Monday, 11 July 2022 14:50

UniSIG Report: 1 July 2022

Written by Marianne Orchard

unisig 1jul22 blog image

UniSIG report: Kate Sotejeff-Wilson on social writing: ‘Call it a meeting’

At the UniSIG meeting on 1 July 2022, Kate Sotejeff-Wilson talked about her experience of social writing with academics. Kate is a translator and editor, and she also facilitates writing retreats.
Social writing, Kate explained, is when a group of people get together, either online or offline, to write. The writers set goals together, the facilitator tells the group when to start writing and everyone works on their own project until the facilitator tells them to stop. The group then discusses how the writing went.

Kate mentioned a few things social writing is not: a workshop, in that you don’t critique one another’s writing; a boot camp, in that support is more important than productivity; teaching, in that the facilitator is a peer; and a competition, in that the writers are companions rather than competitors.

Who might benefit from social writing? Anyone, said Kate. Academics come to her retreats but so too do creative writers, and they inspire one another. ‘Someone who’s not involved in your work can see things you can’t see yourself.’ Translators could also try social writing, she added, because it gives you the chance to find your own voice and separate your voice from the author’s.

‘Can the writers be writing in different languages?’ Joy Burrough-Boenisch asked.

‘Yes,’ said Kate. Her social writing retreats are in Finnish and English. ‘I’m like a flight attendant: I stand there and say, “Let’s start writing,” in both languages.’

Why might people want to try social writing? Time, space and community, said Kate. Social writing gives you time to focus and the space to create. And as a community you share a commitment to write. You’re away from distractions such as your phone, social media and email. You set a goal – Kate gave the example of 500 words – and share how it went afterwards. ‘You’ll be amazed how much you get done.’

Kate gave three examples of how to go about social writing: informal writing with colleagues, through a professional organization (eg, MET’s Humanities and Social Science special interest group) and structured social writing (eg, a retreat).

Then it was time to discuss the ideal location for social writing, whether online or in person is better and whether social writing would work in the Netherlands. Would people be willing to travel? Would they do as the facilitator says? Would they be willing to pay? Would it be a good idea to limit numbers?

Start small, was Kate’s advice, and find out what works. Start meeting online or in a café and move on to booking a venue if people are interested. For academics, one of the draws of social writing is being able to devote time to writing, away from other responsibilities like teaching and supervision. ‘Schedule social writing,’ said Kate. ‘Call it a meeting!’

About Kate-Sotejeff-Wilson

Dr Kate Sotejeff-Wilson translates from Finnish, German and Polish into English at KSW Translations. She also edits in English for academic and multilingual writers. She facilitates writing retreats online and in person at Ridge Writing Retreats. She was born in Wales and did her history PhD research in London, Berlin, Poznań and Warsaw. Now she is also a Finn and has lived in Finland since 2012. She is chair of Nordic Editors and Translators.

Tuesday, 28 June 2022 10:25

Zuid-Holland SIG Report: 31 May 2022 in Rotterdam

Written by Suzanne Rietveld

SENSE ZH 02 small

SENSE ZH 01 small

Suzanne Rietveld writes:

On 26 March 2022, I attended the online AGM to see what was happening at SENSE and to meet some of my colleagues. Someone mentioned that the new members seemed less active than expected. This was the moment that I wanted to contribute to the discussion. I explained that this reduced activity should be reviewed within the context of the Covid situation. I told the other members that I registered with SENSE in January 2020 and was eager to see what kind of people I would meet, and what options there would be to learn and interact with mindlike colleagues. All this was disturbed by several lockdowns and restrictions. So, the new members were not less active by choice but by the circumstances of the last two years.

I wanted to put my money where my mouth was and volunteered to host the Zuid Holland SIG on 31 May 2022, advertising the event with the great views from my apartment in De Rotterdam! The event needed a theme, so I decided to give the attendees some tips and tricks on subtitling. That was quite scary, I must confess. Providing the view and the catering was something I was used to, but preparing a talk about subtitling was a challenge because I am not used to speaking in public and I was not 100% sure that I was the right person to share my knowledge.

So, after the invitation was posted online and the first attendees started to sign up, I started to prepare my presentation. I assumed that most of the colleagues would not be experienced with subtitling, other than an odd job in Word, and that some of them would be familiar with the discussion about the specialized skills involved. I wanted to explain more about the technical side of the profession and started my presentation by explaining that my training consisted of a 10-week course of 2 hours per week at ITV Utrecht. So not something I could share within half an hour.

