Sunday, 16 December 2018 11:11

Utrecht Translation SIG: dealing with challenging clients

Written by Anne Hodgkinson

Utrecht SIG challenging clients 1

On Wednesday 14 November, 12 of us met upstairs at Utrecht Central station in the Bistrot Centraal to discuss difficult clients. Joy Burrough had been present at similar discussions at the American Translators Association Annual Conference in New Orleans in October and had quite a bit to share, but everyone contributed insights, anecdotes and suggestions to make it a successful evening.

For many translators in other countries, the client doesn’t speak the target language and is ever so grateful that you can help them out. But not here in the Netherlands. Many of our clients speak good (occasionally very good) English, and there’s always one who knows better, having learnt something at school – sometimes something dead wrong – and has to let you know. Many of us had stories to share about these clients. We do need to remember, though, that occasionally the client can be right, especially if specialized terminology is involved. On-line corpora such as Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA) are valuable tools in this respect.

Asking questions

We agreed that back-and-forth interaction to answer a question is better than having to deal with complaints. Most clients are happy to answer questions and like to feel they’re part of the translation or editing process. Asking them what they think of a given suggestion can even help them save face. It’s unusual that you are able to communicate directly with the client when you work through an agency, so you do need to establish early on how any questions will get answered.

The issue of putting comments/questions in the text vs in an email also came up. You need to know if the client is actually going to read your translation or just send it on. Agencies sometimes just pass it straight to their client, and the question you may have asked never gets answered. If you have put questions/comments in the text, it’s a good idea to put something like ‘be sure to read my comments’ in the email when you send in the translation.

‘Correcting’ your translation 

Another recurring problem is that someone ‘corrects’ your translation after you’ve sent it in. If it gets published and your name is associated with a bad translation, it can damage your professional reputation. One translator puts a clause in her Terms and Conditions stating that she must be sent the printer’s proofs to proofread and if anything is changed afterwards without her permission, she is entitled to claim €5000 in compensation. How easy – and how costly – this would be to enforce is another matter, but at least it seemed to raise awareness among clients. 

Then there is the issue of payment. Sighs all round. Don’t be afraid to be obnoxious if a client is late paying you. If it’s a large company saying ‘we lost the bill’, you can threaten to ask for an internal audit. As with the compensation clause, whether this would work in practice remains to be seen.

Our next meeting will be Wednesday 9 January – stay tuned to the Events page for details.

Tuesday, 11 December 2018 07:33

Freestyling at the SENSE UniSIG meeting

Written by Marijn Moltzer


The UniSIG meeting on 9 November was billed as the first meeting of the academic year, but that wasn’t enough to set warning bells ringing. Even when the introductory round started I was none the wiser: our convener asked me to go first as one of two newcomers in the group of 12. Very nice to get away from my laptop and meet some others in the same line of work, I said.

But were they in the same line of work? It finally dawned on me, as the others introduced themselves, that it was no coincidence that everyone seemed to be doing academic editing. This meeting was aimed at academic editors – whereas I mainly do commercial work. But any feeling of being in the wrong place very soon passed.

Anything and everything

We met in the breakfast room of the Utrecht Park Plaza Hotel, just off the lobby, as the upstairs meeting rooms were still being renovated. It was a busy afternoon at the hotel, but a flip chart was soon trundled over to us so that our convenor could write down the day’s agenda. Officially billed as ‘Anything and everything’, we would discuss agencies offering thesis editing services, whether or not thesis editors should be acknowledged, editing tools and how to manage – and offer – comments.

Writing skills needed

The first topic, commercial agencies helping students with their theses, was prompted by a recent article in the Groene Amsterdammer. Some of these flourishing agencies are apparently now also offering undergraduates help on the writing side, and the article grumbled that their services are a form of plagiarism. Those present agreed that students and scientists at all levels, especially non-native English speakers, have poor writing skills in English. They need help – particularly PhD students who won’t be published if their writing isn’t weighty enough – and few universities offer enough support. A possible niche opening for academic editors, our convener concluded.

To thank or not to thank

This led to the second topic – acknowledgement. With rare exceptions, editors are not acknowledged in academic papers. Ethically, it might seem the right thing to do, but most respondents in the recent SENSE survey on the topic said they didn’t mind if their contributions weren’t acknowledged. One member pointed out that they may not want to be associated with mediocre writing – most authors can’t resist making changes before publication to the version delivered by their editor. Another said simply that he doesn’t need the advertising, while another still leaves it up to the client to decide whether to acknowledge him.

Taking criticism…

This led to a side discussion on what to do about billing to make sure you don’t lose out if editing takes longer because the writing is especially bad. But our convenor managed to turn the focus to topic 3 – how to deal with vague criticism from peer reviewers who don’t accept a version of a paper. The person who had proposed this topic said, ‘They say the English isn’t good enough but don’t go into detail, leaving me guessing what the problem is.’

Asking the journal’s peer reviewers for more information is not an option as they work anonymously, so someone else suggested discussing the situation with the client, which helps build your relationship with them. An alternative suggestion was to arrange for someone else to read the paper and modify it based on their suggestions.

One member said he wasn’t sure if he could charge the client for the time it takes to make such extra amendments, but this was met by a vociferous ‘yes, you can!’ by several people. After all, we cannot guarantee publication. In fact, criticizing the English could be a way for journals to avoid publishing a paper without disclosing the real reason for their decision.

…and giving it

Going off topic only slightly, we discussed what to do with criticism from non-natives along the lines of ‘that’s not English’. These remarks can be hurtful, but it may simply be a case of rephrasing an idiomatic expression or complex construction. One member then handed out copies of some feedback of her own that she had sent to a well-known publisher regarding a poorly translated book. She had agreed to edit it for a certain amount before realizing how much work was involved. Others shared similar experiences. I was reminded to watch out when asked to prepare an estimate based on a short extract. And warned that publishers may seem glamorous but are so cash-strapped they are not good payers.

Editing tools again

The last topic of the afternoon was editing tools. The member who proposed the topic was curious about the PerfectIt workshop on 19 October that a couple of attendees had been to and could report back on. He mentioned liking the subscription version of Grammarly for long texts as it ‘takes out the drab’ and reduces the time needed by the reviewers he contracts for editing services. As well as checking for spelling and grammar, Grammarly looks at consistency, suitability within a certain genre, paragraph length and active verbs. Grammarly flags each item and it is up to the user to decide whether or not to accept the suggested change: luckily, we haven’t been made completely redundant yet.

Right at the beginning of the afternoon, our convenor had asked for questions from the newcomers, but we ran out of time. However, she herself answered one of the questions I had about what might motivate an academic editor: ‘I want to give biomedical students a credible voice so they can go and find the cure for something.’

Marijn Moltzer is a freelance writer, editor and translator for clients including Rabobank, Aidsfonds and Cargill.

