What issues do novice AND experienced academic writers have in common?

Every summer I teach academic reading and writing to international students before they start postgraduate studies at a UK university. The students, mostly from Asia with upper-intermediate (roughly B2) English skills, are often grappling with academic writing in English for the first time in their lives.

As an academic editor, I see many of the issues they experience come up again at a more advanced level when working with multi-language authors. What are these issues and how are they manifest at these two different levels?

  • Register

On the summer course, this is taught in a very basic way – students are taught that academic language is formal, and that you should use cautious language and hedging frequently (making changes such as: increasingly>more and more; receive>get, it is likely that>it is definitely true that). Sometimes stronger students who have had more contact with non-standard Englishes, have lived in English-speaking countries, or both, have issues with overusing less-formal registers.

At a more advanced level, register in the social sciences and humanities must be attuned to subtle (sub)disciplinary conventions. Writing in a very specific style can be a dog-whistle strategy of demonstrating that one is a member of a particular academic in-group too, but it can take writers a long time after the PhD to become totally tuned in to these disciplinary conventions. Experienced writers living in English-speaking countries continue to have issues with using non-formal registers.

  • Structure

Many students on the summer course have issues with structuring their writing. I teach these students a simple model of using a thesis statement, signposting and topic sentences to structure their essay writing. One specific feature of academic writing in English is that of making linkages obvious through clear signposting and often unambiguous messaging. As English is a global academic language, less contextual information can be assumed about the reader and therefore the author must make linkages clearer in the text so the reader understands simpler connections (see the discussion here on “writer- versus reader-responsible languages”). This comes up all the time in copyediting too, where certain usages of “we” and “our country/our situation” are taken for granted and links are deliberately made more ambiguously with more reading between the lines expected.

More generally, though, structure is one thing experienced authors have usually “nailed” pretty well. While certain ways of structuring an article dominate somewhat (e.g. a “report” style format in the social sciences, with a literature review, discussion of the context etc. and maybe an ethnographic introduction in social anthropology), one of the joys of editing is getting a glimpse of more creative ways of structuring writing that emerge over the course of a writing career.

  • Cohesion

Cohesion is about organizing writing and might be considered as the dynamic counterpart to structure. Cohesion is great fun to teach on the summer course, with students being given sentences to play around with and order appropriately!

When editing, I find that cohesion can be a big problem for academic writers who rush their articles, as well as those coming from very descriptive traditions in which the articles present lots of material but do not analyse it deeply. Less experienced writers keen to publish to establish their career are particularly prone to writing rushed texts that lack coherence. Perfectionists are less likely to have problems with cohesion.

  • Using sources

Students working with academic English for the first time on the course make very different kinds of errors to more experienced writers. Using quotation marks, paraphrasing, and summarizing material correctly are important skills taught on the summer course.

More experienced writers have issues with knowing when to cite, when something is common knowledge and with knowing which sets of authors should be cited for a literature review in a subdiscipline, for example. Some of these higher-level issues require subject expertise and academic editors can only point out more glaring errors, such as incorrect formatting of references, e.g. following the wrong capitalization rules, using the wrong or inconsistent punctuation in in-text citations etc.

  • Critical thinking and voice

These are two concepts that are often taught in a very specific way in Anglo-American academic language teaching. I have discussed voice in a previous blog post here. Critical thinking is often taught alongside a stress on originality and of looking at an issue from more than one perspective, which could be described as overcoming a kind of residual narcissism in novice writing.

Some of the higher-level essays I receive for editing show an awareness of these informal Anglo-American ‘rules of the game’, while others come from outside this tradition. Sometimes, demonstrating an implicit awareness of these points can be key to an article being accepted for publication and their lack can lead to savage comments in peer review. For these texts, academic editing is also about translating between different writing norms and expectations and pointing these out to the reader if necessary (depending on where the writer wants to publish).

  • Editing and proofreading

Finally, what about language accuracy, the elephant in the room? The short courses I teach do not focus on grammar. Students are expected to know the main principles already. If they have an issue with articles or tenses, there are numerous online resources that can help. Identifying each individual student’s weak spots is more important so that they can make a checklist they can roll through with every writing assignment.

The issues with language accuracy are usually much higher level with more advanced writers, although sometimes I receive a text that needs a lot of work. Some accuracy issues persist at all levels e.g. verb–subject agreement and use of certain tenses and are specific to the writer’s language background. When editing papers for publication, more subtle problems such as comma splices and dangling modifiers, as well as style and spelling preferences (e.g. focused/focussed?) are more common – all points I normally ignore when teaching on the summer course.

