Wednesday, 27 June 2018 14:57

The future of editing, translating and interpreting

Written by Claire Bacon

plenary talk SENSE 2018A call to arms

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?

Rise of the machines

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.

Machine learning

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.

Machines need people

‘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’.

A call to arms

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.

Tuesday, 26 June 2018 13:26

SENSE 2018: gushing enthusiasm

Written by Kathy Jastrzebski

SENSE2018 1Successful doesn’t even begin to describe it!

(If you’re allergic to gushing enthusiasm, please stop reading now!)

For me the SENSE 2018 Conference was a huge success. As a newbie I felt like a child in a candy store. Not only was it full of great sessions, excellent workshops and tasty food at a striking venue, best of all, it was full of incredible people.

I’m a biomedical scientist by trade, so I’ve attended my fair share of conferences over the years. But I have to say that this one rivalled the best of them. Perhaps it was the small crowd that made it so easy to meet other members? Or perhaps this industry is just more open to newcomers than what I’m used to? Either way, I have never met so many friendly, encouraging and supportive people in the span of less than three days.

If there could be one criticism, it would be the quality of the programme. It was just TOO good!

Too much choice

This became quite a problem with the pre-conference workshop line-up. With four topics on offer, I sat at my computer for at least an hour trying to decide which to register for. In the end, I went for something I have not done much of in the past, and chose Stephen Johnston’s The Impossible Blog workshop. I hope some of his wisdom rubbed off on me and this blog post, but either way, it was a fun start to the weekend.

The trouble with choice only continued at the conference proper. It was really difficult to decide which of the concurrent sessions to attend. Given my scientific bent, I was spoilt for choice when it came to learning more about biomedical editing and writing. And boy, were the talks great! From Charles Frink on disrupting poor writing habits in the sciences, to Valerie Matarese on bad textual mentors, to Carol Norris on developing a concise active voice in research communication. And this was just the first day!

Founding members

On the second day, two founding SENSE members, Jackie Senior and Joy Burrough-Boenisch, teamed up to continue the theme of language editors in academia in the morning session. Jackie highlighted how English-language editors can help researchers in their quest to publish in top-tier journals. Joy then showed us how the SENSE Guidelines for Proofreading Student Texts could be applied to doctoral theses written in English in the Netherlands. In the penultimate session, Maria Sherwood-Smith spoke about the opportunities for language professionals created by the need for researchers to communicate science to non-specialists. Yet another ripper day!

At least my over-curious mind could rest from having to make tough programme choices at the opening and closing plenaries. On Saturday, the conference began with a hilarious talk by Gardner Jeremy (only joking… Jeremy Gardner) who had the audience laughing, and gasping at times, at his many examples of ‘EU English’. In the closing plenary on Sunday, Sarah Griffin-Mason outlined future trends likely to impact the language services sector. One I admit I haven’t given much thought to till now was the impact of artificial intelligence (AI). Despite the possible gloom ahead, the encouraging thought I left with was that a true AI takeover is not likely to occur just yet. Humans are still immeasurably better at detecting and translating all the meanings hidden between the lines. But as Sarah pointed out, it would nevertheless be beneficial for us all to raise the profile of language professionals, as the work we do is of great value to the global economy, both now and into the future.

All in all, the SENSE 2018 Conference was a hugely enjoyable learning experience for me, but I do wish I could have gone to even more of the talks. So please, oh please, dear SENSE organizing committee, can we have another conference again soon?


Kathy Jastrzebski is a biomedical researcher, as well as a freelance editor and writer for her company, Winning Docs.

Thursday, 21 June 2018 14:11

SENSE 2018: clarity vs. gobbledygook

Written by Marianne Orchard



As a freelance translator, editor and writer, my work shoes are slippers. I’m slipshod in the original sense of the word – shod in slippers – while trying to produce work that isn’t. For the SENSE 2018 Conference in Den Bosch on 9 and 10 June, it was time to exchange my slippers for a pair of proper shoes, time to leave my familiar desk and venture out into the world.