Thursday, 22 November 2018 15:37

What can we learn from our mystery shopper experiments

Written by Tony Parr

Mystery shopper 1

Like many others, we recall being first astounded and then fascinated by Chris Durban’s two ‘mystery shopper’ experiments, on which she reported in detail at the 2011 ITI (Institute of Translation and Interpreting) Conference in Birmingham. We decided that we would love to replicate the experiment in the Netherlands, where we live and work. And so we did, adding a number of new elements at the same time. If there is one thing we learnt from our mystery shopper experiment for the 2015 Dutch National Translation Conference, it was that standards in the translation industry in the Netherlands are just as low as they proved to be in France – indeed perhaps even lower.

First of all, standards proved to be low in terms of marketing, where our mystery shopper – a Dutch marketing expert – found it much harder than he had expected to choose a translation agency as they all looked the same. He encountered bland, lookalike websites, meaningless slogans, stock photos and massive and inexplicable price differences. Plus banners brandishing cheap, cheap, cheap, with the occasional ‘quick and cheap’ thrown in for good measure. Standards were also low in customer relations, with shoddy, poorly phrased quotes, a frequent lack of interest in the demands of the job on offer, and minimal customer briefing and debriefing.

Perhaps more shockingly, standards were also low in translation quality, with the translations sold to our mystery shopper proving to be clunky and full of poor collocations, unfortunate phrasing, mis-punctuations, spelling mistakes, typing and formatting errors and – perhaps most damning of all – not even vaguely fit for purpose. This was despite the many extravagant claims made by the suppliers themselves on their websites about ‘working exclusively with native-speaker subject specialists’, producing ‘creative translations’, employing ‘experienced revisors’ and ‘specialist translators from all over the world’ and of course adopting ‘the appropriate tone of voice’.

In assessing the five translations sourced by our mystery shopper, we decided first to ask a panel of three external assessors for their general opinions. Our panel members were less than impressed: three of the translations were dismissed out of hand as being completely unusable, and the other two received mixed assessments.

Perhaps the only morsel of relief for the conference-goers was that the two not-quite-as-bad-as-the-rest translations were also the most expensive ones.


We then performed our own detailed examination, marking glaring errors in red, stylistic problems in yellow and nice ideas in green. We allotted points as follows: red = minus 3; yellow = minus 1 and green = plus 2. We were also interested in seeing whether there was any correlation with the cost of the translations in question, so Table A also shows their prices.

Table A Quality and price of five translations sourced in the Netherlands

As there was not enough time at the conference for a wide-ranging discussion of the implications of the experiment, we organized a follow-up meeting for colleagues from the profession at which they could take a closer look at the translations and debate our findings.

Their analysis of the translations generated two fascinating findings: firstly, the professional translators were broadly in agreement with the original panel of experts. They too felt that the same three translations were worthless and that the remaining two were a mix of good points and alarming weaknesses. None of the translations earned a pass mark from everyone.

Secondly, it was interesting to see that, once the professionals actually embarked on the translation of a short passage from the source text used for the experiment, they soon started asking all manner of questions. Not so much about technical terms as about the target audience and the purpose of the translation. Things like: what exactly does the company want to offer their foreign customers (the source text was a marketing brochure for a corporate events organizer)? Are they planning to organize activities abroad or do they want to invite their foreign customers to come over to the Netherlands? And, which particular foreign markets do they want to break into? Hardly trivia these, but vitally important questions if the translation is to make sense and be effective.

Curiously, not a single one of our original translation suppliers came up with any questions along these lines. True, one of them asked (before starting on the translation) whether our mystery shopper had a preference for either US or UK spelling, and another asked him whether he had any ‘special requirements’. But none of them stopped to think.

Yet stopping to think is exactly what is going to distinguish us human translators from our (ever smarter) mechanical competitors in the future. It was staggering to see that none of our five original suppliers asked for any sort of briefing. None of them called the mystery shopper with questions before delivering their translation. This was despite the fact that we actually asked our mystery shopper to add an extra (poorly formatted) paragraph containing two unnecessary technical details, and various repetitions of points that had already been made. None of our translation providers queried these. Everything was translated simply ‘as is’, including (in most cases) the wonky formatting.

And none of them reported back afterwards to explain what they had done. True, two of them sent a perfunctory ‘How was it for you?’ email, but there was no meaningful engagement at any stage. Indeed, the preferred business model would appear to be: customer chucks a text over the fence; translator translates it as literally as possible and chucks it back over the fence. Quick. Cheap. No questions asked.

We were aware, however, that we were working with a pretty small sample and could hardly claim to have applied much in the way of academic rigour to our experiment. The least we could do was to see whether the situation in the UK differed from that in the Netherlands. So we recently performed a mini-repeat of the experiment for the 2017 ITI Conference in Cardiff. Same text, same mystery shopper, same panel of experts.

What did we find? Well, first of all, it was well-nigh impossible to track down a UK-based translation provider. Despite using a variety of internet search techniques, we consistently found ourselves staring at a hit list consisting largely of global translation agencies and the odd Dutch agency dressed up as a UK operator. Even more surprisingly, individual translators were almost entirely hidden from view: even when our search phrase contained the word ‘translator’, the hits still consisted of agencies.

In the end, we managed to select five potential suppliers for our mystery shopper to contact. Two of them failed to respond to our mystery shopper’s request for a quote. This left us with two ostensibly UK-based agencies and one freelance translator. We say ‘ostensibly’ because one of the agencies proved to be Irish and the other may well have been a one-person eastern-European operation, albeit purporting to be based in a specific English town...

Table B Quality and price of three translations sourced in the UK

As expected, we encountered the same variety in terms of quality and pricing, except that the range was wider: one of the translations was quite simply appalling (‘Why did you not have a ‘woeful’ category?’ one of the assessors asked), while another was actually much better than the others, including the five we had previously sourced in the Netherlands. The findings are shown in Table B. (Good news for freelance translators: the best translation was that supplied by the freelance translator!)

So, what can we conclude from these two experiments?

1. Four of the eight translations we bought on the open market were complete and utter rubbish.
2. Three were substandard; just one was ‘natural-sounding’, showing ‘good idiomatic choices’ and ‘OK as a first draft’.
3. There was no meaningful customer communication.
4. Agency websites tend to be bland, impersonal lookalikes. They all claim to deliver high-quality products, very often both cheaply and quickly.
5. It’s hard to find individual, professional translators.

If we want to be treated as professionals, we need to act as professionals. That means, for example:

• Doing more than just supplying a passable literal translation, and hence delivering a far more professional product than our clients can get from any mechanical source.
• Communicating with our clients: asking them questions, finding out what they want and telling them what we’ve done.
• Making sure that our clients can find us on the internet and encouraging our professional associations to advertise.