The PTC Basic Proofreading Course – A Review

From October 2019–July 2020 I completed the Publishing Training Centre’s Essential Proofreading Course. The course aim is to take you from being an absolute beginner at proofreading to being ready to work for publishers [disclaimer: I was not an absolute beginner!]. It is an online self-study course (around 50 hours) with tutor feedback, and it has been broken down into five sections (and a short introductory section). Each section contains study notes, lots of exercises to complete and a tutor-assessed task.

The first section includes making track changes in MS Word. It underscores the difference between proofreading from a publisher’s perspective and when a student, researcher or member of the public asks for a “proofread” or “language edit”. For publishers, copyediting may be completed in MS Word, while proofreading is typically completed using PDF or paper proofs.

The second section deals with proofreading on screen with PDF proofs (using markup tools), while the third and fourth sections focus on learning the BSI proofreading symbols.

The final chapter revises the most important points (e.g. ensuring you know your hyphens from your en and em dashes) and outlines the entire publishing process. The course has since been updated to include more exercises on proofreading on PDFs and online self-publishing.

Why take the course?

I run an editorial business and most of my work is in academic and policy-related copyediting and translation. I often work with ESL academic authors across Europe, and also with packagers copyediting titles for mainstream academic publishers. While I had learned a great deal on the job, I had had little formal training in editorial work and wanted to ensure I had all bases covered and understood all aspects of the publishing process.

For this reason, I started my formal editorial training with a proofreading course, despite not intending to work as a professional proofreader. Several of the skills learnt (looking for grammar and editorial errors) are key to being a good copyeditor too – scoring highly in these categories on this course improved my confidence in my work. Besides this, the course covered a wide range of texts, from public information leaflets to academic and medical texts and fiction. As my experience has mostly been with academic texts and policy reports, these exercises improved my confidence in taking on a wider variety of editorial projects. I learnt that my skills could be applied to other fields, that I was particularly strong at spotting errors, and that I had to be careful not to make unnecessary interventions or author queries. I also learnt that I was better working on paper than on screen!

Some of the skills specific to proofreading also improved my work completed for existing clients – I am often asked to copyedit political policy papers and reports, which are then typeset and formatted, usually by a graphic designer. I am then sometimes asked to do one final check through (not a full proofread). I was able to better spot errors with layout, e.g. with rectos and versos, indented paragraphs etc. after completing this course, which meant that these final reports were more professionally presented. These may seem like small differences, but they can have an impact on whether a reader takes a text seriously or not.

I was also thrilled to get the chance to work on a fiction text, and I became aware of some other issues that emerge in fiction proofreading as compared with non-fiction texts. The feedback on the five assessments really improved the quality of my editorial work too.

Tips and recommendations

My recommendation for this course is to go slow: were I solely focused on becoming a proofreader, I would have repeated more of the exercises and perhaps used the full allotted 12 months to complete the course. Whenever I rushed a section, my marks slipped. It is worth remembering that each assessed text contains many more errors than you would expect in a regular piece of copy, and so it is worth slowing down and looking at each text several times with a fresh pair of eyes.

The course is focused on UK English language varieties and I would have liked to see a little more guidance on US/UK distinctions in the course materials (US English standards generally seem slightly more prescriptive, with numerous style guides, while UK English has taken on many structures and forms from US English language varieties), and a little more diversity of background in the texts, which I especially thought about as the Black Lives Matter protests began to have a big impact on the editorial communities I belong to.

Overall, I enjoyed the course and scored a merit. I feel this training has helped me lay a stable foundation that will boost my confidence when completing the next parts of my editorial/publishing training: the CIEP Copyediting Suite and PTC Creative Copywriting courses. The PTC and CIEP courses are also widely recognised as valuable in the publishing sector, so this will help me with finding future work with publishers. And learning the proofreading symbols was fun too!

Editorial Work as a Post-Ac Career?

This blog post is aimed at researchers who are thinking through possible exit strategies from the academy. Here are some tips on who editorial work suits, what setting up an editorial business involves, and what first steps you can take. I took these steps just over a year ago. The focus here is on researchers with a social sciences/humanities background, but much of what is written applies more generally.