This is exactly what Sarah Griffin-Mason, Chair of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting, urged us to do in her plenary talk at the end of the conference. The theme of the conference was ‘Englishes now! Trends affecting language professionals’, and Griffin-Mason talked about these trends. The main ones are artificial intelligence, machine translation and the gig economy. If we’re not careful, people will start to believe they no longer need human translators, editors, writers and interpreters, even though humans understand context in a way that machines cannot – not yet at least.

The trouble, Griffin-Mason continued, is that many of us become language professionals because we want to shut ourselves off from the world and think about words. We like wearing slippers. However, the time has come for the slipshod to leave the safety of our home offices and tell the world what we do. This brings us to another problem with language workers, said Griffin-Mason. We’re good at helping others communicate, but not so good at telling the world why it needs us. And it does need us, if Jeremy Gardner’s plenary talk that opened the conference is anything to go by.

Gibberish and gobbledygook

Gardner’s talk was a cautionary tale of what you get when good language goes bad: jargon, gibberish and gobbledygook. And claptrap, hocus-pocus, jabber, twaddle, balderdash, double Dutch, baloney and hogwash. The EU’s form of English, which was what Gardner’s talk was about, is a prime example. For insiders, it’s obvious that ‘ovine animals’ are sheep and ‘caprine animals’ are goats, and that every other word is an abbreviation of something else. Insiders also know that an ‘enterprise’ is a business, that a ‘mission’ is a business trip and that ‘agents’ are simply people who work for the EU. For outsiders, however, this is gibberish and gobbledygook. Could, Gardner wondered, the EU’s opaque communication be one of the reasons why the public is so hostile to it? If the EU was clearer in its communication, would the public be more aware of what it does? Could a beslippered editor have saved Britain from Brexit? Who knows?

Jargon was also a theme in another presentation I had signed up for: Charles Frink on how poor writing habits are inherited. The presentation was on academic writing this time, but again the message was how important clear communication is. Unfortunately, academic writing is becoming less readable and more jargon-filled, which makes it increasingly difficult for non-specialist readers to understand. Does that matter? Well yes, because non-specialist readers could be on the grant-assessment boards that decide whether to award a researcher a grant. What makes for good academic writing? It’s the same as with any writing. The text needs to be readable. It needs to tell a story. It should avoid jargon, the passive and complex sentences. It should express rather than impress.

Good and bad academic writing

Whereas Charles Frink spoke about what makes academic writing good, Valerie Matarese talked about what makes academic writing bad. She explained how researchers use source texts or a corpus of texts – textual mentors – to inform their writing. If these textual mentors are badly written, this style is propagated. She called them ‘bad textual mentors’. Again, good language gone bad. It is our job, as editors, to correct bad textual mentors.

Maria Sherwood-Smith also focused on the importance of clear communication in academic writing. With Dutch universities expecting researchers to communicate their research to non-specialists, this may mean opportunities for language professionals. This could be in the form of editing, translating or teaching.

Stout pair of boots

The conclusion from all of this is that while we know why the world needs language professionals, the world does not. The world might think that rough and ready machine translations are fine. The world might think that as long as you get your message across it doesn’t matter how you say it. What the world doesn’t realize is that how you say it often means that you don't get your message across.

We, the slipshod, must therefore leave the comfort of our home offices – perhaps only virtually – and tell the world why it needs us. Or, as they say in Dutch, we moeten onze stoute schoenen aantrekken.* We must don a stout pair of boots and be stout-hearted enough to get our message across before the machines take over.

* 'We have to don a stout pair of shoes.' The Dutch stout and the English stout are related but have parted ways over the years. The Dutch stout now means naughty or impertinent but can also mean daring, audacious or brave, which is the sense of stoute schoenen aantrekken. This is why Karel de Stoute is Charles the Bold in English rather than Charles the Naughty. The English stout also meant proud, fierce, strong and defiant in the past. It also meant having a powerful build, which is where the stout shoes come from, and has since come to mean thickset or corpulent.

MarianneOrchardMarianne Orchard is SENSE's content manager. She is a freelance translator (Dutch to English), editor and writer who specializes in creative texts.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018 15:39

PerfectIt Cloud review

Written by Michelle Luijben-Marks

PerfectIt1SENSE 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.

Cloud subscription

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’.

