Saturday, 9 June



Carol Norris, Developing a modern, journal-acceptable manuscript style


After seven years’ teaching tertiary-level writing in the United States, I established the University of Helsinki’s first English-writing course for research scientists and began author-editing for Finns, in 1986.

Being a Finno-ugric language like Hungarian, Finnish interferes with Indo-European languages in startling ways. It has scores of cases, but lacks articles, prepositions, and gender. Finns, however, receive English training early and also learn by ear from non-dubbed TV and films that heavily feature English; they stay constantly net-connected.

Before Finnish academics send their manuscripts to journal and book editors, I help them satisfy the current requirements for a clear, reader-friendly style. As every word costs money, almost all editors now favour the concise active voice, which, in fact, rarely requires first-person pronouns. Instead, the inanimate agent (‘Results were encouraging’, ‘They received a diet of …‘) serves even to describe methodologies. Passive voice, once ubiquitous, fulfils exceptional needs: ‘The late [unpopular] Professor Smith is greatly missed.’

As teacher, I have my students fling their first-draft sentences onto paper/screen at maximum pace, as if speaking. Similarly, as an authors’ editor, I ask writers never to translate lines from Finnish and always to read all drafts aloud: ears out-perform eyes. In manuscript editing, before any thought of grammar, we seek in each sentence the message-word best expressing its key point and foreshadowing oncoming information. After this word goes the full-stop. The next sentence’s early words (‘this/such/moreover/conversely’) produce flow. Next, every unnecessary, wasted word goes out. End-focus plus linkage in active voice ensures clarity and rhetorical power, even demands logical thought. Only after this brutal language manipulation do I consider grammar – in Finland, having errors has largely vanished. Writing itself becomes faster, enjoyable and, to editors, manuscripts far more publishable.


About the presenter

Carol NorisAfter completing a Bachelor's degree in pre-medicine at Duke University but lacking funding for medical school, Carol Norris conducted research at Duke and Oak Ridge National Laboratory before undertaking an MA in rhetoric and then teaching university writing courses for seven years. Her PhD thesis at the University of Maryland concerned the physician in literature. Carol also holds an Applied Linguistics MA from Birmingham University, UK.

In 1985 she began the University of Helsinki’s first English-language writing course for scientists and became a university medical author-editor. In addition, she writes for the European Science Editors’ European Science Editing and presents at conferences. She is a member of Nordic Editors and Translators (NEaT).