Canva A Vintage Typewriter

On 3 September, SENSE member and freelance academic editor Dr Claire Bacon joined the Eastern SIG via Zoom from her home in Germany to talk about her experience writing a blog and how it helped her expand her client base. Armed with this new knowledge, Eastern SIG members Anne Oosthuizen and Danielle Carter share their thoughts on the benefits of professional blogging.

Anne Oosthuizen:

To be frank, I never really understood blogging. To me, it seemed like a load of hard work for… yes, what for, exactly? The way Dr Claire Bacon put it, the benefits of keeping a blog can actually be seen as threefold:

  • increasing credibility within your professional network;
  • boosting online visibility and website traffic (and, with this, your ‘findability’);
  • strengthening your own knowledge on topical subject matter.

It was especially this last point that appealed to me: blogging, not necessarily for others, but for yourself. Turning those little research sprees we go on – because we all do, don’t we? – into concrete, durable knowledge, there for you to refer back to and for others to find. Once you’ve built up a little library of posts, you are free to repurpose those by resharing or elaborating upon them. That sort of takes care of my initial objection, namely the supposed workload. Another very good point Claire made with regards to this is that consistency is more important than frequency: consistency shows commitment and dependability. You won’t necessarily have to post something every week. Even if you only have time to write a blog once every three months; if you do it consistently, you showcase stability. That’s a lot better than over-enthusiastically starting a weekly blog, only to stop again after two months because it turns out that isn’t sustainable for you.

I’m not super techy, so aside from some light SEO stuff, I never really invested much energy into optimising my website to climb up the search results ladder. Therefore, the fact that search engines favour new content was actually news to me. By blogging, you are effectively constantly updating your website – keeping it ‘fresh’. I saw my website merely as a landing page for a domain name I’d once bought when I registered at the Kamer van Koophandel: a stationary portfolio. I now cringe, thinking about how long my poor website has already just been sitting there, on the back bench of the internet. Whether I like it or not, half our lives take place online these days and there is really no excuse for an outdated online presence. Time for action.

Finally, I think Claire expected us to be less enthused by the argument of increased credibility among peers than we actually were. I can see why: if you’re just starting out, every other translator feels like a competitor. In fact, I think some language service providers never truly let go of that feeling. However, any member of SENSE will probably feel that colleagues are not just a fantastic potential support network but can actually be one of the greatest ways to generate business. Considering blogging as another way for me to connect with my peers, and for my peers to connect with me has actually been the deciding factor for me – this is why I now solemnly swear to give it a go: I shall blog. Stay tuned.

Danielle Carter:

I am a novice blogger, but I have some big ambitions. I have a running list of over fifty blog post ideas in a Word document on my desktop that shadows over my daily agenda, waiting for me to have more time to write. Dr. Claire Bacon’s presentation on attracting the clients you want by blogging made me think about blogging from a different perspective. At first, I was soothed by the thought that no one was reading my blog (I was scared, okay?), but Claire pointed out that you should be writing specifically for the client that you want. What are they searching for? What are their questions? How can you demonstrate your value and even – gasp! – solve their problems for free via your blog posts?

So I have to admit that at least some people are reading my blog and that this is actually a good thing, especially if they’re the ‘right’ people: you can show (not tell) your clients what you know, build trust with your potential clients and increase your visibility among your peers – who can also send you more work.

Claire highlighted that writing blog posts can be a fantastic form of ‘knowledge consolidation’, meaning that you confirm your own knowledge through research and writing. This has been my main approach in writing blog posts over the past year or so. I’ve always been a good investigator and I love poking around on the internet, gathering resources and generally staying up-to-date in my fields. To me, writing blog posts has become a way to give myself time to research things as thoroughly as I’d like to… while also feeling productive because then I have a tangible result – a blog post – to publish at the end. But it’s also good to know that there are other approaches to coming up with blog post ideas (like thinking about what kinds of questions your clients might have), and other purposes for maintaining a blog.

My other main takeaway (in addition to writing for your ideal clients) was about sharing and resharing your blog content. Although I’ve written a handful of blog posts already, I was wary of being annoying and posting my content across social media platforms too many times. Claire has a nice spreadsheet system (I love spreadsheets) to reshare her blog posts on various media; the main highlight for me was that she writes a different accompanying blurb each time she shares a blog post. That way, she underscores different aspects of the blog, frames the blog into different contexts to show its relevance to various potential clients and allows new followers to view content that they may have missed. Resharing content with different information each time can also help those followers who never actually click on the link; even if they don’t read the whole blog post, they’ll eventually get enough snippets to gain the knowledge or insight they need from your post – at the very least, they’ll be less annoyed by your regular posting.