What you perhaps have and know already (maybe without realizing it)

As a social sciences/humanities researcher you will already have highly developed writing and editorial skills, as well as a deep understanding of disciplinary conventions, certain historical or geographical contexts, and your areas of expertise. Depending on how long you have worked as a researcher after finishing the PhD, you may have published an academic book and worked as a journal editor, project manager, or both. All this experience will help you understand the writing and publishing process better and a good postdoc project building these skills and your academic network may stand you in good stead for a transition to editorial work.

Academic articles and books are some of the most demanding documents in terms of editorial technicalities. This means that your familiarity with them puts you in a good position for editing other kinds of documents with confidence (after editorial training). On the other hand, academic copyediting for mainstream publishers pays some of the lowest editing and proofreading rates available. This is probably because the books are often produced on tight margins, with relatively small print runs. The stakes are much higher, for example, with a course textbook. Nevertheless, when working with clients (researchers, students etc.) directly, you are likely to get decent rates at first, so one good piece of advice is to specialize first and diversify later.

What you perhaps don’t have and know (maybe without realizing it)

Most academic researchers have a fairly good grasp of MS Word (as discussed in this great book) and of academic referencing systems. As an editor, however, you will have to get to grips with MS Word on another level, finding your way around Word Styles, Find and Replace, Wildcards and Macros. You will also have to learn how to deal with clients, write and follow briefs and deal with issues that arise (such as version control, with occasional authors making random untracked amendments to documents etc.).

The way in which you approach time is completely different to at university too. At university, you expect to receive a salary and in turn spend your time completing a variety of compulsory (lecturing, writing articles) and voluntary (e.g. peer review, committees, impact/visibility) work. The “voluntary” activities (albeit necessary to progress) rely on a certain amount of goodwill and academic citizenship, and this means that deadlines can be missed and they can drag. The same goes for writing articles, with researchers regularly missing publisher deadlines. In contrast, as a freelancer, you have no salary. You simply have billable hours (e.g. an hour of editing) and unbillable hours (an hour of marketing, doing your books, writing a blog) each week. If you don’t have enough hours billed at a rate you can afford to live on, your business will collapse. In my case, this meant that I became much more organized and conscious of meeting all deadlines and ensuring I had enough work most of the time. In contrast, I recently received peer reviews on an article fourteen months after submitting it – this is a completely different time-logic to running an editorial business.

Finally, you have probably not had any editorial training – and this is crucial.

Who does editorial work suit?

The stereotype is that editorial work suits perfectionists – those among you who spend hours checking every sentence and reference before submitting a text to a journal. I don’t believe this is true and I was never one of those people. Too much perfectionism can be a bad thing as you work to a budget and need to know when to stop and say “this is good enough.” The kind of perfectionism an editorial eye requires is not innate and is much improved through practice. I believe a focus on clarity and conveying writers’ messages clearly, and a love of language and managing the author–editor relationship is just as important as attention to detail.

The tech side to editing (e.g. macros, advanced find and replace routines) suits people who like solving problems or even computer programming (no programming skills are required though). Based on my own experience, I would also say editorial work suits academic researchers who:

  • Enjoy reading up on a wide variety of subjects and not just their (disciplinary) specialism
  • Love writing and working with text
  • Enjoy helping and serving other writers (you and your ideas are not in the spotlight)
  • Have a love of language – grammar, register, style, tone, texture, punctuation etc.
  • Are looking for a job they can scale up or down (many editors work part-time and it is particularly suited to those with variable time commitments, e.g. people with childcare obligations)
  • Don’t want to completely cut themselves off from their academic work and network (perfect for a transition)
  • Are happy working by themselves at a desk almost all day, every day
  • Are not motivated to earn lots of money (but who want to be comfortable)
  • Want a leisurely daily routine (no commute, breaks when you want them, home cooking etc.)

Crucially, editorial work suits researchers who like the research and writing part of their job, but are unhappy with other aspects of the academic system and career path, or who are looking for role that can be part-time and balanced around other obligations.

How can I transition?

Start telling people you are available for editorial work. Complete your editorial training, preferably with a recognized provider (e.g. the CIEP or PTC in the UK). You can do this alongside your main job, as there are online, part-time courses available and it is best to not rush through the materials. It is probably worth doing a proofreading course, even if you want to be a copyeditor or structural editor. When you are ready, set up a website (or repurpose your academic website). Remember that the most interesting jobs will probably come via your existing network/employer at first, and so even if you want to specialize in something different, such as fiction editing, it is worth focusing on your current specialism first.

Good luck and feel free to contact me if you have any questions!

VAT and me!

