On Wednesday 14 November, 12 of us met upstairs at Utrecht Central station in the Bistrot Centraal to discuss difficult clients. Joy Burrough had been present at similar discussions at the American Translators Association Annual Conference in New Orleans in October and had quite a bit to share, but everyone contributed insights, anecdotes and suggestions to make it a successful evening.
For many translators in other countries, the client doesn’t speak the target language and is ever so grateful that you can help them out. But not here in the Netherlands. Many of our clients speak good (occasionally very good) English, and there’s always one who knows better, having learnt something at school – sometimes something dead wrong – and has to let you know. Many of us had stories to share about these clients. We do need to remember, though, that occasionally the client can be right, especially if specialized terminology is involved. On-line corpora such as Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA) are valuable tools in this respect.
We agreed that back-and-forth interaction to answer a question is better than having to deal with complaints. Most clients are happy to answer questions and like to feel they’re part of the translation or editing process. Asking them what they think of a given suggestion can even help them save face. It’s unusual that you are able to communicate directly with the client when you work through an agency, so you do need to establish early on how any questions will get answered.
The issue of putting comments/questions in the text vs in an email also came up. You need to know if the client is actually going to read your translation or just send it on. Agencies sometimes just pass it straight to their client, and the question you may have asked never gets answered. If you have put questions/comments in the text, it’s a good idea to put something like ‘be sure to read my comments’ in the email when you send in the translation.
Another recurring problem is that someone ‘corrects’ your translation after you’ve sent it in. If it gets published and your name is associated with a bad translation, it can damage your professional reputation. One translator puts a clause in her Terms and Conditions stating that she must be sent the printer’s proofs to proofread and if anything is changed afterwards without her permission, she is entitled to claim €5000 in compensation. How easy – and how costly – this would be to enforce is another matter, but at least it seemed to raise awareness among clients.
Then there is the issue of payment. Sighs all round. Don’t be afraid to be obnoxious if a client is late paying you. If it’s a large company saying ‘we lost the bill’, you can threaten to ask for an internal audit. As with the compensation clause, whether this would work in practice remains to be seen.
Our next meeting will be Wednesday 9 January – stay tuned to the Events page for details.
The UniSIG meeting on 9 November was billed as the first meeting of the academic year, but that wasn’t enough to set warning bells ringing. Even when the introductory round started I was none the wiser: our convener asked me to go first as one of two newcomers in the group of 12. Very nice to get away from my laptop and meet some others in the same line of work, I said.
But were they in the same line of work? It finally dawned on me, as the others introduced themselves, that it was no coincidence that everyone seemed to be doing academic editing. This meeting was aimed at academic editors – whereas I mainly do commercial work. But any feeling of being in the wrong place very soon passed.
We met in the breakfast room of the Utrecht Park Plaza Hotel, just off the lobby, as the upstairs meeting rooms were still being renovated. It was a busy afternoon at the hotel, but a flip chart was soon trundled over to us so that our convenor could write down the day’s agenda. Officially billed as ‘Anything and everything’, we would discuss agencies offering thesis editing services, whether or not thesis editors should be acknowledged, editing tools and how to manage – and offer – comments.
The first topic, commercial agencies helping students with their theses, was prompted by a recent article in the Groene Amsterdammer. Some of these flourishing agencies are apparently now also offering undergraduates help on the writing side, and the article grumbled that their services are a form of plagiarism. Those present agreed that students and scientists at all levels, especially non-native English speakers, have poor writing skills in English. They need help – particularly PhD students who won’t be published if their writing isn’t weighty enough – and few universities offer enough support. A possible niche opening for academic editors, our convener concluded.
This led to the second topic – acknowledgement. With rare exceptions, editors are not acknowledged in academic papers. Ethically, it might seem the right thing to do, but most respondents in the recent SENSE survey on the topic said they didn’t mind if their contributions weren’t acknowledged. One member pointed out that they may not want to be associated with mediocre writing – most authors can’t resist making changes before publication to the version delivered by their editor. Another said simply that he doesn’t need the advertising, while another still leaves it up to the client to decide whether to acknowledge him.
This led to a side discussion on what to do about billing to make sure you don’t lose out if editing takes longer because the writing is especially bad. But our convenor managed to turn the focus to topic 3 – how to deal with vague criticism from peer reviewers who don’t accept a version of a paper. The person who had proposed this topic said, ‘They say the English isn’t good enough but don’t go into detail, leaving me guessing what the problem is.’