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students throwing academic caps into the air

Having an online UniSIG meeting was a new venture, but on 17 July, 17 punters logged in for an hour-long afternoon session to catch up with each other and discuss the Covid crisis and how it has been impacting our work and lives.  Members who’d been following reports in the Dutch and international press mentioned some of the trends in universities’ teaching and student admissions. At least one person had noticed a decline in assignments relating to research grant applications, but it seems that this might simply be because deadlines have been moved back and so grants are still being written.

A few of the teachers of academic and scientific writing had plenty to say about how they’ve had to move their teaching online, so that at times the meeting seemed to be more SENSE Ed than UniSIG. Nevertheless, this only underlines the overlap in interest between the two SIGs – which could be exploited in the future by holding joint SENSE Ed/UniSIG meetings.

As five of the attendees were newbies who’d joined SENSE in 2020, we spent time finding out where they are based and what they do. One of them, Danielle Carter, promoted the new Starters SIG, which she’s helped set up. Mike Gould pointed out that SENSE’s mentoring programme is a good resource for starters in the language profession. It can also be useful for established language professionals who want to acquire a new skill: one of our longstanding UniSIG members is hoping to be mentored so that she can branch out into copywriting.

Our discussion about the format and content of future online meetings yielded various points:

  • The ‘as you like it’ style of meeting that kicked off the past two academic years is a nice idea, but if we continue to use a one-hour Zoom format and topics are known beforehand, there should be time limits on the contributors and time should be reserved for spontaneous topics.
  • Webinars are not a popular way of holding a meeting.
  • We should try breakout groups split along ‘hard’ versus ‘soft’ sciences.
  • We should think about what is meant by ‘science’: Ed Hull has promised to talk briefly on this at a future meeting, to kick off a discussion.
  • Occasional ‘social’ online meetings would be fun. Late August would be a good time to have one.

I’ll act on these ideas: watch out for UniSIG announcements! And if you have any tips about colleagues or acquaintances who – like Ed – would be prepared to give a short talk (15 minutes) on a topic relating to working for or in academia, please pass them on to me, so I can organize one-hour themed Zoom meetings.


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Blog BU Data safe

This item is based on the SENSE Tech SIG meeting of 28 May 2020 (moderated by Jenny Zonneveld and me) and describes my approach to back-ups. During the SIG meeting, we also discussed other aspects of IT resilience that I might cover in a future blog post.

Most of us depend on personal computers for work, and store our documents on a hard disk. The computer also uses a hard disk to store its operating system and applications. Any hard disk will fail: either soon after you buy the computer or a decade later, suddenly or after some warnings – but fail it will. For the purposes of this discussion, there is no difference between traditional hard disks (with a spinning disc covered with a magnetic recording medium) and solid-state disks (SSD, fully electronic, without moving parts).

The threats to your data include failure or theft of your PC or hard disk, viruses/ransomware, fire and flooding. You have to assess what threats are relevant to your situation and then define a back-up strategy.

External hard disks

I use computers with two hard disks: an internal one (for the operating system and applications) and an external one for data (, my work and accounts). The advantage is that if my computer fails, I can disconnect the external hard disk and take the computer in for repair without having to worry about the shop gaining access to confidential data. At the same time, I can connect that external disk to my laptop and continue working.

Back-up options

Back-ups can be created in several ways:

  • Automatically, in the background (eg, Apple Time Machine)
  • Initiated by the user, through dedicated software (eg, SyncBackPro)
  • By the user, through manually copying the relevant directories

I have considered options 1 and 2, but decided that they would make me too dependent on dedicated software when restoring the back-up and put me at risk of that software not being available when I need it. Therefore, I’ve gone for option 3 – also to prove my Luddite credentials...!

Back-ups can be written to:

  • Another hard disk (either permanently connected to your PC, or only connected when required) or a USB stick
  • The Cloud
  • An optical disk (eg, DVD)

Option 1 is obviously convenient and protects against the failure of the main hard disk. However, if my computer got infected by ransomware this might encrypt both my main hard disk and my back-up disk, rendering both useless. Option 2 means relying on an external service provider, which does not appeal to me. There are also issues concerning reliability, time required for a restore, and confidentiality. So I decided that option 3 – writing the back-up to a DVD-DL disk – was the safest option. It has a capacity of around 8 GB which is enough for my work in progress, e-mail and accounts, etc.