When I set up as a sole trader, relocating from Germany to the UK, I decided to register voluntarily for VAT. Today I will discuss why I did this (was I crazy?!) and what it has meant for my business during my first year of full-time trading. [Disclaimer – no tax advice is offered here and I am not in a position to give it – here I explain my reasoning and the knock-on effects on my business].

Why register for VAT?

In the UK, the threshold of VAT-taxable turnover for VAT registration is really high (around £85,000) compared with other European countries. In Spain the threshold is nil, whereas in Germany it is € 22, 000. Obviously, a full-time sole trader would hope to earn more than €22, 000 after a year or two, and definitely more than nil. This means that understanding and dealing with VAT is the norm in many EU countries, while it is not so common in the UK. For many companies across Europe, having a VAT number is a sign of professionalism as my business advisor in Germany highlighted when we discussed VAT. This alone is not reason enough to register though!

The main reason I registered is because several key clients in Slovenia, Croatia and Germany told me they could not do business with me if I did not have a VAT number – and unlike in those three countries, it is impossible to get the number in the UK without registering for VAT itself. Periodically, debates occur on UK translation forums about whether VAT registration is a requirement for UK–EU transactions – the answer is unclear and seems to be confused around questions of UK–EU sovereignty and whether individual EU states actually apply EU tax directives to the letter [the smaller, newer EU-states appear to]. This will all change again after the Brexit transition period anyway.

What does it mean for me?

Most translators, especially in their first few years of trading, do a lot of Business-to-Business (B2B) work – e.g. for translation agencies. Early on, there is much to be gained from the feedback, guidance and learning of industry standards that occurs through working with agencies and publishers. VAT registration does not affect work for these kinds of customer, except for a little bit more paperwork each year. This is because businesses can claim VAT back. However – and here’s the sting – it does mean that the price of work completed for individual customers (B2C) has to take into account the extra 20% in tax that must be paid.

This means that I either have to cover the VAT myself or charge private customers more. Most of the time, I have opted for the middle ground, perhaps charging 10% more than I would were I not registered for VAT. However, private work completed for individual customers often pays slightly better as there is no “middle-person” (an agency, publisher, packager factoring in their costs). This does mean that some clients may be put off by the slightly higher prices, but then, competing solely on price is not viable for everyone in the long-term, as Louise Harnby describes well here. [Personally, I think a tax that charges all individuals a blanket percentage and companies nothing is not a fair way of doing things, but that is another issue entirely].

There is a clear loser in registering for VAT, however, and that is in sourcing work through peer-to-peer platforms. These are sites (e.g. Upwork, Peerwith), where you pitch services directly to end-customers, who find you and hire your services through the platform. The platform then takes a cut (e.g. 20%). Where you are contracting directly with the end-customer, you lose out on both the VAT and the platform fees, which may be 10–20%.

When working with academic researchers, VAT registration means it is much better for me if I am paid officially, via a university out of project funds, rather than privately, out of their own pocket – this is usually also better for the researcher. This has encouraged me to seek out more “professional” projects (e.g. book copyediting and developmental editing) and turn me away from, for example, editing masters and PhD dissertations. I believe this is also good for my business as I can advertise the published books I have worked on.

To conclude, in my first few years of full-time trading, I expect to do more work with VAT-registered companies. The lost income when contracting with private customers is compensated for by the generally better rates I receive, and I learn how VAT works. I have avoided peer-to-peer platform gigs and VAT registration has skewed me towards working with larger institutions and organisations.

I will likely review this decision in the future – particularly if I plan on working with indie authors – but for now, it makes sense!

The Effects of the Covid-19 Pandemic on My Work

The COVID-19 pandemic has already reshaped our relation to work and life in big ways. Certain sectors will never be the same again, while some are working under extreme pressure (respect to all health workers!). Many small and medium-sized companies are likely to be especially badly hit – especially those that rely on big flows of people and material goods. The joke is that nothing has really changed for translators and editors – we still sit in front of our computers in home offices, working away on texts. But we also depend on relationships with people outside of our homes, and this world is reconfiguring. How have I been affected by COVID-19 and the sectors I work in more widely?

My Work

I have noticed a moderate slowdown in translation and academic editing requests as many universities close operations and researchers are more focused on online tuition, balancing work–family life, and reduced or no access to archives. Luckily, I have had an academic book translation to work on and this has given me stability and a routine over the “Corona” transition period. Further down the line, I expect that these requests will return to normal, while copyediting for publishers (all completed remotely) is as before. Perhaps the isolation conditions will result in many academics and writers staying at home and writing more. Yet, on the other hand, finding funds for editing, and translation work will not be top of people’s list of spending priorities.