The main issue with subtitling is the fact that reading a sentence takes longer than listening to a sentence, leading to restrictions in reading speed and the number of characters per second. This, combined with a limit in characters per line, often leads to the need to compact the title's content without losing the conveyed message. I use Subtitle Edit myself and showed its settings such as characters per second (around 14–16) and the title's length (between 1 and 8 seconds and with a maximum of 40 characters per line).

I also explained that I prefer to 'spot' the titles by eye instead of by ear. I use the waveform that comes with every MP4 file to do so. The waveform is a graph that shows the speaker's volume and therefore is very useful to mark the start and end of a spoken sentence. Depending on the length and structure of the sentence, you decide how many titles you will need for this particular sentence.

We discussed the ways to shorten the titles, such as leaving out repetitions, stop words, adjectives, adverbials, quantifiers and introductory phrases. The conclusion was that we should only compact the title if this is really necessary. In the end, the afternoon went very well. We all fitted around my table (11 people) and enjoyed the cakes from the local bakery. We got to know each other better, and everyone seemed happy with the shared information.

The overall message was that a subtitle has to convey the right message, and the reader should be able to finish reading the title before it disappears off-screen. Yes, subtitling involves special skills, but don't be afraid to give it a go if a task comes up and offers some flexibility on time spent, and in the worst case, to ask a friend. I proofread and subtitle in English and Dutch 😊



Tuesday, 21 June 2022 18:00

SENSEMed Report: June 2022 workshop in Utrecht

Written by Claire Bacon

impostor syndrome image from canva for blog 7apr22

All together again: a summary of the SENSEMed workshop in Utrecht

On 11 June, after 27 long months of Zooming, SENSEMed members finally met in person in Utrecht for a one-day workshop on working with medical texts. Daphne Visser-Lees kicked off with a lively session on translating medical texts from Dutch into English. She explained which texts might need expert medical knowledge to translate (such as case reports and articles) and which ones probably don’t (leaflets for patients, medical insurance documents). She then led us through two translation exercises. The first highlighted common terminology issues we might face when translating medical texts from Dutch into English – for example, Hernia typically refers to a herniated or slipped disc in Dutch whereas it generally means an abdominal hernia in English. The second explained how to decipher and translate case notes from a Dutch GP (not always – or never – easy!). Daphne’s extensive medical experience serves her well when tackling these difficult jobs and we were all grateful for the opportunity to learn from her knowledge and expertise.

Sally Hill and Curtis Barrett were up next with their editing slam. Sally and Curtis had both edited an abstract from a medical research article and presented and explained their changes sentence by sentence. This was an engaging session with plenty of questions and input from the audience. Sally and Curtis had both improved the clarity and readability of the text with their changes – but they did not always agree on what changes were best. This session highlighted just how subjective editing can be and that there is never one right solution to a difficult sentence. It also highlighted how we need to be aware of changes in scientific style and keep in mind that our own preferences (such as whether to use the Oxford comma or italicize Latin words) may not align with the style guide our client has to follow. Sally and Curtis finished up by giving a useful summary of what they do before starting an editing project and before delivering an edited file, both of which involve careful and specific communication with the client. A very enlightening session overall.

After a tea break, Sally was up again to talk to us about medical writing. Sally moved from freelance to in-house work last year after accepting a job as a senior scientific writer for the biotech company Merus. The goal of her talk was clear: to make us aware that medical writing exists. Job done. She explained what kind of texts medical writers are typically asked to produce (broadly divided into regulatory writing and medical communications) and what skills a medical writer should have (writing skills, scientific expertise, document expertise, and project management skills). To highlight how important (and complicated!) project management can be for a medical writer, Sally led us through a short exercise where we had to list the things we would need to consider before developing a timeline for a proposed writing project. The session was informative and inspiring, and Sally may well have succeeded in recruiting some future medical editors into her fold.

The participants were all grateful to Curtis, Daphne and Sally for taking the time and trouble to organize such a great workshop. We were all delighted to see each other in person again and are looking forward to many more such events in the future!


