers and teaching students how to write them, it is not only correct grammar and spelling that is important, but for writers to think of their audience and make sure they get their message across. He provided us with a clear recipe for achieving that.
Valerie Matarese’s well-structured talk led us systematically through the problems that make scientific texts so hard to read and explained their origins. The main cause of many problems appears to be that scientists follow the example provided by existing articles, which means that unnecessarily complex languages are perpetuated. It’s up to us language professionals to break this vicious cycle and point our clients and students in the right direction, while recognizing that scientific writing may sometimes deviate from ‘standard English’ without apparently compromising communication.
Lloyd Bingham’s entertaining talk focused on the misuse of English words, which he referred to as Dunglish, although that term is usually reserved for the interference from Dutch grammatical and syntactic structures that crop up when Dutch people try to write in English. Nevertheless, the examples he presented were a healthy reminder that words can change their meaning when they cross national borders.
After the tea-break, I attended the panel discussion featuring Anne Murray, Marije de Jager and Emma Goldsmith, all translators and editors of medical texts. They discussed whether a medical translator/editor should preferably have a background in medicine and turn to translation/editing afterwards (as Emma did) or be trained as a translator and work their way into the subject matter (as Anne and Marije did). In both cases, the person might be regarded as an ‘invasive species’ trespassing on a field that wasn’t originally their own. Unsurprisingly, no definitive answer was obtained, but the very fact that three people from very different backgrounds had managed to build a lasting career in medical translation and editing would suggest that trespassers need not always be prosecuted.
On Sunday morning, Tony Parr and Marcel Lemmens put us to work immediately, identifying translatorese in the English version of a Dutch brochure on flu vaccination. As usual, their hands-on approach led to very lively discussions as to what constitutes translatorese.
(Jan can be found on LinkedIn.)
We translators are usually happiest when working alone, the one exception being when we meet each other at a conference. I have only been to a few conferences, but SENSE 2018 was the best so far. Excellent choice of subject matter and experts to present it. I will gladly join this society (if they will have me, but you know what Groucho Marx said about that...).
(Kees can be found on LinkedIn.)
Sarah Griffin-Mason gave an illuminating plenary talk at the SENSE 2018 conference: 'Trends in translating and interpreting to 2050.’ Claire Bacon caught up with her a few days after the conference to find out more.
We are experiencing an onslaught of rapid technological development. The rise in automation translation technologies may have left you wondering how we can survive in this ever-changing world. ‘We have to adapt’, Griffin-Mason told us.
In her plenary talk, Griffin-Mason, Chair of the UK’s Institute of Translation and Interpreting, discussed how improvements in machine translation may affect language professionals in the future and how we can push back. Her message was based on information gleaned from the International Federation of Translators meeting in August 2017, where a number of leading issues affecting language professionals were discussed. So what are the threats and what are our options?
Artificial intelligence is a leading concern for language professionals. But could we really be replaced by machines in the future?
Futurist Ray Kurzweil seems to think so. In his book The Singularity is Near, Kurzweil talks about how an exponential increase in technologies will eventually culminate in the Singularity – a point when technology will merge with human intelligence. Once the Singularity has been reached, machine intelligence will master human intelligence and effectively take over.
So where does that leave us? It is hard to imagine that the ambiguity and flexibility of human language can be accurately translated by a machine with no understanding of the world.
Lucky for us, computer language translation will be one of the last technological applications to compete with humans. In his book, Kurzweil acknowledges that dealing with language is the most challenging task for artificial intelligence because it cannot understand the context of words or how a text works. Despite this, he predicts that machine translation will be good enough to replace many human translators by 2029.
New approaches to automated translation are bridging the gap between human and machine translation. Neural machine translation uses artificial neural networks that mimic the human brain to predict word sequences and generate sentences. But is this new approach really as good as human translation?
Microsoft researchers recently claimed to have created a machine translation system that achieved human parity when translating certain segments of a Chinese news bulletin into English. Human parity was assessed by bilinguals (not translators) who compared a set of machine translations with the corresponding human translations. No statistically significant differences were observed between the human translations and machine translations.
But before we hand our jobs over to the machines, it is important to note that this result was restricted to a specific set of translations. It is still not clear whether machine translation systems can translate any text in any language pair as well as a professional human translator.