Asking the journal’s peer reviewers for more information is not an option as they work anonymously, so someone else suggested discussing the situation with the client, which helps build your relationship with them. An alternative suggestion was to arrange for someone else to read the paper and modify it based on their suggestions.
One member said he wasn’t sure if he could charge the client for the time it takes to make such extra amendments, but this was met by a vociferous ‘yes, you can!’ by several people. After all, we cannot guarantee publication. In fact, criticizing the English could be a way for journals to avoid publishing a paper without disclosing the real reason for their decision.
Going off topic only slightly, we discussed what to do with criticism from non-natives along the lines of ‘that’s not English’. These remarks can be hurtful, but it may simply be a case of rephrasing an idiomatic expression or complex construction. One member then handed out copies of some feedback of her own that she had sent to a well-known publisher regarding a poorly translated book. She had agreed to edit it for a certain amount before realizing how much work was involved. Others shared similar experiences. I was reminded to watch out when asked to prepare an estimate based on a short extract. And warned that publishers may seem glamorous but are so cash-strapped they are not good payers.
The last topic of the afternoon was editing tools. The member who proposed the topic was curious about the PerfectIt workshop on 19 October that a couple of attendees had been to and could report back on. He mentioned liking the subscription version of Grammarly for long texts as it ‘takes out the drab’ and reduces the time needed by the reviewers he contracts for editing services. As well as checking for spelling and grammar, Grammarly looks at consistency, suitability within a certain genre, paragraph length and active verbs. Grammarly flags each item and it is up to the user to decide whether or not to accept the suggested change: luckily, we haven’t been made completely redundant yet.
Right at the beginning of the afternoon, our convenor had asked for questions from the newcomers, but we ran out of time. However, she herself answered one of the questions I had about what might motivate an academic editor: ‘I want to give biomedical students a credible voice so they can go and find the cure for something.’
Marijn Moltzer is a freelance writer, editor and translator for clients including Rabobank, Aidsfonds and Cargill.
Following a well-attended informal resurrection in September, the SENSE Eastern SIG (special interest group) kicked off the meeting season on 30 October in Zwolle. Here, Samuel Murray reports on the topics discussed, and adds his own tips and experiences.
For this Eastern SIG meeting about time management for language practitioners, we had all been asked to bring along our top tips. But we were also encouraged to share any problems that we wanted help with – the latter leading to the most lively discussions.
We learnt that different people have different time-management problems. Some have difficulty starting out or have difficulty getting back to work after taking a break, or find it hard to put down entertainment. Others have the opposite problem – they are workaholics, yearn for a reduction in productivity, and wish that they didn’t accept so many tasks or offers.
While the time-management problems and tips discussed at the meeting were relevant to all freelancers, some were specific to certain tasks. For example, a particular problem for translators is not being able to do editing immediately after translating, but needing to let the translation simmer before getting back to it.
We talked about procrastination in its various forms. Suggestions to address this included the following: if you find yourself putting off starting work in the morning by doing various chores instead, try doing those chores the evening before, or tidying and readying your desk so that the ‘office’ looks more inviting in the morning. Someone else with a problem getting up in the morning had invested in a coffee maker with a timer.
For those of us working at home, if your mind keeps wandering to all the chores you still have to do, it was suggested that we try making an appointment with ourselves for that chore at a specific time of the day. Or to create a physical, visual barrier at the entrance to the office, eg, a curtain, allowing you to leave your house behind when you enter the office, and vice versa.
One member said that she prevents herself from spending time on sites like Facebook by deliberately logging out every time. This prevents her from falling into the trap of ‘quickly checking’ what’s new. Another member used an app that takes a screenshot every minute. At the end of the day, a quick browse through the screenshots reveals which activities were timewasters on that day.
Other tips for reducing distractions on the computer included the following:
• if your email program opens automatically on the computer, set it so that you have to open it yourself
• use a separate email address for correspondence that does not generate an income, even if it’s work related (eg, forum notifications)
• to keep your inbox empty, quickly triage incoming email into ‘long reply’ and ‘short reply’ folders that you can deal with later
• make it harder to shift your attention away from work by using a separate browser for non-work related tasks (eg, Chrome for work, Firefox for play)
• regard anything that doesn’t help bring in money as entertainment!
Some people struggle with communication-related tasks that form part of being a freelancer but do not specifically generate income. An example is when you spend time trying to help out a potential client by arranging for an alternative translator or editor from your network, or when you spend time writing a careful reply to something that you know for certain won’t lead to work, because you want to be polite and/or helpful. Although no concrete solutions for this were forthcoming, we agreed that helping clients and colleagues is indirectly good for business!