Back-ups can be stored:

  • In your office
  • In a data safe
  • Off-site

Option 1 is the most convenient, but if there is a break-in or fire, you might lose both your primary hard disk and your back-up. Option 3 is the most secure, but not always convenient. I use option 2, and have invested in a fairly secure and fireproof data safe. They're quite expensive – the fireproof model pictured above will set you back about €1,500 – but it will last me a lifetime. Additionally, every now and then I take a back-up off-site (which obviously raises data security issues).

Further musings:

  • It is essential to regularly test whether you can restore your back-ups, both to your main computer and to another computer. If you have to get a new computer to recover from a major failure, you must be able to install any back-up software you use on it. It might therefore be an idea to store a copy of the software together with your back-ups.
  • You have to decide on a back-up frequency. I've opted for weekly back-ups on DVDs stored in the data safe. During the week, I copy the key files I am working on to a USB stick.
  • Encrypting the back-up improves data security, but means you will need the relevant software to decrypt it for a restore. My normal (securely stored) back-ups are not encrypted, but my off-site ones are.

A further aside: a decade or two ago, I was writing a similar article for the then-SENSE newsletter. I'd almost finished it when I lost the file and noticed a burning smell coming from the external hard disk, which had failed disastrously. A salutary reminder of the transitory nature of computer data. So, fingers crossed this time...

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Heavy lifting crane stock image

Eight or so of us met up on Zoom on the evening of 13 May. This time we had a text to look at. This one was a marketing brochure about a specific piece of equipment used in manufacturing industrial vehicles. Although it had some technical terms for the parts, they were largely searchable, and the other translation issues were clear. Among the questions we agreed should be asked were who the intended audience was, and if the English translation was to be a source text for translation into other languages. There was also a discussion about whether the ‘lifting/raising’ metaphor (relevant to the type of machine) in the opening sentence was intentional or not, and if it should be translated as such to add a little humour or whether it was by now a tired old joke in that world.

This text was especially interesting because of what happened after the translator sent in the translation. This agency always asks the translator to take a final look at the revised text, as a final ‘pre-delivery check’. Good practice, we agreed, and something that should not take much time. The excitement at the SIG meeting came when we saw what the agency revisor had changed. The first paragraph was a sea of tracked changes. The revisor had changed an active (and attractive) marketing-style translation into a literal translation, full of passive constructions that had sucked the life out of it.

We agreed that a revisor’s job should not entail this much work in the first place (unless there are real mistakes, of course, but this translator knows the client company very well, and the revisor was perhaps a little wet behind the ears), and that in no way was the revised text ‘fit for purpose’. At that point we were all looking forward to what Brian Mossop would have to say about revising texts in his talk at the SENSE conference on 3-5 June.

The next meeting should be on 8 July. Check the Events page for details as the time approaches.

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Ann Bless

The SENSE Ed Special Interest Group for educators has been meeting up online every Friday since the end of March. These weekly meetings will soon be coming to an end, so if you'd like to join the final session on 29 May, don't forget to log onto the website and register via the Events page. To help you decide whether you’d like to join in, here’s what SENSE member Ann Bless has to say about the meetings.

I joined this Zoom group with fear and trepidation, since I had very little experience with online teaching and had the feeling that everyone was far more experienced than I was.

How wrong I was! Indeed there were people with more experience but I soon felt that I could ask any question without feeling stupid. In all the 30 years that I have been running courses on scientific writing, I had never dreamed that I would one day have to teach online, so hearing other teachers’ failures and successes was very helpful.

Every Friday from 14.00–15.00, about 10 of us meet up under the patient leadership of Sally Hill, who has to cope with a group of rather chatty teachers sharing their views on online teaching. Most of us use Zoom. We not only share information on technological subjects, such as break outs, how to show a PowerPoint and when to use Canvas, but also talk about how we feel about teaching to faces only. How far do we have to adapt our courses? Do we enjoy teaching online? Do we long to go back to normal teaching, and what help do we get from the institutions we work for?

A bonus for me is that I meet up with SENSE friends and colleagues again; I left the Netherlands in 2003 and now live in Switzerland. Even though I try and attend SENSE meetings when I am in the country, a weekly meeting with colleagues and friends is a real treat. I have the coronavirus to thank for that. When we are back to normal I shall miss you all!