‘The key issue’, says Griffin-Mason, ‘is that human processing and use of language are not the same as machine processing and use of language. Furthermore, machines need people – automated translation systems will need to be tested and refined by language experts.’
In an article for The Economist, Robert Lane Greene has argued that machine translation will always need to be quality controlled by humans because, no matter how sophisticated a computer is, it will never be able to truly understand the meaning of a text. Editing is already an important part of what translators do and, Greene says, may become far more important as artificial intelligence and machine translation improve and expand.
‘The surviving paid roles in the future’, says Griffin-Mason, ‘will be those that require soft skills and quality control that are beyond the scope of what machines can do’.
The challenges we face as language professionals are real. If we do not guard against them, the exponential advances in technology will weaken translation and editing expertise, combining with the gig economy model in a way that will be even more challenging for future generations. Griffin-Mason issued a call to arms on behalf of translators everywhere: to defend our profession.
First and foremost, we need to start raising the profile of translation as a professional service that is essential to our clients – and we need to emphasize what we can do that machines cannot.
‘Good translation is so much more than knowing a language’, Griffin-Mason says, ‘it requires specialist knowledge of the subject being translated, the purpose of the document being translated and cultural sensitivities’. Machines do not possess this knowledge and understanding.
We can propagate the message that human translation is important by joining a professional entity and getting involved in conversations. Write articles, join in debates on social media, give speeches. It is our job to defend our profession; nobody is going to do it for us.
Griffin-Mason’s message is very clear: we must not quit. What we do need to do is to prepare for and adapt to the forthcoming challenges. Whatever it takes.
Want to know more? Read The Singularity is Near by Ray Kurzweil to understand the full force of what could be possible. If this motivates you to take a stand, then read WTF?: What’s the Future and Why It’s Up to Us by Tim O’Reilly to learn how to get in on the conversation and help shape our future.
(If you’re allergic to gushing enthusiasm, please stop reading now!)
For me the SENSE 2018 Conference was a huge success. As a newbie I felt like a child in a candy store. Not only was it full of great sessions, excellent workshops and tasty food at a striking venue, best of all, it was full of incredible people.
I’m a biomedical scientist by trade, so I’ve attended my fair share of conferences over the years. But I have to say that this one rivalled the best of them. Perhaps it was the small crowd that made it so easy to meet other members? Or perhaps this industry is just more open to newcomers than what I’m used to? Either way, I have never met so many friendly, encouraging and supportive people in the span of less than three days.
If there could be one criticism, it would be the quality of the programme. It was just TOO good!
This became quite a problem with the pre-conference workshop line-up. With four topics on offer, I sat at my computer for at least an hour trying to decide which to register for. In the end, I went for something I have not done much of in the past, and chose Stephen Johnston’s The Impossible Blog workshop. I hope some of his wisdom rubbed off on me and this blog post, but either way, it was a fun start to the weekend.
The trouble with choice only continued at the conference proper. It was really difficult to decide which of the concurrent sessions to attend. Given my scientific bent, I was spoilt for choice when it came to learning more about biomedical editing and writing. And boy, were the talks great! From Charles Frink on disrupting poor writing habits in the sciences, to Valerie Matarese on bad textual mentors, to Carol Norris on developing a concise active voice in research communication. And this was just the first day!
On the second day, two founding SENSE members, Jackie Senior and Joy Burrough-Boenisch, teamed up to continue the theme of language editors in academia in the morning session. Jackie highlighted how English-language editors can help researchers in their quest to publish in top-tier journals. Joy then showed us how the SENSE Guidelines for Proofreading Student Texts could be applied to doctoral theses written in English in the Netherlands. In the penultimate session, Maria Sherwood-Smith spoke about the opportunities for language professionals created by the need for researchers to communicate science to non-specialists. Yet another ripper day!
At least my over-curious mind could rest from having to make tough programme choices at the opening and closing plenaries. On Saturday, the conference began with a hilarious talk by Gardner Jeremy (only joking… Jeremy Gardner) who had the audience laughing, and gasping at times, at his many examples of ‘EU English’. In the closing plenary on Sunday, Sarah Griffin-Mason outlined future trends likely to impact the language services sector. One I admit I haven’t given much thought to till now was the impact of artificial intelligence (AI). Despite the possible gloom ahead, the encouraging thought I left with was that a true AI takeover is not likely to occur just yet. Humans are still immeasurably better at detecting and translating all the meanings hidden between the lines. But as Sarah pointed out, it would nevertheless be beneficial for us all to raise the profile of language professionals, as the work we do is of great value to the global economy, both now and into the future.