Tony Parr and Marcel Lemmens are professional translators and translator trainers based in the Netherlands. They both have extensive experience as translators (freelance and in-house) and as teachers of translation, principally at the National College of Translation in Maastricht. They are the authors of Handboek voor de Vertaler Nederlands-Engels. Operating under the name of Teamwork, they organize short courses, workshops and conferences for language professionals in the Netherlands.



Friday, 16 November 2018 11:49

MET 2018 conference: SENSE impressions

Written by Marianne Orchard

METM18 8Our sister society MET (Mediterranean Editors and Translators) held its 14th annual conference in Girona, Spain in October this year. The theme was ′Giving credit where credit's due: recognition for authors, translators and editors′. Lured by the interesting programme (and beautiful location, no doubt!) several SENSE members were there. We caught up with them to find out what they thought.

Jackie Senior

Jackie Senior One of the many attractions of MET conferences are the wonderful locations. Girona was well worth the trip – lovely old town, cathedral with the widest nave in Europe and one of the oldest tapestries, numerous good restaurants and bars, and woods and hills within easy reach to walk off the good meals.

The 14th annual MET meeting was entitled ′Giving credit where credit’s due: recognition for authors, translators and editors′. Given that this profession is such a self-effacing group, this meeting proved to be an excellent awareness raising exercise. Joy Burrough-Boenisch’s online questionnaire sent out last Spring showed that only 14.5% of us actually expect or ever ask for recognition of our work! How on earth are we ever going to get reasonable pay for our activities if we don’t value our own work? The most common reason given by respondents for not asking for credit was: ‘It has never crossed my mind.’

Thomas O’Boyle (Spain) continued this theme with his talk entitled Knowing your worth, showing your worth in which he urged language service providers to explain to their clients what they do, ensure excellent service and be proactive in seeking credit. It makes sound business sense.

I sat on a panel of academic providers set up by Valerie Matarese to discuss Acknowledgements in the eyes of scholars using language services: perceptions of language professionals. The other participants were Wendy Baldwin (Spain), Kate Sotejeff-Wilson (Finland) and Mar Ferández Núňez (France). Valerie asked us to explain our different work situations, ranging from in-house editor to freelance translator. The questions from the audience revealed the timidity of a lot of language service providers and/or the awe they have for their high-ranking academic clients. It’s worth remembering that professors are just normal people. The panel talked about their own experiences of receiving credit, and offered tips to the audience: the main ones being to pursue excellence, take due pride in your work and start asking for recognition (and not to be put off if one person says no).

On the Thursday evening, I hosted an Off-METM dinner for eight conference-goers to discuss why they wouldn’t want to be credited for their work. Some of the reasons given were: ‘the client may tamper with the text after I return it (and thereby introduce new errors)’, ‘I have been paid, why should I expect credit too?’, ‘I have a list of clients on my website so don’t need credit to be given in other places’ and ‘my client would consider it a loss of face to credit my work because it shows he/she cannot write good enough English’. On the other side of the fence was Iria del Río, editorial director of the official journal of the Spanish Society of Cardiology, which is published in Spanish and English. She explained how hard it is to get any information about the article translators from the journal’s publishers, or to persuade the publisher that credit should be given to the translators.

The conference was a big meeting – 175 participants, with a choice of 13 half-day pre-conference workshops, two or three parallel sessions of talks over two whole days, and 10 Off-METM dinner and 11 lunch groups. The challenge for MET is how to accommodate the ever-growing number of participants while keeping the meeting personal, friendly and so well-suited to language service providers’ needs.

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Kirsten van Hasselt

Kirsten van Hasselt This was my fifth MET conference and, as usual, it didn’t fail to meet my expectations. MET always manages to find the perfect cities and venues for their annual conference. This year was no exception. The wonderful city of Girona, with its many historical buildings, restaurants and great weather, served not only as the ideal place for the conference itself but also as an amazing backdrop for all the Off-METM activities. I attended an Off-METM meal group (for the vegan curious), joined the free walking tour of the historic centre with a great guide, and cycled through the very green outskirts of Girona on a burricleta.

Before the actual conference started, I attended the Translation Revision and Beyond workshop, which was well presented, very interesting and had plenty of interaction. The keynotes and the great variety of presentations were inspiring and informative. And of course, there was the networking. It always feels like meeting up with old friends.

The conference once again gave me lots of creative energy, food for thought and inspiration. Can’t wait for next year’s conference in Split.

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John Linnegar

John Linnegar The first keynote speaker was Daniel Hahn, who spoke on In praise of editors: the translator’s view. As a seasoned literary writer and translator himself, he bemoaned the lack of credit given to editors, who, he says, have the potential to either make or break a book. For me, perhaps the most striking takeaway message from this talk, and the conference as a whole, was his Orwellian image of editing being analogous to getting a window cleaned: the view must not be different afterwards (ie, don’t mess with the author’s words and images by imposing yourself on them), but the editor’s interventions must make everything sharper and clearer. He also nicely distinguished the editor’s interventions from the translator’s: editors must help new writers to ‘find their voice’, while translators have to ‘lose their voice’ – the reader should be able to recognize the author’s writing or voice in the translated text.

For a bit of light relief, I attended Karen Neilson’s presentation on To oak or not to oak… profiling the wine translator. Her message was not about the nuts and bolts of translating in this genre but about steeping oneself in the industry – doing so not only allows one to understand that industry but also means one can provide seamless translation and editing services to its many and varied facets and players: from wine growers to wine tourism. Spain is the world’s third largest producer of wines, but the industry sorely needs a change of image. So while the opportunities for wordsmiths are almost endless, to contribute one has to know one’s stuff, from appellation to terroir. Her final slide in an informative presentation said it all: ‘Get thee to a winery!’

On being edited: how authors respond was the title of Sally Burgess’s presentation. Sally spoke ‘from the heart’ as both an author and an editor. What emerged is that editorial intervention is a sensitive subject for many authors and editors. Developing an awareness of the affective dimension in author editing can therefore improve relationships between author’s editors and their clients. This means that editors must be aware of the factors that influence authors’ positive and negative responses to being edited. In practice, this is about how the editing is framed: an attitude of deference towards the author is more likely to be perceived as solidarity with the author. Whereas, for many authors, having their words edited can be face-threatening, the deferential approach is more likely to be face-saving.

The second keynote having been something of a damp squib for this delegate, the conference ended on an inspiring note with a double bill: Jenny Zonneveld on From Lada to Lamborghini – tips for becoming a premier freelancer and Thomas O’Boyle on Knowing your worth, showing your worth: creating value for your client, creating value for yourself. Not only were the presentations professional but the seasoned speakers were able to speak from experience.