Document analysis and tests

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.

Spelling variations

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.

Other checks

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.

Useful and informative

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.

MichellePhotoMichelle 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.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018 14:50

Workshop review: writing readable blogs

Written by Marianne Orchard

Blog writing

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.

Make the complicated sound simple

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.

Know your reader

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.

How to start and finish

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.

MarianneOrchardMarianne 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.

Thursday, 24 May 2018 14:14

SENSE 2018: meet the presenters

Written by Marianne Orchard

Several SENSE members are speaking at the SENSE 2018 Conference. Here they reveal what they hope to achieve and what they are looking forward to at the conference.

Editing English-language doctoral theses in the Netherlands: are the SENSE Guidelines useful?

Joy BurroughJoy Burrough-Boenisch: ‘In my presentation I dig deeper into the situation that contributed to SENSE setting up the Guidelines for Proofreading Student Texts to explore why – unlike universities in anglophone countries such as the UK and Australia – Dutch universities seem unconcerned about the ethics of editing PhD work.

'I’ll suggest how we editors can respond. I secretly hope that awareness of the issues raised in this presentation will ripple out beyond SENSE and create waves in Dutch academia that will ultimately result in acknowledgement of the need for guidelines and transparency about the editing of student texts in the Netherlands.

‘I’m particularly looking forward to hearing Nigel Harwood’s presentation at the conference, as he’s done thorough empirical research on what “proofreaders” in the UK do to a student text and why. His findings will help us put our own work and approach here in the Netherlands into context.’ 


Lloyd BinghamDealing with Dunglish – and other source-language interference

Lloyd Bingham: ‘I’m delighted to be attending a SENSE conference for the first time, more so because of this year’s theme: Englishes now! As translators into English, we need to be conscious of the varieties of English that our target audiences speak and we need to write accordingly.

‘My presentation will examine the hybrid language that is Dunglish and the problems it poses for translators. Dunglish is traditionally understood to mean English words borrowed by Dutch that retain the same meaning. Modern Dunglish, however, is also about borrowing words and phrases that might look English and sound English…but English they ain’t. Cue translators pulling their hair out, trying to get to the bottom of what a Dunglish phrase actually means. After all, there are no Dunglish dictionaries! So my presentation will propose some techniques to translate Dunglish into English that natives can understand.

‘Looking forward to seeing you there!'


Charles FrinkDisrupting the inheritance of poor writing habits: an alternative approach to editing and teaching writing (in the health-related sciences)

Charles Frink: ‘The main goal of my presentation is to provide a glimpse of the underlying scientific structure in biomedical manuscripts. A narrow linguistic approach to writing and editing is often ineffective if the core scientific elements of a biomedical manuscript are not explicitly present and logically linked. The document may still lack the elusive “flow” that is so highly prized by peer reviewers and journal editors.

'My proposition is that mastering this structure will empower young scientists to disrupt the inheritance of poor writing habits from their supervisors, professors and senior co-authors.

‘I am especially looking forward to Valerie Matarese's presentation on bad textual mentors and the panel discussion on language versus subject specialists in biomedical editing and translation.’


Marcel LemmensIdentifying and rectifying translatorese

Marcel Lemmens: ‘Some literal translations are fine and others are awkward. The awkward ones are often examples of translatorese. Being able to distinguish between the two makes you a better and more efficient editor. That is the message we would like to get across.’




Tony ParrTony Parr: ‘Among the points we’ll be looking at are “the curse of knowledge” and “translator’s privilege”. So what have these got to do with translatorese and why should we as translators be wary of them? To find out, join us at 9.30 on Sunday morning on 10 June (gulp)!’





JackieSeniorInternational science needs English editors

Jackie Senior: ‘I hope to show that it is well worth specializing in science editing if you’re looking for a niche. I’m particularly looking forward to meeting the international delegates at the conference and hoping they will set SENSE members thinking about the Dutch versus the European situation.’




photo Nigel Saych 1'... divided by a common language': cultural, topical and geographical Englishes 

Nigel Saych: ‘I’m looking forward to discussing with people attending my presentation how the English we used in the past differs from that in use today, and what we may have to concern ourselves with as linguists in the future. My only regret is that I can’t attend the other sessions that are on at the same time!’