Thursday, 07 April 2022 16:14

Overcoming impostor syndrome

Written by Sally Hill

impostor syndrome image from canva for blog 7apr22

SENSE’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) is always held at the end of March. It is when the Society’s members get to hear what the Executive Committee (EC), the Special Interest Groups (SIGs) and various volunteer teams have been up to. We approve the previous year’s finances, approve the budget for the coming year, thank outgoing EC members and vote in new blood. We also thank the other volunteers who have been offering their time and help – often behind the scenes. In pre-pandemic times, the AGM was also a great opportunity to meet new members and catch up with each other at the coffee machine outside the meeting room.

Whether or not you attended this year’s online AGM, if you’ve been paying attention you will know that I was recently elected as SENSE’s Chair. For me it’s a great honour and, since we did not have a dedicated chairperson last year, this will put the EC in a stronger position as it steers the Society out of the pandemic. I’m sure that, like me, many of you are keen to start meeting up in person again. In this, we will be ably assisted by the two other people just elected to the EC: Curtis Barrett as the new Treasurer and Maaike Meijer as the new CPD Coordinator.

Back in time

Becoming Chair has reminded me just how far I’ve come personally within SENSE. It seems not so long ago that I was new to the profession, very much in awe of the experience and knowledge of other SENSErs. Back in 2009, I had left my job as a biology teacher to become a freelance medical translator. I had no language or translation or editing qualifications, and precious little experience – I felt like such an impostor! Who was I to expect to be paid for translating or editing? Surely others were much better at it? What were other SENSE members going to think of someone like me?

First Forum post

It was not long after I joined that, with some trepidation, I posted my first terminology question on the members’ Forum, which in those days was an email-based system where your question got sent to the entire membership. I must have spent about three hours composing a 228-word email asking whether I should use the -ise or -ize spelling in translated textbooks for Dutch bilingual secondary schools. I was so afraid of making a mistake, or sounding stupid, or asking something so darned obvious I’d be laughed out of town. But of course, I needn’t have worried. Fourteen friendly SENSE members took the trouble to reply and offer their advice and opinions, which greatly helped me to decide – if you’re curious, I went with -ise spelling.

Increased visibility

At the time, although I was still very much a starter in the translation and editing world, this positive experience made me realize that other members might be more approachable than I thought. And with time, I also gained enough confidence to offer my own opinion on questions asked by others. In fact, a science-related question that I was able to answer led to someone asking me to help teach a course in scientific writing. That was the first of several such courses that I ended up teaching at Dutch universities, and all thanks to SENSE; not to mention all the other translation and editing work that came in through word-of-mouth referrals.

Don’t be shy!

Fast forward 13 years, and I’m no longer a starter and no longer a freelancer, but still a keen and active member of SENSE. Now I have made it all the way to Chair of the Society, I feel much less of an impostor. And in fact that’s my main message: if you’re new to SENSE and perhaps lacking in confidence, I want to encourage you to get out of your comfort zone like I did and connect with other members. The pandemic has naturally prevented in-person networking for a couple of years, but until that picks up again, you could consider posting something on our closed Forum, attending a SIG meeting, or volunteering your time for SENSE. That way, when you attend your first live SENSE workshop, not everyone will be a stranger. For introverts – or in fact for many of us who have been unable to attend professional events during the pandemic – it can be quite stressful to turn up not knowing anyone. And I’m speaking from experience.

Of course, as I’ve mentioned before, volunteering for a professional organization is an excellent way to network with others and showcase your knowledge and experience, which the Society will be glad to make use of. And if you are a freelancer or have your own business, it’s free marketing! You can read more about how I used networking to build my business in an article I wrote for SENSE back in 2016.

Back to in-person events

The newly composed EC is already hard at work. The first EC meeting is scheduled in the first half of April, with a more comprehensive meeting at the end of May. One of the topics we are already discussing is of course in-person meetings – where, how, and when we are going to get together as members of the Society. I sincerely hope that SENSE will soon be able to offer you a programme of both offline and online events. This includes the SIG meetings which are often a first point of contact for new members. If you are interested in setting up a new SIG or helping an existing SIG to arrange meetings, the EC is available to help in any way we can.