I have responded to the moderate slowdown by working on my CPD as I have a proofreading course and SDL Trados training I have been wanting to complete for months!

Wider Effects

As concerns translation, the effects vary across sectors. Marketing has seen a surge in demand for COVID-19 related translations, while there has been a slowdown reported in legal and medical translation, supposedly now easing off. Public service interpreters have been particularly badly affected.

For editorial services, my guess for the sectors I work in is an initial continuation of “business as usual”, followed by a medium-term slowdown of work from academic packagers and publishers, and an almost immediate initial slowdown of direct requests from researchers and writers, which might later subside. Obviously, these circumstances are new, and unprecedented, so it is hard to make predictions, although it will be interesting to revisit them six months down the line!

Given that I and many other editors & translators have few overheads (in principle I can get by with access to a computer and fast internet), there are no direct large costs associated with keeping the business running – a stark contrast with café, pub, shop, and other kinds of small business owners, who will be much more drastically hit. Those of us who have saved up an emergency fund will be able to get through several months of a reduction in workload as well. The longer-term consequences are more difficult to predict.

For now, the priority is staying safe and well, and adapting to the changing circumstances in a way that keeps the wheels turning! More tips from a wider range of perspectives can be found on the CIEP blog post on this very same issue.

How has your work been affected (or not) by COVID-19?

Voice in Academic Writing

Every summer I take a break from editing/translating and teach academic reading and writing at a UK university as an English for academic purposes (EAP) tutor. The course (and wider EAP community) has a few topics it focuses on and promotes. Two of these are arguably Anglocentric – an insistence on “critical thinking” and on “developing one’s own voice”. In today’s blog post I will focus on the latter.

“Voice” is often used in several different ways that easily get confused by students and researchers alike, so it’s worth breaking them down and considering them in turn:

  • Voice as (grammatical) points of view

First, voice can refer to a way of addressing the reader, e.g. through using the first person singular, plural or impersonal forms, active and passive voice etc. For example:

In this paper, I will discuss…

We will now move to consider the main topic…

This paper discusses…*

This topic will be discussed…

Here, voice refers both to its strict grammatical definition (active v. passive), and to grammatical points of view, e.g. first person singular (I), first person plural (We), impersonal forms of addressing the reader etc. In my experience, even really experienced authors sometimes mix and match between these different forms over the course of a book or research paper. Extreme switching breaks the flow and style of the text and makes it difficult for the reader to follow, so it is worth learning to follow these “switches”.

To make things more complicated, what is permitted (e.g. the use of “I”) varies a lot across academic disciplines, so please take care! When editing, the principles I follow here are (i) using any disciplinary knowledge I have to gauge what is acceptable and (ii) applying “regional consistencies” (cf. The Subversive Copyeditor) if the switching is messy.

  • Voice as articulating a viewpoint

The second sense of voice is that of the researcher being able to articulate opinions on paper, using any of the personal or impersonal forms mentioned above. In Anglo-American academia, there is often an emphasis on the author articulating independent original ideas that they reach after individual consideration of a topic. For instance:

This paper argues that climate change denial is a significant threat to humanity

In this paper I argue that Extinction Revolution should not be considered an extremist organization

This is largely the meaning that is taught on the EAP course. Note that using “voice” in the first sense is a pre-requisite for using it in this second sense. Learning this approach can be especially different for students coming from traditions where there is less stress on individual expression (e.g. more collectivist societies).

  • Voice as “creating your register”

Finally, the third sense of voice goes above and beyond the second level. It refers to finding your own personal writing style. This may not be necessary in many disciplines (e.g. scientific disciplines) where a more objectified writing style is commonplace. I would argue that this is a higher level “calibration” and is something that might happen (but not always) over the course of writing a PhD in the arts and humanities. Here, the “personal is political”, and your style – like a good literature review – will link to the body of literature with which you engage, whilst also representing your unique “take” on, and “positioning” within that literature. People who come to know your work will likely be able to recognize your writing style when you get to this level, and of course, it will evolve and develop over time as well. When copyediting books and research articles, preserving the author’s voice is one of the hallmarks of a decent editor. Like the second sense of voice, it is arguably culturally loaded – but that would be a topic for another blog post…

*Some stickleback editors will say a paper can’t discuss anything, so this should be rephrased!