We also discussed the issue of accepting jobs over the weekend. Someone suggested that if you find a lot of your work comes in on Friday evenings or weekends, you could try having your ‘weekend’ on other days, eg, Wednesday and Thursday. I myself tend to compromise by trying to keep my Friday afternoon and Saturday free, and then start working again on Sunday at noon, rather than working on Saturday in-between other activities.
Also, I find that if clients want work done by 9:00, I try saying I can do it for 14:00, which gives me that extra bit of time in case something happens. In line with this, others agreed that if the work has tight deadlines, we should not accept assignments that fill our hours to the maximum (per client) but try to negotiate deadlines that allow us to have gaps in our day, which can then also be filled with work for other clients. Similarly, when setting up my out-of-office reply, I am generous with my estimate of when I expect to return in case I end up running late – especially handy for those clients who expect instant replies!
Technology in various forms was of course discussed. Firstly, for those distracted by sounds, listening to music can help us concentrate and it was interesting to hear that we preferred widely different types of music – from relaxing instrumental music to heavy metal to something in a foreign language.
In terms of software, while most time-management problems can’t be solved by simply downloading an app, a number of members reported success using Pomodoro type apps. The Pomodoro Technique dates from the 1980s. It involves alternating between short productive sessions and even shorter rests, and turning small tasks into goals to avoid procrastination. The original system used a notebook, pen and kitchen timer, but apps make it easier to set goals, tick off achieved tasks and stick to time intervals.
One particularly popular app that can be combined with the Pomodoro Technique is called Forest, which involves a game of planting and caring for pet trees to help visualize how much you can resist the temptation to switch to other apps.
The browser-based version of Forest (for Chrome) allows you to continue using your computer and browse the web, but penalizes you for visiting certain websites such as Facebook and Twitter, or any other site you add to its blacklist. One can also combine the smartphone app and the browser app into a single system by logging in.
All in all, I found this to be a very productive meeting. It was great to hear that other freelancers sometimes struggle with similar problems, to learn how different personality types or lifestyles lead to opposite types of problems and to hear feedback on our time-management problems from different perspectives.
SENSE has a number of special interest groups (SIGs) that meet regularly throughout the country. The Eastern SIG, which meets in Zwolle, gives people the opportunity to speak English with one another and share experiences about professional practice and life in the Netherlands. SIG meetings are open to all members. Guests are welcome to attend one or two meetings before deciding whether to join SENSE.
Samuel Murray is an editor and translator (English-Afrikaans) who specializes in health, medicine and information technology.
Like many of you, I am already a PerfectIt user. I love to do a PerfectIt pass after I’ve edited a document and fix all those contrary hyphens and stray capitals. I’ve been meaning to do a course for ages (or actually read the documentation or watch the videos). I think I may have done the introductory one when I first downloaded the software in 2014, but I haven’t been back to the website much since then and … you know.
So when I got an email from SENSE saying that Daniel Heuman, the creator of PerfectIt, was going to a deliver a course here in Amsterdam, I signed up.
For those who don’t know already, PerfectIt is an add-on to Microsoft Word that checks for consistency and enforces style. It is not a grammar or reference checker. PerfectIt leaves each decision to the editor, so you always have control over changes being suggested and made.
Daniel developed it for consultants working on long reports because he knew from his previous job how difficult and time-consuming these fiddly things are to find. Daniel says it took him six months to realize that editors are a key market. Who would have guessed that we editors even care about details?! At any rate, it’s now almost ten years later and PerfectIt is also being used by professional translators, government institutions, universities, the European Space Agency – it’s an impressive list of clients.
After that background, the workshop was split into three sessions: beginner, advanced and Daniel’s other favourite software picks for editors.
In the beginner session, Daniel showed the recently released Cloud version, which can be used on Mac and PC, and he walked us through some of the tests PerfectIt does. I’ve become so used to it that I had forgotten how amazed I was the first few times I ran it over a document and it picked up all those ‘broad-acre’ and ‘decision making’ instances when I wanted ‘broadacre’ and ‘decision-making’! It is much faster than me having to manually check for these.
PerfectIt also has a bunch of functions I haven’t used, particularly those at the end of a pass, such as generating a report of changes and compiling the comments in a document. I also didn’t know if it could check just part of a document, so I gave it a test and sure enough, it asked me ‘Do you want to check only the selected text?’