Maria SherwoodOutreach and research communication in English: opportunities for language professionals

Maria Sherwood-Smith: ‘What I would like to achieve with my presentation is to sound people out on what I think may be a trend towards a more central role for communication skills in the research process and what implications this may have for language professionals. And as a first-time presenter, I suppose my other aim is to take another step along the path towards becoming that mythical “language professional”, as opposed to merely the full-time language amateur I usually feel I am.

‘As for other presentations, I’m especially looking forward to Jeremy Gardner's talk on EU English, Nigel Harwood on editing Master’s theses and Jackie Senior on science editing. I am particularly sorry to be missing the panel discussion on the Dutch guidelines for editing PhD theses in an international context, which is at the same time as my own presentation. I found it very difficult in general to choose between all the tempting parallel sessions...’

Wednesday, 23 May 2018 12:54

Light, medium and heavy editing workshop

Written by Marianne Orchard

John Linnegar

The day before the SENSE 2018 Conference, John Linnegar is giving a workshop entitled ‘It needs only a “light” edit': negotiating the differences between light, medium and heavy editing. We caught up with him to find out more.

How do you feel about giving a pre-conference workshop?
Very enthusiastic, for two reasons: first, I believe that such workshops (certainly most of those I’ve attended) offer great value to attendees – we always come away with worthwhile and practical knowledge and skills, even if they only refresh our current thinking and practice. Second, the topic I’ll be covering strikes many a chord among editors – many are searching for the answer to the question of how we distinguish between the different levels of editing. I myself learnt the answer relatively late in my career as an editor! Now I want to share my discovery with my colleagues, because I know how much it has helped me with editing and quoting.

What do you hope participants will take away from the workshop?
A clearer understanding of the differences between the three levels of editing (heavy, medium and light), and of the criteria used to distinguish one from the other. I’ve also developed a little ‘formula’ for measuring the differences, which I’ll be sharing with the participants.

Are you attending the conference itself?
Yes, and I’m looking forward to it! I’m on the organizing team, too. And besides the workshop, I’ll be presenting a brief session on Garner’s Modern English Usage (OUP 2016). I believe it to be a gem of a reference work for (English) language practitioners. It’s an admirably modern update to Fowler’s Modern English Usage, and displays wonderful inclusivity and balance in dealing with American and British English.

Is this the first SENSE conference you’ve attended?
No, I had the privilege and pleasure of attending the 2015 Jubilee Conference, shortly after I joined SENSE. That was a great professional gathering and information-sharing experience that I was concerned should not be allowed to remain a one-off. After all, other societies in Europe hold annual conferences...

What are you looking forward to most?
First, the two keynote speakers, speaking on topics of great interest to all of us. Then, the camaraderie engendered by a meeting of minds from all over Europe (11 countries). Recently, I’ve become particularly interested in how the quality of translations is evaluated, so I’m keen to hear what a researcher in the field – Dr Iris Schrijver, from the University of Antwerp – will have to say about this controversial topic.

Monday, 14 May 2018 10:16

Medical writing workshop

Written by Marianne Orchard


Emma Goldsmith is travelling from Spain to give a workshop entitled 'EU regulatory medical writing and EMA templates: compliance and consistency' the day before the SENSE 2018 Conference. We caught up with her to find out more

‘I’m the sort of person who loves to follow rules,’ says Emma. ‘Give me a style guide and I’ll read it from cover to cover. Give me a deadline and I won’t be late. That explains why I feel so at home with EMA templates and the strict terminology, quick turnaround times and detailed guidance documents that go with them.’

If, like Emma, you love rules and are a translator who works with European languages, then this workshop is for you. You will learn about, or refresh your knowledge of, EU regulatory medical writing in general and EMA (European Medicines Agency) templates in particular.

‘My goal is to share my enthusiasm for EMA templates with workshop attendees,’ says Emma.

Emma is a Spanish to English translator who specializes in medicine. She has over 20 years’ experience translating clinical trial documentation, articles for publication in medical journals, and product information for EMA submissions. She trained and worked as a nurse before becoming a translator.