I hope to meet many of you in person sometime soon. In the meantime, if you have a question or would like to share your thoughts, do feel free to drop me a line at

Blog post by: Sally Hill
LinkedIn: sally-hill-nl
Twitter: SciTexts
Tuesday, 08 March 2022 17:50

Dutch translation of All God’s Dangers

Written by Frans Kooymans

 all gods dangers blog post

Over the past year and a half, Frans Kooymans has been working on what he calls his ‘corona project’ – the translation of All God’s Dangers by Theodore Rosengarten.

Frans writes: I picked up this big book (some 580 pages) back in 1975, when I was still living in the Southern US. It is the life story of Nate Shaw, an illiterate Black sharecropper who spent his entire life as a cotton farmer in Alabama. He was already in his eighties when Rosengarten, a young historian from the North at the time, happened to meet him while doing research on a defunct sharecropper’s union.

The old man turned out to be an amazing storyteller, with an even more amazing memory. In the years following, Rosengarten spent hundreds of hours with Shaw in the man’s shelter with his tape recorder, as Shaw unfolded numerous details of his long life in the cotton fields. All these stories were then transcribed, which led to the publication of the book in late 1974 (shortly after Shaw died at the age of 87).

I was fascinated with the book back then, but it sat in my bookcase until a couple of years ago, when I reread it and became fascinated once again by Shaw’s tales. And I decided that, in light of the heat of the Black Lives Matter movement and the attention also here in the Netherlands on our colonial and slavery past, it would be worthwhile to translate it into Dutch. Not an easy task, because the book is entirely in Shaw’s diction, the slang of the Southern states. I succeeded in locating Rosengarten, a professor of both Black and Jewish history at the University of Charleston in South Carolina, and proceeded with his full support.

I have now nearly finished the translation and (after a long and sometimes frustrating search) have found a publisher, ISVW, the Internationale School voor Wijsbegeerte. The book is scheduled to be published this coming fall. The title is likely to be De kleur van katoen.

Tuesday, 08 March 2022 14:34

UniSIG Report: Editing for researchers in Germany and the Czech Republic

Written by Joy Burrough-Boenisch

 unisig 18feb22

At the 18 February UniSIG meeting, SENSE member Linda Jayne Turner talked about her experience working for clients in academia in Germany and the Czech Republic. A teaching job at Charles University brought Linda to Prague in 2004, and while she has remained there, she also has many clients in Germany, where she lived previously. She mostly edits journal articles written by academics to be submitted to journals (mainly in the social sciences); she also edits colleagues’ English translations from German and Czech.

In her talk, Linda touched on some of the differences between working for clients in the two countries. In general, she thinks her Czech clients are more diffident about their prowess in English and more relaxed about deadlines. Her German academic clients pay higher rates and expect to be invoiced per hour’s work (that’s generally equivalent to editing about 1000 words), whereas in the Czech Republic she is expected to charge per page (assuming 1800 characters per page), but can also charge an hourly rate in some cases. Her German clients often have to request bids from three language professionals, but don’t always go for the cheapest, preferring instead to give the assignment to Linda, whose work they trust and appreciate. Invoices issued to German universities should ideally be paid into German banks to avoid additional paperwork, so Linda has kept her bank account in Germany.

It seems that the bugbear in both countries is Kafkaesque bureaucracy. Although Kafka’s depiction of the Czech establishment arises from his own experience of the system in Prague imposed in the days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Linda thinks present-day German bureaucracy is even more convoluted.

Linda makes a point of visiting Germany several times a year, under normal circumstances, and when she does, she contacts her clients in advance to invite them to meet up with her. These informal meetings are usually at the end of the working day and take place in a café, restaurant or bar. Chatting over coffee, a meal or a drink is a good way to get to know more about clients and to get useful feedback from them. It also makes it easier to deal with any subsequent issues that might arise while working together.

At this lively UniSIG meeting there was plenty of input from the 24 attendees. It was pointed out that in Germany and the Netherlands, agencies corner editing and translation work through aggressive marketing, and the texts they supply to their university clients are sometimes in poor English. Linda’s mention of her arrangements for receiving payment from German clients sparked recommendations for companies to use for receiving payments from non-euro clients: PayPal, Wise (formerly TransferWise) and Stripe (cheaper than Paypal).

smaller zoom meeting 10 deceember

UniSIG’s last meeting of 2021 (10 December) was a presentation by Fiona Richards, a 3rd-year PhD student at Sheffield University (UK). Whatever the many downsides of the pandemic, one of the benefits is the increasing geographical spread of SENSE members able to attend our presentations on Zoom. On this occasion, for example, members from the Netherlands were joined by members from countries as far afield as South Africa and Finland.