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buurtcentrum OASE

The Utrecht SIG met on the evening of Wednesday 11 March, in a new location. If you have been following this you will know that the Park Plaza has turned out to be unsuitable, and other central spots are too expensive for meetings that are free to members. Convener Maartje Gorte had found a surprisingly accessible if not central spot, buurtcentrum Oase, right across from Utrecht Zuilen station. Four of us joined Maartje in a clean and quiet meeting room (only now and then, when a door was opened, did we hear the distant strains of Bollywood karaoke from the main hall downstairs). Since there was no text to work on this time, we were free to discuss whatever was on our minds.

Inevitably this included coronavirus, but also a few things like the new mandatory disability insurance for ZZP’ers. Opinions differed on this one; some of us resented it, some of us welcomed it. A couple had looked into insurance before and found it simply too expensive, especially given it usually does not pay out for a year or longer after you have to stop working. One member had applied for it some time ago, but their application was rejected for reasons that made absolutely no sense. The rates under the mandatory system are more reasonable than before. In any case, it is not expected to take effect until 2024.

We also discussed the overuse and near-meaninglessness of the word duurzaam (‘sustainable’ but these days it’s used to mean the same thing as ‘environmentally friendly’). Other subjects included resources for sustainability, a new member’s activity leading night-time city walks in that very area, and John Linnegar’s grammar workshop the weekend before. Finally, we packed up the snacks we had brought to share, and walked the 80 metres or so to catch our trains at Zuilen.

The next meeting, provisionally scheduled for 13 May, will be live online. Check the Events page for details.


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SIG Far North 22 Jan

After a year’s hiatus, SIG Far North finally convened on 22 January, with 6 SENSE members meeting at 20:00 at Café De Graanrepubliek in Groningen. As has been the tradition for our SIG, those who wished to meet up for dinner before the event did so at Traiterie De Olijfboom.

The January meeting was a chance to re-connect after a long time apart, and it was a pleasure to welcome two members back into the fold after several years away. Keeping it informal did not mean, however, that the conversation was not language-focussed. One of the subjects was the ongoing struggle between professional translators and the Ministry of Justice and Security, an issue previously highlighed on the SENSE blog. We discussed the talks that were given at METM2019, as well as the SENSE conference in Maastricht, where one SIG member was scheduled to give a presentation. (Sadly, the conference has been cancelled because of the coronavirus.) Two other members gave spirited testimonials on the benefits of PerfectIt proofreading software.

We also discovered that one of us may have coined the phrase ‘From Bench to Bedside’ in a text she wrote back in 2009, and we recounted how much this expression has now become part of the medical lexicon, especially in the context of precision medicine. Discussion also touched on everyone’s work and home lives, and the challenges we all face in getting enough work, but not too much (and the struggle to take that one necessary holiday).

We ended the evening talking about bilingual children, then drifting into a discussion of how sign language is a model for linguists and to recent examples of where we had seen sign language used in public forums.

It was good to meet again, and we look forward to more SIG Far North events in the future.

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Canva Pile of Books

I’m happy to announce that we held the first (modern-day) SenseMed-sponsored meeting on 20 February in Utrecht. The topic, entitled ‘Editing Medical/Biomedical Texts: Proofreading or Heavy Lifting?’ was a round-table discussion of the many challenges (and rewards!) that editors face when editing medical and biomedical texts. A total of 20 members and non-members from a variety of backgrounds came to Utrecht and shared their own experiences. We discussed common mistakes (eg, ‘cases’ vs ‘patients’, ‘prevalence’ vs ‘incidence’), how to deal with the medical  profession’s fondness (obsession…?) for over-using , and then edited examples of text, figures and tables from authors of various nationalities including Dutch, Chinese and Israeli.

Particularly interesting was the realization that just like with translators, two different editors rarely make the same changes and suggestions. Some editors take a heavy-handed approach, also giving feedback on the science itself (eg, suggesting a helpful control or alternative way to interpret the data). Some editors focus solely on the language (‘Is this sentence grammatically correct? Then no need to change anything’), and of course many fall somewhere in the middle. We also talked about the client’s needs and expectations, and how to ensure that our role as editor meets (or hopefully exceeds) those expectations. The meeting was followed by drinks and dinner. Given the clear success of this meeting, our plan is to make this a regular event, so watch your inbox and this space for news regarding the next SenseMed gathering!

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ludo waltman uni leiden

Professor Ludo Waltman. Photo courtesy of Universiteit Leiden.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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