All in all, the SENSE 2018 Conference was a hugely enjoyable learning experience for me, but I do wish I could have gone to even more of the talks. So please, oh please, dear SENSE organizing committee, can we have another conference again soon?
Kathy Jastrzebski is a biomedical researcher, as well as a freelance editor and writer for her company, Winning Docs.
As a freelance translator, editor and writer, my work shoes are slippers. I’m slipshod in the original sense of the word – shod in slippers – while trying to produce work that isn’t. For the SENSE 2018 Conference in Den Bosch on 9 and 10 June, it was time to exchange my slippers for a pair of proper shoes, time to leave my familiar desk and venture out into the world.
This is exactly what Sarah Griffin-Mason, Chair of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting, urged us to do in her plenary talk at the end of the conference. The theme of the conference was ‘Englishes now! Trends affecting language professionals’, and Griffin-Mason talked about these trends. The main ones are artificial intelligence, machine translation and the gig economy. If we’re not careful, people will start to believe they no longer need human translators, editors, writers and interpreters, even though humans understand context in a way that machines cannot – not yet at least.
The trouble, Griffin-Mason continued, is that many of us become language professionals because we want to shut ourselves off from the world and think about words. We like wearing slippers. However, the time has come for the slipshod to leave the safety of our home offices and tell the world what we do. This brings us to another problem with language workers, said Griffin-Mason. We’re good at helping others communicate, but not so good at telling the world why it needs us. And it does need us, if Jeremy Gardner’s plenary talk that opened the conference is anything to go by.
Gardner’s talk was a cautionary tale of what you get when good language goes bad: jargon, gibberish and gobbledygook. And claptrap, hocus-pocus, jabber, twaddle, balderdash, double Dutch, baloney and hogwash. The EU’s form of English, which was what Gardner’s talk was about, is a prime example. For insiders, it’s obvious that ‘ovine animals’ are sheep and ‘caprine animals’ are goats, and that every other word is an abbreviation of something else. Insiders also know that an ‘enterprise’ is a business, that a ‘mission’ is a business trip and that ‘agents’ are simply people who work for the EU. For outsiders, however, this is gibberish and gobbledygook. Could, Gardner wondered, the EU’s opaque communication be one of the reasons why the public is so hostile to it? If the EU was clearer in its communication, would the public be more aware of what it does? Could a beslippered editor have saved Britain from Brexit? Who knows?
Jargon was also a theme in another presentation I had signed up for: Charles Frink on how poor writing habits are inherited. The presentation was on academic writing this time, but again the message was how important clear communication is. Unfortunately, academic writing is becoming less readable and more jargon-filled, which makes it increasingly difficult for non-specialist readers to understand. Does that matter? Well yes, because non-specialist readers could be on the grant-assessment boards that decide whether to award a researcher a grant. What makes for good academic writing? It’s the same as with any writing. The text needs to be readable. It needs to tell a story. It should avoid jargon, the passive and complex sentences. It should express rather than impress.
Whereas Charles Frink spoke about what makes academic writing good, Valerie Matarese talked about what makes academic writing bad. She explained how researchers use source texts or a corpus of texts – textual mentors – to inform their writing. If these textual mentors are badly written, this style is propagated. She called them ‘bad textual mentors’. Again, good language gone bad. It is our job, as editors, to correct bad textual mentors.
Maria Sherwood-Smith also focused on the importance of clear communication in academic writing. With Dutch universities expecting researchers to communicate their research to non-specialists, this may mean opportunities for language professionals. This could be in the form of editing, translating or teaching.
The conclusion from all of this is that while we know why the world needs language professionals, the world does not. The world might think that rough and ready machine translations are fine. The world might think that as long as you get your message across it doesn’t matter how you say it. What the world doesn’t realize is that how you say it often means that you don't get your message across.
We, the slipshod, must therefore leave the comfort of our home offices – perhaps only virtually – and tell the world why it needs us. Or, as they say in Dutch, we moeten onze stoute schoenen aantrekken.* We must don a stout pair of boots and be stout-hearted enough to get our message across before the machines take over.