2019 Round-Up: Leaving the Academy, Becoming a Full-Time Editor and Translator!

2019 has been a bit scary, challenging, but most of all exciting. I have lived in three countries (Croatia, Germany, the UK), moved between three industries (academia, teaching English for academic purposes, translation/editing) and lived in five cities (Manchester, Southampton, Regensburg, Zagreb, Pula). Having now returned to Manchester more permanently, 2020 should be a little calmer!

At the end of 2018 I made the decision to move out of the academic sector and into publishing (editing/translating). Back then I was employed in Germany in a part-time research position, running my editing and translation business on the side. The business had been growing year on year and I felt ready to switch to full-time. Looking back, I feel much better for having left the academy – the most difficult part in making the decision was a sense that there was no going back. In the end, there was a strong complementarity and much of the academic editing work I now do comes from people in my former academic network.

As my academic employment ended in July, for the first six months of 2019 I refocused my energies and invested in making my business workflow and services provided more professional. How did I do this exactly?

January – July: Professionalization

I started by investing in software I saw as essential for my business (e.g. SDL Trados for translation, PerfectIt and the The Editors’ Toolkit for editing), joined a professional editing association (the UK-based SfEP) and started my training. Getting stuck into the SfEP forums helped me immensely. As I started to become part of an online editing community, I felt much more comfortable with the different kinds of dashes, punctuation and debates over grammar issues such as over “that or which”, and so on.

I changed the format of my academic website to a professional business website. Looking at other people’s sites and LinkedIn profiles was really useful here. My editing skills also increased significantly over this period. I started off by trying the SfEP’s “taster” courses – Proofreading 1 and Copyediting 1. I learnt how to write a project brief here. I believe my earlier counselling training in transactional analysis helped me with how to deal with clients – often by email. I chose to focus on gaining intermediate SfEP status and on doing as much training as possible.

I was thrilled to become an intermediate member in the early summer and then took some more specific skills-related courses. The Editing in Word course took my skills to a new level and opened up MS Word to me in a new and exciting way as I love looking for ways of solving problems creatively, and each text I received for editing posed new problems.

August – December: Going Full-Time, Finding Clients

As the summer approached, I began to get more nervous about the move to full-time self-employment, as well as the challenge of relocating my business from Germany to the UK. In the end, this was fairly smooth. I registered for, and learnt extensively (!) about VAT as several of my business clients in Europe stated the necessity of a VAT number for doing business with them. As VAT can get complicated, I invested in FreeAgent accounting software, which has been a massive help – especially as I deal in multiple currencies. I had a summer job teaching academic English at the University of Southampton, which cushioned my arrival back in the UK both emotionally and financially.

One really useful resource, connected with my former employment, was business coaching organized by the Leibnitz Association. Roughly once a month, (in German), I had a Skype meeting at which I discussed my business’s needs and where to focus my energy.

From September, the business was my only source of income! The first two months were fairly quiet and my main business focus was on finding work. I learnt more about online marketing and chose to use Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn professionally. Then the workload rapidly increased – by the end of November I was booked up for all of December and most of January! I also excitedly joined the SfEP social media team, helping with Twitter. This gave me a welcome break from the solitary work of editing and the feeling of being part of a team.

And that is it for 2019!

The final question, then, is where to next?

Bring on 2020!

Over the next few months, I plan to work on expanding my UK client base – this is important so I am less at the whim of currency fluctuations in these uncertain times. I have decided to join the SfEP Manchester local group and will attend the 2020 SfEP and MET conferences in Milton Keynes (SfEP) and San Sebastián (MET).

In terms of training, I intend to finish the PTC Basic Proofreading course I have just started, and improve my Trados skills by taking their certification course. I also plan to further improve my legal translation skills.

At this stage I am still experimenting – I enjoy doing a mixture of editing and translation. While I mostly do academic editing and translation, I am also enjoying exploring other fields, including legal and business-related projects, and hopefully editing fiction in a few years’ time. Here’s to 2020, whatever comes next!

Copyediting from start to finish

In today’s blog post I will cover the workflow I use for copyediting. This will give you an overview of the process and the tools that I use. The information here is for short- and medium-sized jobs (up to roughly 30,000 words). The information is geared towards academic copyediting, my main specialism, but much of it will also apply to other kinds of documents. For large jobs, such as book projects, I will write a more detailed project brief and style sheet.