Jenny shared with us the secrets of her success as a freelancer, which included becoming an (indispensable) expert in the field, putting herself through continuous professional development, nurturing networks, building sound relationships and not being afraid to take herself out of her comfort zone (something we language practitioners are notoriously bad at). Jenny also suggested charging a project fee rather than quoting a rate, because it’s difficult to justify higher rates to existing clients. Tom stressed that freelancers should not underprice themselves, because once a rate is set for a client’s work, it’s virtually impossible to increase it substantially. So when quoting a rate for a job, don’t hesitate to start at the right level for you – although this is, of course, easier when working directly for clients than through agencies.

Tom shared seven key words with us: Mindset, Proactive, Improve, Organize, Service, Value and Excellence. These both complemented and added to what Jenny said. Three are particularly important for freelancers: Mindset, which should be that of a business professional, including considering yourself as part of someone’s business, and treating them accordingly; Proactive, which means getting out of your comfort zone to woo potential clients; and Value – adding value to our clients’ businesses (and telling our clients how we do this).

Tom’s final quotation left a lasting impression on me: a client can demand price, time and quality from us, but they need to know that they can’t have all three!

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David Barick

David Barick This was my third MET conference, and I have found all of them rewarding and beneficial. MET is a very well-organized group and the conference always runs in a smooth and professional manner. The quality of the presentations and speakers is generally excellent. I sometimes hear two complaints: either there is too much emphasis on academic language (according to the translators) or there is too much emphasis on translation (according to the editors). Although I may be at a bit of an advantage since I work in both fields, I personally find the balance between the two very good.

As it happens, the topics chosen by this year’s keynote speakers were less relevant to my own work than they were in previous years, but I suppose that’s just the luck of the draw. Besides, the MET conference offers good networking, the chance to catch up with acquaintances, and a general sense of camaraderie, all in a sunny Mediterranean setting (the weather was particularly good this year). Another beautiful city – Split, Croatia – has been chosen as the setting of next year’s conference, so my calendar is marked. How about yours?

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Joy Burrough-Boenisch

Joy Burrough. big As a freelance editor working primarily for scientists and scholars, I found this year’s MET conference one of the best of the 14 I’ve attended. Here, I’ll mention only the non-plenary sessions I attended but I also enjoyed both the plenaries and fun activities (yoga, burricleta!).

It’s the richness of linguistic resources and expertise among attendees that makes MET conferences so special and rewarding. My pre-conference workshop on editing non-native English, which was again fully booked, attracted 20 attendees with knowledge of 12 languages other than English – including exotics such as Finnish, Bulgarian and Russian but excluding Dutch – so it needed little help from me to draw out insightful comments and discussion. We learned much from each other.

In the conference proper, the panel discussion chaired by Valerie Matarese in which Jackie Senior participated complemented my presentation reporting on the survey of editors’ views on being acknowledged. Jackie’s position (until her recent retirement) as an in-house editor always acknowledged for her work contrasted with the more retiring pragmatic (fatalistic?) approach of the others, all of whom worked for scientists and scholars but were either fully freelance or lacked an appreciative and supportive boss like Jackie’s.

In their excellent joint presentation On being edited: how authors respond, Sally Burgess and Clara Currell (both academics as well as editors) drew on the editing that they’d been subjected to, reminding us not only that editing is a face-threatening act but also to be aware of the hidden agendas of editors, be they jobbing freelancers or – especially – academics who are journal or book editors.

At the other extreme of academic editing, Nigel Harwood’s presentation on ‘proofreaders’ of student texts in UK universities left me with the impression that they are generally neither as skilled nor as foreign-language savvy as SENSE and MET members. His presentation on citation practice in academic texts was useful to me as a teacher of scientific English. This interest was well catered for in two other sessions: Oliver Shaw’s pre-conference workshop in which he showed how genre theory can be used to help scientist authors write (and critically read) the Discussion section of a paper, and Iain Patten’s evangelical presentation in which he advocated integrating research writing into research planning, so that reports and papers evolve with the research, almost writing themselves, rather than being scheduled to be prepared at fixed points in time.

Finally, the six of us attending the ‘Clients who think they know better’ lunch didn’t just pour out woeful anecdotes; we found common experiences across countries as diverse as France, the Netherlands, Spain and Finland, and shared tips on how to avert confrontation and challenges. Therapeutic and fun.

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Jenny Zonneveld

Jenny Zonneveld This was my third venture to a MET conference, and I’m sure it won’t be my last. The experience is different from any other conference I’ve been to. It’s a belevenis – the city, meeting up with friends and making new contacts, the off-conference activities, the workshops and of course the conference sessions themselves.

MET has a knack for selecting excellent locations where you can soak up the local history and culture as you go along. And now I’ve got to know some of the MET community, I feel very much at home wherever the location.

MET conferences have something for everyone, and this year I selected the sessions on machine translation and business practice. Michael Farrell gave an interesting talk entitled The stink of machine translation – the take-home message being that machine translation will never match the variety, originality or inventiveness of human translators.

My own talk From Lada to Lamborghini was at the close of the conference, and being Spain where food is served at strange times of the day, this began at what we here in the Netherlands would consider after supper time. Despite this, it was well attended and I hope that more people will now dare to venture outside their comfort zone – as I did in giving this talk – to where the magic happens. It will be very rewarding.

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Theresa Truax-Gischler

Theresa Truax Gischler I travelled to the MET conference primarily for anthropologist, editor and translator Susan DiGiacomo’s Friday morning workshop, When the writing is bad but the analysis is good: a practical exercise in editing ethnographic writing, and it remains the highlight for me, hands down. Organized as a seminar, the workshop centred on the editorial analysis of an original draft text of a journal article that had, after revising, been accepted for publication this year in the high-ranking journal, American Ethnologist.

One of the major problems writers across the social sciences have in crafting their work is the effort to bring two very different discourses together into a single, coherent text. It can be quite difficult to bring the highly localized evidence you’ve gathered – whether it be from a village in Europe, a city in Asia, a piece of art, a social movement, a religious ritual or an organization – into the same space as the abstracted and seemingly ethereal concepts and theories within your discipline. Many social scientists obtain reams of fabulous data during their research phase, but then struggle to find a theoretical lens through which to view it. How can you place the unique local data you’ve gathered into conversation with the work of other scholars in your field or those in related areas of critical thought?

To answer this question, Susan presented the best leveraging of Clifford Geertz’s classic ethnographic concepts that I have ever seen. Because ethnographic work in the social sciences is ‘empirical, but not empiricist’, she told us, ‘experience-near’ local knowledge and vocabularies – the raw stuff of qualitative data before it’s been interpreted – must be juxtaposed with ‘experience-distant’ abstract theoretical concepts drawn from the analytic vocabularies of academic specialists. The trick, she explained, is to bring the two vocabularies into simultaneous view such that they ‘vex’ one another and move knowledge forward. In a phrase so pithy that I have tacked it above my editing desk, Susan writes, ‘The intention, as always, is for theory to illumine the data, and for the data to challenge theory, if possible pushing it, and the resulting interpretation, to reach new conclusions.’