Fiona’s field of study is Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. Her research, supervised by Nigel Harwood (speaker at a previous UniSIG meeting), involves investigating proofreading practices at a UK university from the perspectives of L2 (English as a second language) students, proofreaders and lecturers. The aim is to determine the extent to which proofreaders can help students improve their English writing, while simultaneously adhering to proofreading guidelines intended to uphold academic integrity. As Fiona explained, her interest in proofreading practices at a tertiary level stems from her background in teaching pre-sessional courses in which she has seen the challenges faced by L2 students producing written work for assessment.

During her presentation Fiona discussed the preliminary findings from the interviews she held with a student writer (high IELTS score), the student’s proofreader, a senior lecturer and a retired senior lecturer, followed by a brief discussion of the implications of her data and their bearing on university proofreading guidelines.

Her focus was on how they viewed the ethical appropriateness of the following types of proofreading interventions made to the student’s thesis:

  • additions (1-5 words);
  • deletions;
  • substitutions (one word for another);
  • reordering (word order);
  • structural editing (eg, moving paragraphs);
  • rewriting (advising changes to meaning and content);
  • mechanical alterations (eg, adding italics, punctuation, applying conventions).

The post-presentation discussions covered issues familiar to many SENSE members, including:

  • The continuing confusion between proofreading and copy editing;
  • Differences between writing acceptable for assessment and writing acceptable for publication;
  • ‘Mixed messages’ from lecturers who sometimes seem hostile to students genuinely wanting to improve their English by having their work revised by a language-editor/coach. In this respect, the guidelines for students are sometimes unclear;
  • Affordability of editing: although universities may provide writing advice services, students are not always aware of them, and not being able to afford a professional editor can put students at a disadvantage;
  • Whether proofreaders should explain their proposed changes (by inserting a comment, for example) or just make the change;
  • Dangers of overzealous proofreading (‘doctoring the evidence’ or ‘silencing the author’s voice’).

Fiona hopes to complete her PhD in the coming year and in future to investigate a wider range of student work, including work by students with lower levels of English as a foreign language. We wish her all the best.


Friday, 17 December 2021 18:19

UniSIG report: From telling to showing – editing personal grant applications

Written by Sally Johnson

unisig zoom 26nov21

“Write about what makes you stand out in the field.”
“Show why the world should care.”

Tia Nutters and Hiske Feenstra, academic editors for the Talent Development (TD) programme of the University of Groningen (UG), shared these insights and much more at the UniSIG on 26 November. Twenty-seven SENSErs dialled in to learn about how the in-house TD editing team works and the kind of writing advice they give to applicants to increase the chances of their grant proposals getting funded.

The Talent Development programme serves to provide career-long support to academics, from PhD researchers to Nobel Prize winners. The TD team has its own management and support staff, including five editors and two trainers who collaborate on applications for personal grants, ie, NWO Talent Programme (Rubicon, Veni, Vidi, Vici) and European Research Council (ERC Starting, Consolidator, Advanced), as well as nominations for prizes and memberships. The SIG session looked at personal grants.

With the TD editors focusing on proposal texts and the trainers providing training in writing and interview skills and individual coaching, their support spans the entire application process: idea collection > proposal strategy > content (structure, organization, logic, argumentation) > proposal set-up > final proposal (language edit) > rebuttal > interview.

Once a call for proposals has been sent out to the UG faculties, the editing team know they won’t be able to support every application. They therefore set a cap and the faculty funding officers identify the most promising candidates within their faculties for TD support. The team then divide the work and provide two substantive editing rounds, if time allows, followed by a final language edit which is usually done by a second editor. The ideal length of support is 3 to 4 months, but this can be as little as 4 weeks.