Click here for the style sheet

  • First, I will ask you to fill in your style preferences (e.g. UK/US spelling; -ise/-ize endings), via this form. The options are basic, but you can add any extra details you wish in the final section. I will also ask you if there is a specific style guide you would like me to follow (e.g. the Chicago Manual of Style) for all other decisions.
  • Next, I will run a macro (something like a miniature computer program) called DocAlyse to analyse your document. This will help me make other style decisions, such as the use of —em dashes— or – spaced en dashes – in your text.
  • I will then prepare your document for pre-editing. If necessary, I will make use of Word Styles, before using editing software (PerfectIt and the Editors’ Toolkit) to ensure consistency in line with the style sheet. I will also run a spellcheck at this stage. There are some other macros I often use here to improve my accuracy, such as CompareWordList to highlight issues that the spellchecker does not see. This includes common errors such as form/from, causal/casual.
  • The text is then ready for the main edit. I make one pass through the entire text. After this pass I run PerfectIt again to pick up any remaining inconsistencies and I may run some more macros, if necessary, to pick up on other inconsistencies (e.g. in names mentioned in the text).
  •  For my standard service, this is followed up – preferably at least a day later – by a read through to check my work. Even the best editors miss a small number of errors and this second check through helps improve my accuracy.
  • Finally, I will send you the copyedited text to check through. There will likely be several author queries (questions or comments to the author), whenever a word, phrase or sentence is unclear. If you have any other questions at this stage or would like me to reread any sections, I ask you to send a copy of the manuscript with the sections highlighted. I ask you to reply to all the author queries and other questions/text to be read again in a single email, as I am usually busy and cannot respond to several emails with different questions.

For larger jobs, such as monographs, most of the workflow is the same as above, but I will work with you to put together a more detailed style sheet and project brief at the start, and I will permit two or three rounds of queries at the end. The project brief may also include formatting references (typically charged separately – see this explainer). If the job you require involves formatting references, I will complete this at the start, before the main edit.

If you have any questions, feel free to get in touch!

Academic Translation from Start to Finish

Translating can seem rather opaque. The author/client will often simply send a file and receive a translated version back. Even with a decent level of language proficiency, it can be difficult to gauge whether a translation into a foreign language is average, good or excellent. In today’s blog, I seek to demystify this process. I do so by discussing the “workflow” I use for academic translation when dealing with direct clients. Translation agencies may divide the tasks up differently.

Understanding authorial style is key to academic translation in the social sciences and humanities. This is because there is more diversity in writing styles than in, say, legal translation. These styles are often intimately tied up with the arguments that authors wish to make and they often link to wider intellectual schools and projects too. Special attention must therefore be paid to accurately translating not only concepts and ideas accurately, but also authorial style and voice.

In my experience, the best academic translations emerge from a direct collaboration with the author, in which there is space to discuss the interventions made to a text. This is because the author knows her style best and is often better versed in the relevant academic literature and jargon than the translator. If the translator has subject knowledge, this is a great help, but translation experience and training are also crucial.

What, then, do I do exactly?

Part 1 – translation

After I receive a text, I use translation software (SDL Trados) to work on the file (see below). This software breaks the text up into manageable segments. It also reformats the translated segments, so I don’t have to mess around with fonts, styles and footnotes in MS Word. I can also highlight specific jargon in the text. E.g. kulturni kapital (HR) – cultural capital (EN). This is then stored in a terminology database and suggested as an accurate translation next time I come across the same term. Note: the following screenshot is of a non-confidential translation.

Trados is also useful because it lets me store a databank of translated phrases: a translation memory. Translation memories are useful for academic translation but indispensable in legal and technical translation where there is even more repetition and an even greater need for conceptual precision.

If I am unsure of a word or phrase, I insert an author query, as the author often has a deeper knowledge, through reading in English, of subject-specific jargon and conventions. It is worth remembering that the translator’s knowledge and expertise is in language and general academic conventions, not in the minute details of each academic sub-discipline. This is why collaboration is so important! I base my schedule on (comfortably) translating 2000 words a day.

Part 2 – bilingual revision

After the first round is completed, I then crosscheck the translated segments in Trados with the original ones, correcting any errors. This is sometimes called translation revision. After the first round, some translated sentences are still ordered in a “Croatian” or “German” style. For example, quite a few Croatian sentences begin with the construction “Zbog toga” (lit. Because of that). This is comprehensible in English, but it sounds clumsy and unwieldy. While this is an obvious example, there are more subtle sentences that can pass through undetected. After this round, I send the text to the author to review. At this point, I stress that the author should focus on the precise translation of concepts, ideas and style: not on a literal, precise translation of every element in each sentence.