The small group of attendees (three no-shows were working on last-minute changes to their own talks) were so moved by the experience of finally having a workshop that speaks to the most difficult elements of editing and translating social science and humanities texts that we organized a Saturday lunch meetup to discuss the possibility of creating a MET Humanities special interest group. Headed up by Sally Burgess of the University of La Laguna together with Alan Lounds of the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya and me (freelance editor Theresa Truax-Gischler), the group’s initial goal is to organize a panel for next year’s MET conference in Split that focuses on the writing, editing, translation and teaching of texts in the humanities, social sciences and literatures. Because these genres are topographically distinct from the genres of the hard sciences, a special stream within MET seemed appropriate. In the words of sociologist Howard Becker, these genres all ‘tell about society’ albeit in distinct ways. As of this writing, the new MET special interest group has 23 members. If you are interested in joining the group, please email me at

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Curtis Barrett

Curtis Barrett I’ve been a member of both SENSE and MET since 2011, and even though I’m quite active in SENSE, for the most part I’ve been a bit of a shadow member of MET. But after years of fellow SENSE members asking why I don’t go to the MET conferences, I decided to head to Girona this year to see what all the fuss is about. And I must say, I was extremely pleased!

From the pre-conference workshop on citations, to the meals, to the packed sessions during the conference itself, I found the entire experience engaging and stimulating. Everything was quite smoothly organized, and I found that as a strict non-translator (my core business is editing) there was plenty in the programme to choose from. The location was charming, easy to get around and offered plenty of opportunity to work my muscles trudging up the hills.

One thing that struck me was the way a relatively small conference can have a large-conference feel. During the first plenary lecture, I looked around the hall and saw it was fully packed, making me think that the meeting had drawn around 400 attendees. But later, I asked one of the organizers and was surprised to learn that the actual number was 175.

So to sum up my experience? Thoroughly positive! I’m definitely adding the MET conference to my list of must-go-to events each year, and I’m looking forward to next year’s conference in Croatia. See you there?

Friday, 09 November 2018 11:28

Time management tips for language practitioners

Written by Samuel Murray


Following a well-attended informal resurrection in September, the SENSE Eastern SIG (special interest group) kicked off the meeting season on 30 October in Zwolle. Here, Samuel Murray reports on the topics discussed, and adds his own tips and experiences.

For this Eastern SIG meeting about time management for language practitioners, we had all been asked to bring along our top tips. But we were also encouraged to share any problems that we wanted help with – the latter leading to the most lively discussions.

Time management 

We learnt that different people have different time-management problems. Some have difficulty starting out or have difficulty getting back to work after taking a break, or find it hard to put down entertainment. Others have the opposite problem – they are workaholics, yearn for a reduction in productivity, and wish that they didnt accept so many tasks or offers.

While the time-management problems and tips discussed at the meeting were relevant to all freelancers, some were specific to certain tasks. For example, a particular problem for translators is not being able to do editing immediately after translating, but needing to let the translation simmer before getting back to it.


We talked about procrastination in its various forms. Suggestions to address this included the following: if you find yourself putting off starting work in the morning by doing various chores instead, try doing those chores the evening before, or tidying and readying your desk so that the office looks more inviting in the morning. Someone else with a problem getting up in the morning had invested in a coffee maker with a timer.

For those of us working at home, if your mind keeps wandering to all the chores you still have to do, it was suggested that we try making an appointment with ourselves for that chore at a specific time of the day. Or to create a physical, visual barrier at the entrance to the office, eg, a curtain, allowing you to leave your house behind when you enter the office, and vice versa.

One member said that she prevents herself from spending time on sites like Facebook by deliberately logging out every time. This prevents her from falling into the trap of quickly checking whats new. Another member used an app that takes a screenshot every minute. At the end of the day, a quick browse through the screenshots reveals which activities were timewasters on that day.

Reducing distractions

Other tips for reducing distractions on the computer included the following:

• if your email program opens automatically on the computer, set it so that you have to open it yourself
• use a separate email address for correspondence that does not generate an income, even if its work related (eg, forum notifications)
• to keep your inbox empty, quickly triage incoming email into long reply and short reply folders that you can deal with later
• make it harder to shift your attention away from work by using a separate browser for non-work related tasks (eg, Chrome for work, Firefox for play)
• regard anything that doesnt help bring in money as entertainment!

Keeping clients happy

Some people struggle with communication-related tasks that form part of being a freelancer but do not specifically generate income. An example is when you spend time trying to help out a potential client by arranging for an alternative translator or editor from your network, or when you spend time writing a careful reply to something that you know for certain wont lead to work, because you want to be polite and/or helpful. Although no concrete solutions for this were forthcoming, we agreed that helping clients and colleagues is indirectly good for business!

We also discussed the issue of accepting jobs over the weekend. Someone suggested that if you find a lot of your work comes in on Friday evenings or weekends, you could try having your weekend on other days, eg, Wednesday and Thursday. I myself tend to compromise by trying to keep my Friday afternoon and Saturday free, and then start working again on Sunday at noon, rather than working on Saturday in-between other activities.

Also, I find that if clients want work done by 9:00, I try saying I can do it for 14:00, which gives me that extra bit of time in case something happens. In line with this, others agreed that if the work has tight deadlines, we should not accept assignments that fill our hours to the maximum (per client) but try to negotiate deadlines that allow us to have gaps in our day, which can then also be filled with work for other clients. Similarly, when setting up my out-of-office reply, I am generous with my estimate of when I expect to return in case I end up running late – especially handy for those clients who expect instant replies!

Technology: help or hindrance?

Technology in various forms was of course discussed. Firstly, for those distracted by sounds, listening to music can help us concentrate and it was interesting to hear that we preferred widely different types of music – from relaxing instrumental music to heavy metal to something in a foreign language.

In terms of software, while most time-management problems cant be solved by simply downloading an app, a number of members reported success using Pomodoro type apps. The Pomodoro Technique dates from the 1980s. It involves alternating between short productive sessions and even shorter rests, and turning small tasks into goals to avoid procrastination. The original system used a notebook, pen and kitchen timer, but apps make it easier to set goals, tick off achieved tasks and stick to time intervals.

One particularly popular app that can be combined with the Pomodoro Technique is called Forest, which involves a game of planting and caring for pet trees to help visualize how much you can resist the temptation to switch to other apps.

The browser-based version of Forest (for Chrome) allows you to continue using your computer and browse the web, but penalizes you for visiting certain websites such as Facebook and Twitter, or any other site you add to its blacklist. One can also combine the smartphone app and the browser app into a single system by logging in.