* 'We have to don a stout pair of shoes.' The Dutch stout and the English stout are related but have parted ways over the years. The Dutch stout now means naughty or impertinent but can also mean daring, audacious or brave, which is the sense of stoute schoenen aantrekken. This is why Karel de Stoute is Charles the Bold in English rather than Charles the Naughty. The English stout also meant proud, fierce, strong and defiant in the past. It also meant having a powerful build, which is where the stout shoes come from, and has since come to mean thickset or corpulent.
Marianne Orchard is SENSE's content manager. She is a freelance translator (Dutch to English), editor and writer who specializes in creative texts.
SENSE invited me to test the new PerfectIt proofreading add-on to Microsoft Word developed by SENSE member Daniel Heuman. I had tested an earlier version, but at the time thought my own eagle eye was virtually as good as PerfectIt’s algorithms. After hearing from colleagues who used PerfectIt to check their edited documents, I wondered if I had judged too quickly. I tested the beta version of PerfectIt Cloud, which was released on 26 June.
I played with the features and functions during my normal course of work for about two weeks. The comments below are based mainly on three representative documents: a 10,000-word article, a 46,000-word manuscript and a 124,000-word dissertation.
All in all, I was impressed with PerfectIt’s many useful functions. It is particularly good at pinpointing inconsistent hyphenation. Running it takes time, however. I could get up and pour myself a cup of coffee while PerfectIt analysed my longest documents (though this may be due to my less than stellar internet). All that waiting can seem like a waste of time when most of the items identified are not actually mistakes.
This latest version of PerfectIt has moved to the cloud. That means it needs an active internet connection to work, even after installation. I regularly use my laptop in internet-challenged corners of my home and garden, and I quickly learnt that without steady WiFi, PerfectIt simply won’t launch. However, it still does its job at low internet speeds. The developer has said that it's the upload speed that counts and mine registers at just 1 Mbps. So that may be something to consider. The move to the cloud also means that instead of purchasing the software, you now purchase a subscription.
Cloud subscriptions are obviously the future. It makes me question consumer power, since the long-term costs will almost certainly be higher for a subscription service than for a one-time licence. (It's worth noting that SENSE members receive a 30% discount on PerfectIt. See below for more details.) Moreover, I already have too many passwords and need to log in to too many places. Having said that, PerfectIt does log in automatically almost every time you launch it.
The interface is simple. Once you get familiar with it, navigating changes becomes a cinch. As the navigation pane contains a lot of information, more than a third of the screen is needed for good readability. A wide or double monitor is therefore advisable.
After the automatic login, PerfectIt prompts you to select what you want to do. You can choose from ten pre-loaded style sheets, four of which are spelling preferences (Australian, Canadian, UK and US). Three are international organization styles: UN, WHO and EU. There is also ‘American legal style’, ‘Australian government style’ and simply ‘check consistency’.
The developer has said that in the near future, you will be able to define your own style sheets, for example, Oxford style with UK conventions but ‘z’ spellings in words like ‘organization’.
Once you click ‘start’, PerfectIt analyses the document. This takes some time, at least on my set-up. With the UK spelling style sheet, it took 1½ minutes to analyse the 10,000-word article. Longer documents took more time: 3½ minutes for the 46,000-word manuscript and 8 minutes for the 124,000-word dissertation. On the longest document, there was also a bit of a lag between mouse click and action. This may be due to my modest internet speed, but even so, it is something to keep in mind.
PerfectIt then initiates a series of tests. First it looks for inconsistently hyphenated phrases. In my test documents, these were virtually always – thankfully – correctly inconsistent. The add-on cannot distinguish between a compound used as an adjective (thus hyphenated) and a noun (thus not hyphenated). That said, I had not been 100% consistent everywhere, particularly in my longest documents, which shows that this could be a useful check of your own (or someone else’s) accuracy. In this sense, it could be a tool for improving your work – but you have to be savvy enough to know which of the flagged items are actually incorrect. The better your editing, the lower that percentage will be.
After going through phrases, PerfectIt checks word hyphenation. Inconsistencies found here included abovementioned versus above-mentioned, backup versus back-up and policy-making versus policymaking. In my documents, especially the very long ones, this almost always turned up a scattering of errors.
I was particularly interested in the spelling variations test, though it is unclear to me what dictionary PerfectIt uses for its UK spelling. I am assuming Collins, since it does not recognize ‘z’ forms as correct UK style. Here it turned up usual suspects, like advisor instead of adviser, benefitting instead of benefiting, oriented instead of orientated and sizable instead of sizeable. This revealed my US editing slant, providing valuable information for me to improve my work.