The workshop is on Friday 8 June from 14.00 to 17.30, the day before the SENSE 2018 conference. It will take place at the conference venue, Hotel Central in the Dutch city of ’s-Hertogenbosch.

Emma is travelling from Spain to give the workshop. Will she be attending the conference while she’s there?

‘Absolutely,’ she says. ’I’m particularly looking forward to the contrasting talks on well and poorly-written texts by Charles Frink and Valerie Matarese. I’ve also got my eye on the Saturday morning guided tour of 's-Hertogenbosch and I’m only sorry that my early Ryanair flight on Sunday afternoon means that I’ll miss the boat trip!’

Is this her first SENSE conference?

‘This will be the first SENSE conference I’ve attended and in fact the first time I set foot in the Netherlands. So I’m looking forward to it for many different reasons: meeting old friends, making new ones and getting to know a new country, language and culture, albeit in just 72 hours!’

So if you fancy following some rules and want to learn all about the not-so-wild world of regulatory medical writing, sign up for the workshop. (Don’t forget to log in first if you’re a SENSE member).

Monday, 07 May 2018 12:40

Unpaywall: free scholarly articles

Written by Claire Bacon

Unpaywall logoAs a scientific language editor, I often need to browse articles when editing. But without a university/institute subscription, getting free access to the literature can be tricky.

Although the number of open-access journals is increasing, many articles are still locked behind ‘paywalls’. This means that to read the full text of a particular article, you have to purchase it, or subscribe to the journal for a hefty fee. I doubt my clients will accept that add-on cost.

But free versions of paywalled articles are sometimes available, for example if the author has uploaded it elsewhere. Impactstory is a non-profit open-source, web-based service committed to making research data freely available to all. In April last year, they introduced Unpaywall, a web browser extension that can retrieve open-access articles immediately and automatically. For free.

Unpaywall can be installed into Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox browsers. It takes seconds and you don’t even have to restart your computer. It works automatically, while you browse, so no need to insert the article’s DOI into a search box. And don’t worry: Unpaywall only retrieves articles from legal sources.

It’s pretty user friendly. A few seconds after finding an article, an Unpaywall symbol will appear at the side of your screen. If an open-access version of this article is available elsewhere, a green unlock symbol will appear. Clicking on this symbol allows you to read it for free. A grey lock symbol tells you that no open-access version was found. Unpaywall finds a free version at least 50% of the time, which makes life a little easier (and cheaper) for the self-employed language editor.

BaconClaire Bacon is an editor and writer for the SENSE blog and a research scientist turned editor who runs a business called Bacon Editing.

Sunday, 29 April 2018 07:34

GDPR for freelancers

Written by Sally Hill

GDPR1After seeing GDPR and AVG abbreviations popping up all over the place – in emails from Google, from the freelancers’ platform PZO, and on social media – and with 25 May fast approaching, and having missed SENSE’s January workshop on data privacy and information security, I thought I’d better take a look at what all the commotion was about. Read on to find out what I dug up and how it applies to freelancers.


What is the GDPR?

The General Data Protection Regulation – or Algemene verordening gegevensbescherming (AVG) as it’s known here in the Netherlands – will soon come into force across the EU. It’s basically a privacy law that tightens up the rules on providing third parties with our data, so that we know what will be done with it and why before we give our willing consent. The new laws are relevant to both our professional and personal lives, as Marianne Orchard indicates in her review of John Yonce’s data privacy workshop: ‘professional because we must protect any personal data of others that we have access to and personal because we should protect our own data.’

For a perfect example of why such a regulation is needed, we need look no further than the Facebook–Cambridge Analytica data scandal, in which the data of millions of Facebook users was handed over to a political consulting firm without those users’ knowledge or permission.

Of course, it’s easy to say, ‘Well what do you expect if you’re on Facebook?’ But even if you’re aware of their business model – ie, that the advertisers are the real clients and you are just the product – most Facebook users, myself included, have not been persuaded to delete their accounts. Naive it may be, but we assume that companies use our data respectfully and comply with what regulations are in place, for the simple reason that we can no longer do without the plethora of apps and websites at our fingertips.