All in all, I found this to be a very productive meeting. It was great to hear that other freelancers sometimes struggle with similar problems, to learn how different personality types or lifestyles lead to opposite types of problems and to hear feedback on our time-management problems from different perspectives.

SENSE has a number of special interest groups (SIGs) that meet regularly throughout the country. The Eastern SIG, which meets in Zwolle, gives people the opportunity to speak English with one another and share experiences about professional practice and life in the Netherlands. SIG meetings are open to all members. Guests are welcome to attend one or two meetings before deciding whether to join SENSE. 

Samuel MurraySamuel Murray is an editor and translator (English-Afrikaans) who specializes in health, medicine and information technology.

Thursday, 01 November 2018 09:31

PerfectIt workshop review

Written by Ruth Davies


Like many of you, I am already a PerfectIt user. I love to do a PerfectIt pass after I’ve edited a document and fix all those contrary hyphens and stray capitals. I’ve been meaning to do a course for ages (or actually read the documentation or watch the videos). I think I may have done the introductory one when I first downloaded the software in 2014, but I haven’t been back to the website much since then and … you know.

So when I got an email from SENSE saying that Daniel Heuman, the creator of PerfectIt, was going to a deliver a course here in Amsterdam, I signed up.

For those who don’t know already, PerfectIt is an add-on to Microsoft Word that checks for consistency and enforces style. It is not a grammar or reference checker. PerfectIt leaves each decision to the editor, so you always have control over changes being suggested and made.

Daniel developed it for consultants working on long reports because he knew from his previous job how difficult and time-consuming these fiddly things are to find. Daniel says it took him six months to realize that editors are a key market. Who would have guessed that we editors even care about details?! At any rate, it’s now almost ten years later and PerfectIt is also being used by professional translators, government institutions, universities, the European Space Agency – it’s an impressive list of clients.


After that background, the workshop was split into three sessions: beginner, advanced and Daniel’s other favourite software picks for editors.

In the beginner session, Daniel showed the recently released Cloud version, which can be used on Mac and PC, and he walked us through some of the tests PerfectIt does. I’ve become so used to it that I had forgotten how amazed I was the first few times I ran it over a document and it picked up all those ‘broad-acre’ and ‘decision making’ instances when I wanted ‘broadacre’ and ‘decision-making’! It is much faster than me having to manually check for these.

PerfectIt also has a bunch of functions I haven’t used, particularly those at the end of a pass, such as generating a report of changes and compiling the comments in a document. I also didn’t know if it could check just part of a document, so I gave it a test and sure enough, it asked me ‘Do you want to check only the selected text?’

In the advanced session, Daniel talked about enforcing style manuals. PerfectIt comes with a number of built-in styles such as Australian Government Style, United Nations Style and US Spelling. You can either use these styles as they come or make copies of them to tweak. For example, I use UN style for one client, but they like ‘program’ instead of the UN’s preferred ‘programme’. In this session we went through the tabs in the ‘Edit Current Style’ function, which was a great reminder to me of how much control I have over all the tests PerfectIt runs.

Daniel also talked about using PerfectIt’s wildcard check which makes some tests very powerful and much faster because it searches for patterns of text, rather than individual instances. For those unfamiliar with wildcards, he recommended Jack Lyon’s Wildcard Cookbook which is available for free here.

The company that sells PerfectIt is called Intelligent Editing and their website has 10 online video tutorials, ranging from between about two and five minutes long, that talk you through PerfectIt’s functions, ranging from between about two and five minutes long. I’ve already had a look at one to remind me how to do something I saw in the workshop.

In the last part of the session, Daniel shared with us a range of other tools that he thinks are helpful for editors. Daniel recommends trying a new piece of software every few months – you’ll keep learning, and you could well find a tool that revolutionizes your working day. He suggested a variety of software to include in such try-outs, although not all are available for both PC and Mac and not all are free. But I’m providing the links here so you can have a look at them.

ClipX Creates a system-wide clipboard that holds 25 items; no more going back and forth to paste things between applications!
WordRake Simplifies complex writing; very handy to turn text into plain language.
TextExpander By using shortcuts, lets you quickly insert boilerplate text.
Edifix Fixes reference lists by looking for the citation in Cross Ref; super, but expensive.
File Cleaner Corrects messy documents and fixes common typesetting problems.

He also mentioned other programs (Stylewriter, Editor’s ToolKit Plus) and concepts (use macros, wildcards and shortcut keys in your work).


I’d been meaning to do such a workshop for a while, and I’m so glad I did. It gave me confidence to know that I’ve mostly been using PerfectIt the way it should be used, but also reminded me how I can take more control over style sheets for individual clients. There is a Facebook group called PerfectIt Users, and I think I’ll be able now to contribute to that rather than just lurking, as I have been.

RuthDaviesRuth Davies is an Australian freelance editor currently living in the Netherlands. Through her business centrEditing, she edits research reports about all sorts of interesting things, including climate change, remote Australia, and agricultural development in Africa. She joined SENSE at the beginning of 2018.

For more information on the recently released Cloud version of PerfectIt, take a look at Michelle Luijben-Marks' review here on the blog.

Sunday, 07 October 2018 16:37

SfEP Course Review: Copy-editing Headway

Written by Claire Bacon

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We all know the importance of professional development, and taking an online editing course is a great way to improve your editing skills. But how do you decide which course(s) to take? In this blog post, Claire Bacon reviews the SfEP’s Copy-editing Headway course.

The need for training

I am an ‘invasive species’ in the editing world. I did not set out to become an editor – instead, I spent more than a decade working as a research scientist. My postdoc years were spent in Germany, and I soon realized that lots of non-native English-speaking scientists need help getting their research published. Indeed, I spent many hours editing manuscripts for my colleagues. I realized that not only did I enjoy it, I was good at it, and my fate as a language editor was sealed. Bye-bye lab, hello working at home in my pyjamas!

Sure, research experience and subject knowledge are very helpful if you want to edit academic papers. But that’s not all it takes. Editing requires a very specific set of skills – and these skills need to be learned.

The start of 2018: getting in (editing) shape

My professional goal for 2018 was to sharpen my editorial skills. I reached out and asked the editing community which courses I should take, and received countless recommendations for the online courses offered by the SfEP – the UK-based Society for Editors and Proofreaders.

I was not a complete beginner to editing and was looking for a course that could take my copy-editing skills to the next level rather than teach me the basics. Copy-editing Headway, the SfEP’s intermediate copy-editing course, seemed like the perfect choice. It is not aimed at complete beginners, but rather at those who already have some copy-editing experience. And it promised to expand my knowledge of the principles and practices of copy-editing. Sounded good.