Part 3 – monolingual editing

Finally, assuming the text will be sent to a journal or academic publisher for preparation, after receiving the corrected text back from the author, I do a final edit (typically in MS Word) of the translated text for consistency and remaining syntax issues a week or more later. This break gives me a fresh view on the text. All the consistency issues that copyeditors focus on (e.g. -ize/-ise endings) can also be tackled at this stage. I use editing software: PerfectIt and The Editor’s Toolkit to ensure a high level of consistency. This is not achieved during the translation phase as it is impossible to focus on all the different levels of language at the same time. It can also be useful to have another round of copyediting/proofreading completed by someone else before final publication.

The Long and Short of It: Academic Style for B/C/M/S Speakers Writing in English

The problem of long and unclear sentences frequently comes up in the editing process. Long sentences create numerous problems in English that are not problematic in B/C/M/S, at least partly because of the case system. The case system makes it easier to identify how each noun links to each verb. It also creates a wonderful flexibility in word order. This flexibility can also make sentences unclear when translated, as word order is much more fixed in English.

A certain kind of academic writer everywhere can be found guilty of indulging in long, verbose sentences. Yet there are certain issues with word order and objects that are specific to B/C/M/S speakers. Chopping sentences up is almost always required in every translation I do, and in many copyedits.

Style or grammar issue?

Academic style in B/C/M/S, in the humanities and social sciences at least, has been strongly influenced by continental traditions. These traditions (especially the French ones) often include long sentences. The eloquence of many such sentences in the original language does not always work in English. Such sentences often need simplifying and transforming in English – and this can be a matter of grammar and clarity as well as of style.

Here’s a sentence with three issues all rolled into one:

“Researching the sources, a general justification for such comparisons is that contemporary archival knowledge was unavailable when those theories were being written, which their misconstrual of these theories increasingly disproportionate to their influence today.”

Now let’s try and make some sense of it. Have a go at rephrasing the sentence yourself and then I will offer a possible solution at the end. There are at least three issues present here: dangling modifiers, ambiguous objects and incorrect parallel constructions.

(1) Dangling modifiers

This is when a gerund (an -ing form, such as dancing, pondering) is used ambiguously, leaving the meaning of the sentence unclear:

“After researching the secret archives, the movie based on the historical evidence found there is purported to be controversial.”

Here the subject is unclear: a movie cannot research archives. In this case, it makes the sentence sound clumsy, but some dangly sentences are clear and sound OK too.

(2) Ambiguous objects

When very long sentences are translated into English, there is often a pronoun (e.g. it, him), demonstrative (e.g. this, that these) or possessive adjective (e.g. hers, theirs) whose object is not clear to the reader. Remember that what is obvious to you may not be obvious to the reader.

In the example sentence, their is ambiguous:

“which their misconstruals of these theories increasingly disproportionate to their influence today.”

In academic English, subjects and objects need to be stated more frequently, as their relationships with verbs etc. are not implied by a case system. Academic English in general uses a lot more “obvious” connecting words and phrases to explain links between ideas. This is likely a consequence of English having become a lingua franca in recent years, and so academic English needs to be intelligible to speakers from a variety of language backgrounds unfamiliar with Anglo-American contexts.

(3) Incorrect parallel constructions

The example sentence includes an ungrammatical parallel construction. The second clause does not fit together with the first clause. A much simpler example might be the following:

“Although the rain, we went to the party.”

In this example, although requires a verb phrase. To retain a similar meaning while using a noun phrase, despite can be used: Despite the rain, we went to the party. While this example is simple, academic connectors (Moreover, Furthermore, Namely) and their usage can get quite complex in long sentences. Consider their use carefully and learn from the corrections your editors and proofreaders make!

Solution:

So how might we rephrase the above sentence? There is no one solution in editing, and context is important.

Original: Researching the sources, a general justification for such comparisons is that contemporary archival knowledge was unavailable when those theories were being written, which their misconstruals of these theories increasingly disproportionate to their influence today.

Possible solution: A general justification for such comparisons, (1) the sources indicate, is that present-day archival knowledge was unavailable when those theories were being written. (2) The “misconstruals” of these theories are increasingly disproportionate in influence to (3) the theories themselves.

  • No ambiguity remains over who is “researching” the sources
  • A new second sentence avoids an incorrect parallel construction
  • “Their” has been replaced with an object

In this case, the solution is not particularly elegant. Further rephrasing would help if a heavy edit was demanded, but the various issues have been resolved.