After all, how else do we keep up with friends and families in other countries and with our kids’ online activities, not to mention our professional networks? How else do we comply with requests for information from our clients, agencies and business contacts? Whether moving house, writing a will, buying insurance, joining a professional association, enrolling at a new translation agency or using our clients’ complicated billing systems, we are continuously filling in our personal data online.

When will it be enforced and to whom does it apply?

The GDPR comes into effect on 25 May 2018 throughout the EU, from which point any large companies found to be in breach can expect large fines. Great news for consumers as it means greater protection of our personal data, including sensitive information such as religion, racial or ethnic origin, political opinions, religious or philosophical beliefs, trade union membership, genetic data, biometric data, data concerning health or data concerning a natural person’s sexual life or sexual orientation.

According to this website for small businesses, the GDPR applies to any business that processes the personal data of EU citizens. This includes customer, supplier, partner and employee personal data. In addition, companies processing data that have more than 250 employees, or for whom processing data is a core activity, must appoint a Data Protection Officer or DPO – someone up to date on data protection practices and the legal framework and who is responsible for ensuring that unambiguous consent is obtained from ‘data subjects’, i.e. EU consumers and citizens.

What do freelancers need to do about it?

Naturally, freelancers are way below the threshold of 250 employees. And another nugget of information I found on this website for startups is the following: ‘The Regulation only applies to personal data if it is processed wholly or partly by automated means or is part of a sophisticated hard copy filing system.’ Aha! – nothing to do with me as I’m not processing data.

But does this mean that I can ignore it entirely? I’m still in two minds. My gut feeling and pure logic says no: I have no automated mailing list for sending round emails to clients or business contacts. I have no form on my website for people to get in touch. The only personal data I have of clients that is not already publicly available is the data the tax office requires that I put on my invoices. Some clients ask me to address the invoice to their private address, and some clients’ business and home addresses are the same. Colleagues to whom I sometimes outsource work also give me personal data in their emails and invoices. But who is going to be bothered about me having that data on my computer? Surely I can’t run my business without it?

But on the other hand, regardless of whether or not the risk of a fine is minuscule, it’s no bad thing to think about what data on other people I have on my computer and how it is protected, right? I found more information on how freelancers can prepare for the GDPR on this website of a collective of freelancers in healthcare communications.

Is there anything in particular that editors, translators or copywriters should consider?

When I put this question to the SENSE members forum, several people confirmed my initial gut feeling that this does not apply to freelancers. But others are not so sure. What about personal information in medical, legal or HR-related files that we edit or translate? From my days as a medical translator I remember one particular agency that rarely took the trouble to remove personal information from the texts they sent me, which was clearly in breach of privacy legislation.

In this respect, it seems I need a privacy notice, available on demand or downloadable from my website. This is a public statement of how a company – whatever its size – applies data protection principles to processing data. And I assume this applies to personal data that clients and colleagues provide me by email. The privacy notice tells them what I’m going to do with any information they provide. Fair enough.

Fellow SENSE member and translator Robert Bradley recently had a privacy statement drawn up. He says:

To me, it's worth it, and I suspect it might be for quite a lot of translators: not so much because people might start demanding to see what data we have on file, but because we have clients who are subject to the stricter rules and who need to demonstrate compliance. That means that they need confirmation from their suppliers (that's you and me) that everything's sorted out. I'd rather not lose any clients over this.

Meanwhile, over on good old Facebook, a translator based in the Czech Repubic (or Czechia if you prefer) has set up a group called GDPR for Translators (you’ll need to log in first) which has plenty of discussions on the topic, plus resources and tips for both agencies and translators who want to make sure they are GDPR-compliant. There are questions and answers on topics such as deleting old emails and email addresses, cloud storage, websites and privacy statements.

So what is SENSE doing about the GDPR?

Sally Hill

Clearly, SENSE as an organization also needs to be on the case with regard to the personal data it collects from members. But more about this in a follow-up post!

Feel free to post your comments below or get in touch to share your experiences with the GDPR.

Sally Hill is an editor and writer for the SENSE blog and newsletter and a British biologist-turned-linguist who runs a business called Scientific Texts.

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