I quickly felt like I was getting value for my £130 plus VAT. Within 24 hours, I had access to the study notes and exercises, as well as a Resources Centre, which includes a glossary of editing terminology and an explanation of the differences between copy-editing and proofreading. Access to the course materials is granted for 6 months, and although I was worried at first, I found that this was more than enough time to complete the course – even with some unexpected life events thrown in! And it gave me the motivation I needed to get the course done.

I was assigned my very own tutor – Leah Morin – whose job it was to mark my assignments and answer any questions. Leah is an advanced professional member of the SfEP and has a wealth of copy-editing experience, so I was in very good hands.

Course structure

Copy-editing Headway is divided into five sections. Each section comes with study notes that explain what you need to know to complete the task. Sections 1, 3 and 5 include assignments which are graded by your tutor, and sections 2 and 4 contain exercises that are self-assessed based on a model answer. Your final grade is based on the marks you get from the three marked assignments.

Each section deals with a different topic:

• The first section summarizes everything you should already know about what a copy-editor does and the concepts of good working practice. For the assignment, you are asked to copy-edit a short text from a Christian charity’s newsletter and code/tag the text features for the designer.

• The second section focuses on displayed matter, which are textual features that are not part of the main text body such as headings, lists and quotations. In the exercise, you have to code the text features in a book chapter about non-sexist language and provide a list of instructions for the typesetter.

• The third section deals with the presentation of words, punctuation, and numbers, and how to ensure consistency in editorial style using a style sheet. To test your skills, you are asked to copy- edit and make a comprehensive style sheet for a sample from a book about Jane Austen and her social world.

• The fourth section explains how to edit bibliographies and what to look out for (such as organization of references and citation style). You have the opportunity to test your attention to detail by editing a short bibliography that is filled with irritating inconsistencies.

• The fifth and final section discusses the different types of images and what we, as copy-editors, need to check when editing a text that contains images (such as numbering and referring to figures, editing figure captions and ensuring that all image sources are properly acknowledged). For the assignment, you are asked to copy-edit the text and captions from a book chapter about the history of landscape. The chapter includes two figures and an illustration, which need to be cued into the text.

Overall, I was satisfied with the course structure. There were a variety of texts to practise on, none of which were scientific or medical, so completely new territory for me. It was reassuring to have a qualified tutor assess my editing work in detail. On the other hand, assessing my own work by means of a model answer was also a valuable exercise, as it emphasized the areas I needed to work on.

What did I learn?

I learned how copy-editing for a publisher works. Although I work as a freelance editor and principally edit biomedical research papers for non-native English-speaking scientists, you never know what the future holds and I did find these new insights useful.

For example, I had no idea what a typesetter does, or how to code/tag text features for the designer. Leah was very helpful and sent me a list of codes and explained how to insert them properly into the text. She also explained that coding requires a systematic approach, taking several passes, checking one thing at a time.

I also learned how to use standard proofreading symbols when copy-editing on hard copy – something I have never done before because my clients all want their research manuscripts editing in Word using Track Changes. I found using the symbols oddly satisfying, and although my clients are unlikely to ask me to mark up a hard copy of their research manuscript, it is reassuring to know that I could now do so if asked.

Working through the assignments showed me that good editing depends on how you approach the work. Before, I would take two or three detailed passes on a text, each time looking for any mistakes. While I was able to produce good-quality edits with this method, the course exercises showed me that focusing on specific points during each pass really helps catch errors that may otherwise be missed.

Would I recommend the course?

I would certainly recommend the course, particularly to those who want to work for a publisher. Copy-editing Headway has given me a deeper insight into how copy-editing works in the publishing industry and I am more aware of the specialist skills and terminology involved. Having passed the course, I now have the option to take the advanced copy-editing course (Copy-editing Progress) and potentially move on to the mentoring programme. This sounds enticing, but I will first focus on courses that are more closely related to the type of editing I do. Watch this space for my upcoming review of the SfEP’s Medical Editing course!


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

Have you recently taken a professional development course? Why not share your experiences in the comments below? Or you can contact our Content Manager and write a blog article of your own!

Sunday, 09 September 2018 14:20

Sound, camera, action!

Written by Francis Cox


Geluid loopt. Camera loopt. Actie!’ When I first heard these words in 2010, I thought, ‘I’ve waited my whole life for this.’ Nowadays it’s a cry I hear regularly, because in between working as a freelance English copywriter and occasional translator, I also work as a professional actor in commercials, corporate videos, TV shows, theatre and short films.

In the last 18 months, I’ve been in commercials for Fox Sports, Hollandsnieuwe, Vakantie Veilingen and ANWB. I’ve also played an overbearing boss in a corporate video promoting the Netherlands as a business conference location, and I’ve had small guest roles in two children’s TV shows. Earlier this year, I acted in a fringe theatre production and I’m currently in rehearsals for another.

I love the work. It gets me out from behind my desk, I’ve made lots of new friends and it’s taken my life in a new and exciting direction. I’ve even got to travel a bit. Last year, I had a shoot in Paris for a promotional video (though I didn’t get to see the Eiffel Tower).

Camera potential

As a film lover, I’d always dreamed of being an actor but never did anything about it. Then one Saturday night in 2009, I was at a dinner party at the home of an artist friend and towards the end of the evening he said to everyone, ‘Come down to the studio and I’ll take your pictures.’ So we trooped downstairs and posed as he took photos of us individually and in groups. When my turn came, he took one particular shot and then showed it to my fellow guests. They all said, ‘Wow! You should try doing this professionally.’ A few of them had worked in theatre, advertising and fashion so I took them seriously. If they thought I had camera potential, so would other people. And since I was already a freelancer, I could easily combine modelling work (and later, acting work) with my copywriting business.

Over the years, I’ve taken many of the growing number of English-language acting courses and workshops available in Amsterdam. English-speaking theatre is also growing here too, so there are plenty of opportunities to practise the craft.

I generally get cast as a businessman, doctor, priest, scientist and even the occasional murderer. I’m often asked if I have an agent. The answer is: I have lots of them. Show business in the Netherlands is different than in the UK and the US. Most actors are registered with the many casting agents to whom producers and directors turn when they’re casting projects. Only leading Dutch actors like Carice van Houten and Waldemar Torenstra have an agent, who tends to work more as a manager, negotiating fees and strategically developing the client’s career rather than finding them work.

Paying the bills

Having a successful copywriting business gives me a psychological advantage, I think. When I’m auditioning, I don’t have to worry about paying the mortgage. I can relax and focus on doing the best I can. If I don’t get the part (which is what happens most of the time) it’s not the end of the world, and if I do get the job, it’s wonderful.

My income from acting isn’t enough to pay the bills. It’s difficult to earn a living in any creative profession. But in the last eight years, I’ve developed my acting career and professional network to a point where I now get regular offers of work, both paid and unpaid. At my last TV commercial shoot, the director of photography and the make-up artist were both people I’d worked with before – I’m starting to feel like an industry insider!