The capitalization check turned up mainly false positives on my test documents. For example, authors’ names that are also a word in themselves (like Violet Weld). Also, proper nouns in a heading are flagged as possible errors when the heading style is lower case. On my test documents this turned up a whole sequence of false positives, which had to be manually accepted. Skipping such false positives can be a chore, especially in long documents. This is where it would be useful to learn your way around the interface, as you can skip any of the tests you choose.
PerfectIt also checks a range of other potential problem areas such as en dashes vs. hyphens, accents, common typos, italics, abbreviations, open brackets and quotes left open (though interestingly, it did not find a paragraph with a close quote and no matching open quote). There are also tests for consistency in superscripts and subscripts, bullet punctuation, list punctuation, punctuation in tables, capitals in tables and table/box/figure order. Removal of extra spaces is the final task, though this did not work on many of my documents, returning an error instead. Perhaps this is a beta version issue.
There are two intriguing ‘finalization tasks’: ‘table of abbreviations’ and ‘text in comments’. The former is very useful, as it generates a list of abbreviations from the document with their meaning written out in full (where available). The latter generates a list of all the comments in the document. This was a bit of a disappointment because I had hoped it would check spelling and language consistency in the comments. Moreover, it returned an error on some of my documents. Hopefully this is a beta version issue.
In sum, Heuman has to be applauded for producing a useful and informative product. Still, I won’t be bringing in my editor’s shingle quite yet. PerfectIt’s pinpointing of possible errors actually requires users to sharpen their editorial wits. And while I do use the cloud, I tend to avoid software that requires an internet connection to work – I’d prefer that it work off as well as on the grid. I've since learnt that an annual subscription for the cloud version will include access to the latest offline version. Finally, privacy and security are aspects to consider. Although the developers say all texts are encrypted and stored on a secure server and deleted shortly after you’re done, I would not feel comfortable running PerfectIt on a document marked confidential.
Michelle Luijben edits and enjoys the outdoor life in Exloo, the Netherlands.
SENSE members get a 30% discount on PerfectIt. See the SENSE site for information on how to claim your discount.
Write a blog post about the new EU payment service directive and make it entertaining, said my client. Before I could even think about the entertaining bit, I spent hours trawling through articles that all said such different things about the directive that I ended up reading the bloomin’ thing itself, or at least parts of it. If only I’d attended Stephen Johnston’s workshop ‘The impossible blog: how to write a readable blog from unreadable material’ beforehand. It was held in Den Bosch on 8 June, the day before the SENSE 2018 conference.
So how do you write a readable blog about a less than thrilling topic? Well, said Stephen, it’s about the tone. That's what makes a blog a blog. Write as though you’re talking to someone, but without the ums and ers. Avoid jargon, and if you must use it, explain it. Make the complicated sound simple. Avoid words you wouldn’t use in regular speech.
It’s also important, said Stephen, to know who your reader is and why you’re writing for them. What do you (or your client) want the reader to do when they have read the blog? Buy your product? Find out more about your company? Contact you? Keep this in mind while researching and writing the blog.
This brought us on to the structure. Stephen had brought along some materials about a new product, ranging from a very technical proof of concept document to marketing slides. Our job was to scan the material and find three main messages, without forgetting the reader and aim of the blog. He explained that once you have these three messages you can present these together followed by the supporting material. Or you can present them as: main message, supporting material, main message, supporting material and so on.
We also looked at what to say in the introduction, which is where you explain why you’re writing the blog. Then Stephen talked about ending with a ‘call to action’. This is what you want the reader to do when they finish the blog. Stephen also talked about using headings to make the post easier to scan.
A blog about writing blogs. How meta! So – I began the piece by explaining what it’s about, am writing as I talk, have made the subject matter sound simple and have three main messages followed by supporting material. All that's left now is the call to action. What do I want you the reader to do? Why not improve your blog writing skills by writing for the SENSE blog? We're always looking for new input and it's a great way to spread the word about your business. Contact me if you're interested. For upcoming workshops see the SENSE events page.
Marianne Orchard is on the SENSE Executive Committee and an editor and writer for the SENSE blog and newsletter. She is a freelance translator (Dutch to English), editor and writer who specializes in creative texts.