In the advanced session, Daniel talked about enforcing style manuals. PerfectIt comes with a number of built-in styles such as Australian Government Style, United Nations Style and US Spelling. You can either use these styles as they come or make copies of them to tweak. For example, I use UN style for one client, but they like ‘program’ instead of the UN’s preferred ‘programme’. In this session we went through the tabs in the ‘Edit Current Style’ function, which was a great reminder to me of how much control I have over all the tests PerfectIt runs.
Daniel also talked about using PerfectIt’s wildcard check which makes some tests very powerful and much faster because it searches for patterns of text, rather than individual instances. For those unfamiliar with wildcards, he recommended Jack Lyon’s Wildcard Cookbook which is available for free here.
The company that sells PerfectIt is called Intelligent Editing and their website has 10 online video tutorials, ranging from between about two and five minutes long, that talk you through PerfectIt’s functions, ranging from between about two and five minutes long. I’ve already had a look at one to remind me how to do something I saw in the workshop.
In the last part of the session, Daniel shared with us a range of other tools that he thinks are helpful for editors. Daniel recommends trying a new piece of software every few months – you’ll keep learning, and you could well find a tool that revolutionizes your working day. He suggested a variety of software to include in such try-outs, although not all are available for both PC and Mac and not all are free. But I’m providing the links here so you can have a look at them.
|ClipX||Creates a system-wide clipboard that holds 25 items; no more going back and forth to paste things between applications!|
|WordRake||Simplifies complex writing; very handy to turn text into plain language.|
|TextExpander||By using shortcuts, lets you quickly insert boilerplate text.|
|Edifix||Fixes reference lists by looking for the citation in Cross Ref; super, but expensive.|
|File Cleaner||Corrects messy documents and fixes common typesetting problems.|
I’d been meaning to do such a workshop for a while, and I’m so glad I did. It gave me confidence to know that I’ve mostly been using PerfectIt the way it should be used, but also reminded me how I can take more control over style sheets for individual clients. There is a Facebook group called PerfectIt Users, and I think I’ll be able now to contribute to that rather than just lurking, as I have been.
Ruth Davies is an Australian freelance editor currently living in the Netherlands. Through her business centrEditing, she edits research reports about all sorts of interesting things, including climate change, remote Australia, and agricultural development in Africa. She joined SENSE at the beginning of 2018.
For more information on the recently released Cloud version of PerfectIt, take a look at Michelle Luijben-Marks' review here on the blog.
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.
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.
Sometimes you come home from a workshop thinking how useful it was and how you’ll definitely do everything the trainer suggested… when you find the time.
Sometimes you dash straight to your PC.
The latter was certainly the case after John Yonce’s immensely useful Data Privacy and Information Security workshop. By the time the kids had surfaced on Sunday morning, I’d installed two new browsers, tried out a new non-spying search engine, looked at what my virus scanner did on the malware front, installed an ad blocker, reviewed my backup process and configured the password vault I’d recently started using. (And made a checklist of all of this and checked off each item as I completed it.)
Most of us at the workshop were attending because we’d heard about the EU’s new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and this seemed like an easy way to find out what we needed to do. We were working as translators, copywriters, editors, subtitlers and interpreters.
John began by looking at the origins of privacy and how it has a cultural context: in some cultures you don’t talk about your salary, for instance, whereas in others it’s fine. The modern concept of privacy dates to 1890 Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis and Samuel D. Warren talking about ‘the right to be let alone.’
We then looked at current privacy laws in the Netherlands and Europe and the GDPR in particular. This was relevant to our professional and personal lives: professional because we must protect any personal data of others that we have access to and personal because we should protect our own data.
The next step was to look at possible threats to privacy and information, and measures to prevent these. This means virus scanners, firewalls, ad blockers, malware blockers, updates and so on.
It also means general awareness of what data you’re sharing with whom when you install an app, create an account or hand over a copy of your passport, and whether you want to share this data at all. And a whole lot more, because there’s a lot of bad eggs out there waiting to get their hands on your data.
SENSE workshops tend to be bastions of niceness with lots of tip sharing and empathising. This stood out against the skulduggery and menace of data theft. But perhaps skuldugs are also charming to each other at skulduggery workshops and travel home together on the train discussing words for sprinkles (chocolate vermicelli, nonpareil, hundreds and thousands…), why coriander is cilantro in US English and how they need crocheted bootees for their sofa legs because they keep stubbing their toes on them. Who knows?
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.