If you are curious to see what Francis has been up to recently, check out the links below:

FOX Sports commercial
Hollandsnieuwe commercial
ANWB commercial
#likeholland corporate video

Thursday, 30 August 2018 15:07

The n-word raises its ugly head again

Written by Sally Hill

network event

Perhaps you attended my presentation on networking at the Professional Development Day in September 2017, or at the SENSE Jubilee Conference in November 2015. Or perhaps you read my 2016 article in eSense 40. But even if you’ve never heard of me, you will likely know that freelance language professionals need to use their networks to bring in new clients and stay up to date with developments. (By the way, I hope those of you who attended the conference have, like me, gone on LinkedIn and connected with all those new people you met at the conference. That’s what those business cards are for – then you can throw them in the paper bin!)

Not taking my own advice

Despite all my well-meaning advice to other freelancers, I recently found myself telling myself off at a networking event. It’s so easy to forget those ground rules! The rule I broke? – remembering that not only are the people in your own network potential clients, but also the people in their networks.


I moved house several months ago to a massive new housing development that the Dutch call a Vinex-location (did you know that Vinex stands for Vierde Nota Ruimtelijke Ordening Extra?). It turns out that the Stadshagen development in Zwolle not only houses more than 20,000 people, it also has a local business network. The Stadshagen Ondernemers Platform meets regularly just two minutes’ walk from my house, so how could I not go?

Disability insurance made interesting

The theme of their June meeting was – most excitingly – insurance for business owners, which is actually a topic close to my heart as I am currently sorting out disability insurance and liability insurance for my business. (More about that in another post soon I hope – I’m still getting the paperwork sorted.)

A fellow freelancer from my Broodfonds in Zwolle first gave a presentation about the concept (see my previous article in eSense 44 for more info on this) and about her own experiences after having to report sick. This was followed by a presentation on insurance for business owners, disability insurance in particular, given by an insurance broker who has his own company – very down to earth and easy to follow I must say.

So what went wrong?

After questions and plenty of discussion about the various options for insuring yourself, but before the networking borrel – probably what many of us came for – it was time for a couple of agenda items from the organizing committee. One was a reminder to email them a business card to ask to be profiled on the SOP’s Facebook page to promote our businesses. After all, the page has 250 followers and the freelance florist who was on there recently got several hundred likes.

And here it comes: ‘So what?’, I thought. ‘There’s no point in me advertising my services to other business owners in the area as this is not where my clients are. My potential clients are at universities, hospitals and private companies, not here in the neighbourhood. That’s more for the freelance florists, coaches, event planners, financial advisers and online marketing consultants, not for me.’ WRONG! All those freelancers have their own networks. And the people in their networks may need scientific reports writing or manuscripts editing, or be looking for someone to teach a writing course at their company/lab/university/department.

Just tell people what you do

So as I wandered out to the terrace with a drink in my hand, doing my best to overcome that fear of not knowing anyone and wondering what to say, I ended up giving myself a good talking-to and made sure that I let people know what I did, that I enjoyed what I did and that I am good at it! And yes, I will be sending in my business card to profile my business on the Facebook page – you just never know.

Do you have a networking story to tell? One that led to work? Or even one that went badly? Add your story to the comments or write your own post for the blog. We’d love to hear from you.

Sally HillSally 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.

Tuesday, 10 July 2018 11:58

Blog posts people will want to read

Written by Claire Bacon

bloggingWriting blog articles is a great way to gain exposure and practise your writing skills. If you produce interesting content, you will engage with people and create new opportunities. Marianne Orchard explained how to structure a blog article and make it easy to read in her post published on the SENSE blog earlier this month. Now you know how to write a blog post, you may be wondering what you can write about. Believe it or not, inspiration is everywhere. In this post, I explain how to find enough blog ideas to keep you writing for months.

Problem solving

Good blog articles solve a problem. Think about your target audience – as a language professional your target audience is most likely to be your clients or your peers. What problems do they have? Do you have a solution? If you do, then your reader has a good reason to read your blog.

I write my blog for my clients, who are non-native English-speaking scientists. Many of my ideas come from problems with my clients’ writing. These issues are common among ESL authors – poor paragraph structure, no clear metastructure, redundant information disrupting the flow... and so on. These challenges and their solutions have all made useful blog articles for my clients.

Answer your clients’ questions in a blog post. For example, a client of mine was not sure whether her manuscript needed copyediting or substantive editing. This inspired me to write a post that explained how authors with no real knowledge of editing can determine the appropriate language service for their manuscript.

If you are writing for your fellow language professionals (editors, translators, interpreters, teachers), think about want they want to know. Chances are you know of a problem or two they may be having that you can solve. Maybe you have a few tips on how to handle difficult clients, or how to survive the highs and lows of freelancing? Perhaps you are a computer whizz and can explain how to get the most out of editing software. Share your knowledge and experience.

What’s new?

There is always something to write about. There are new ideas and new developments in every field – you just have to find out what they are. Read relevant publications and follow your colleagues and clients on social media to find out what topics are interesting to them at the moment. Or interview someone who is authoritative in your field about a pressing issue. Don’t get hung up on writing about something that others have already written about – if you have a different take on the subject, put it out there.

Did you try a new product or service recently? Think about writing a review. Maybe you finished an online training course. Tell your readers what you learnt. Don’t vent dissatisfaction in your post – aim for a balanced, honest review that informs the reader and draws clear conclusions.

Conversation can give you great ideas for a blog post. Think about the last time you got into a debate with a colleague or client. Would others find your discussion interesting or useful? Then why not present a balanced argument and share your opinions in a blog post? I got into a discussion with a young researcher some weeks ago about using simple words instead of obscure ones when writing a research manuscript. He was adamant that longer, complicated words and sentence structures are better because they sound clever and are ‘more academic’ (sigh). I argued on behalf of his poor reader. This discussion inspired a blog post on writing for your reader.

Conferences are always a great source of blog material. What interesting things did you learn at the last conference you attended? Why not share your experiences in a blog post? The challenges facing academic editors was a popular topic at the SENSE 2018 conference in June and made me think of my clients and how insights from language editors can help them get their work published. Great blog material.

Get blogging!

Hopefully the tips outlined in this article have given you plenty of ideas for interesting blog articles. If you don’t want to start writing your own blog – maybe because you don’t want the pressure of publishing articles on a regular basis – then why not write for the SENSE blog? We are always looking for new contributors. Our articles are shared widely on social media so writing for us is a great way to increase exposure for your business.

Get in touch with the SENSE Content Manager if you would like to post your next article on the SENSE blog. We look forward to hearing from you. And please share any additional tips you may have on finding ideas for blog posts in the comments below!

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

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