Several SENSE members are speaking at the SENSE 2018 Conference. Here they reveal what they hope to achieve and what they are looking forward to at the conference.
Editing English-language doctoral theses in the Netherlands: are the SENSE Guidelines useful?
Joy Burrough-Boenisch: ‘In my presentation I dig deeper into the situation that contributed to SENSE setting up the Guidelines for Proofreading Student Texts to explore why – unlike universities in anglophone countries such as the UK and Australia – Dutch universities seem unconcerned about the ethics of editing PhD work.
'I’ll suggest how we editors can respond. I secretly hope that awareness of the issues raised in this presentation will ripple out beyond SENSE and create waves in Dutch academia that will ultimately result in acknowledgement of the need for guidelines and transparency about the editing of student texts in the Netherlands.
‘I’m particularly looking forward to hearing Nigel Harwood’s presentation at the conference, as he’s done thorough empirical research on what “proofreaders” in the UK do to a student text and why. His findings will help us put our own work and approach here in the Netherlands into context.’
Dealing with Dunglish – and other source-language interference
Lloyd Bingham: ‘I’m delighted to be attending a SENSE conference for the first time, more so because of this year’s theme: Englishes now! As translators into English, we need to be conscious of the varieties of English that our target audiences speak and we need to write accordingly.
‘My presentation will examine the hybrid language that is Dunglish and the problems it poses for translators. Dunglish is traditionally understood to mean English words borrowed by Dutch that retain the same meaning. Modern Dunglish, however, is also about borrowing words and phrases that might look English and sound English…but English they ain’t. Cue translators pulling their hair out, trying to get to the bottom of what a Dunglish phrase actually means. After all, there are no Dunglish dictionaries! So my presentation will propose some techniques to translate Dunglish into English that natives can understand.
‘Looking forward to seeing you there!'
Disrupting the inheritance of poor writing habits: an alternative approach to editing and teaching writing (in the health-related sciences)
Charles Frink: ‘The main goal of my presentation is to provide a glimpse of the underlying scientific structure in biomedical manuscripts. A narrow linguistic approach to writing and editing is often ineffective if the core scientific elements of a biomedical manuscript are not explicitly present and logically linked. The document may still lack the elusive “flow” that is so highly prized by peer reviewers and journal editors.
'My proposition is that mastering this structure will empower young scientists to disrupt the inheritance of poor writing habits from their supervisors, professors and senior co-authors.
‘I am especially looking forward to Valerie Matarese's presentation on bad textual mentors and the panel discussion on language versus subject specialists in biomedical editing and translation.’
Identifying and rectifying translatorese
Marcel Lemmens: ‘Some literal translations are fine and others are awkward. The awkward ones are often examples of translatorese. Being able to distinguish between the two makes you a better and more efficient editor. That is the message we would like to get across.’
Tony Parr: ‘Among the points we’ll be looking at are “the curse of knowledge” and “translator’s privilege”. So what have these got to do with translatorese and why should we as translators be wary of them? To find out, join us at 9.30 on Sunday morning on 10 June (gulp)!’
International science needs English editors
Jackie Senior: ‘I hope to show that it is well worth specializing in science editing if you’re looking for a niche. I’m particularly looking forward to meeting the international delegates at the conference and hoping they will set SENSE members thinking about the Dutch versus the European situation.’
'... divided by a common language': cultural, topical and geographical Englishes
Nigel Saych: ‘I’m looking forward to discussing with people attending my presentation how the English we used in the past differs from that in use today, and what we may have to concern ourselves with as linguists in the future. My only regret is that I can’t attend the other sessions that are on at the same time!’
Outreach and research communication in English: opportunities for language professionals
Maria Sherwood-Smith: ‘What I would like to achieve with my presentation is to sound people out on what I think may be a trend towards a more central role for communication skills in the research process and what implications this may have for language professionals. And as a first-time presenter, I suppose my other aim is to take another step along the path towards becoming that mythical “language professional”, as opposed to merely the full-time language amateur I usually feel I am.
‘As for other presentations, I’m especially looking forward to Jeremy Gardner's talk on EU English, Nigel Harwood on editing Master’s theses and Jackie Senior on science editing. I am particularly sorry to be missing the panel discussion on the Dutch guidelines for editing PhD theses in an international context, which is at the same time as my own presentation. I found it very difficult in general to choose between all the tempting parallel sessions...’