Tia and Hiske showed some extracts of proposals they received and the advice they gave. Their approach is most often to shift focus, for example:

From: To:
Information reporting, ie, a chronological report of what the scientist did. Looking ahead and telling the reviewers what this proposal means for the world.
Being too general in describing the scientific and/or societal impact of the proposed project or being obvious about the project’s “commercial viability”, which could imply making a profit (knowledge utilization section of NWO grant applications). Explaining how the project will make sure the impact will happen (impact plan) and how the project will track other potential impact the project might yield (eg, a network, a warning mechanism). If relevant, focusing on commerce as a contribution to societal impact rather than an end goal.
Writing generic statements, especially in the academic profile, that can apply to anyone. Avoiding list-like chronologies. Writing statements that make the candidate special. Emphasizing how a result happened or an achievement was made. Looking ahead, eg, what the applicant’s mission and vision are. In other words, selling!
 Focusing on negative emotions or experiences in rebuttals. Positive messaging, eg, how they addressed a challenge, what they could do further, what they learned and changed.

As is often the case, editing is a balance between the time available and the scope of changes to propose – making changes directly, making suggestions for revisions or rewriting an entire paragraph/section.

Thursday, 02 December 2021 12:00

Southern SIG report: on using MS Word shortcuts to boost productivity

Written by Jasper Pauwels


As a professional wordsmith, you of course know what shortcuts are. You are probably using some in your daily work, like CTRL+S to save your work or CTRL+Z to undo whatever you shouldn’t have done. Chances are that you have considered the many more out there that you should be using.

Indeed, you really want to use keyboard shortcuts as much as possible, because they help you work more quickly, make your work easier and they reduce the risk of RSI from swinging that mouse around. No wonder most software programs include many handy shortcuts – Microsoft Word alone includes over 200 of them. But memorizing hundreds of shortcuts is quite a daunting task, so how do you know which ones are really worth remembering?

Luckily, Linda Comyns was so kind as to explain which Word shortcuts she finds most useful as a translator, an editor and a teacher. Attendees of this online SENSE event were encouraged to try out the different shortcuts in their own files and they were exuberant about their new editing superpowers. Below are my personal favourites:

I was delighted by the discovery that I can move to the next word to the left or to the right of the cursor or move up or down a paragraph using CTRL+arrow keys. That is decidedly easier than moving one character or one line at a time without the CTRL key. Similarly, Shift+CTRL+arrow keys will select words or paragraphs in the desired direction. When I try to select bits of texts with my mouse, I usually ended up selecting more or fewer words than I intended. Using Shift+CTRL+arrow keys to select the text before cutting (CTRL+X) and pasting (CTRL+V) it are real timesavers for me.

If you need to do a lot of formatting in Word, you will find CTRL+B, CTRL+I and CTRL+U very helpful to put words in bold, italics or to underline them. Removing all the manual formatting could not be easier than hitting CTRL+Spacebar. Do you need a heading? ALT+CTRL+1/2/3 will apply heading style 1, 2 or 3 in no time.

Naturally, you can do all these things with your mouse, but once you get the hang of it, using the mouse suddenly feels very cumbersome indeed. Although a few shortcuts are fairly universal, not all of these will work across Office applications or on other operating systems. Mac users can try the Command or Alt key, press Shift+Command or look up the Mac-specific keyboard shortcuts they need.

I was not the only attendee who learnt something new that day; many members and non-members got excited about these new ways of working. Some members even spontaneously shared their own favourite productivity tips.

Of course, we could not possibly round off a Southern SIG meeting without appointing the southern-most attendee as Southern SIG Member of the Month. This highly coveted honour was bestowed on Nina Woodson this time, who joined us from Los Angeles, USA – congratulations, Nina!

Thursday, 04 November 2021 12:00

Five things I learned from my editing courses

Written by Marieke Krijnen

Canva Wooden Table with Notebook

Like all other professionals, editors need training. While you may be great at grammar and have always been able to spot typos from afar, the editing process involves a lot more than simply correcting grammar and spelling mistakes (although this is an essential part of it!). In fact, I would argue that the majority of the work editors do consists of other things:

  • Strengthening a text’s message and improve its clarity, flow, and coherence by changing words, phrases, and overly long sentences (depending on their mandate of course);
  • Improving a text’s accuracy by fact-checking names, dates, and titles;
  • Clarifying a text’s structure by inserting and/or formatting headings to create a clear outline;
  • Ensuring that citations and references are formatted correctly, that sources have been properly cited, and that any potential ethical or legal issues are flagged;
  • Ensuring that author guidelines, spelling preferences, and style guides are applied consistently and correctly.

All this requires training because how does one, for example, improve a text’s clarity? This is a vague requirement that is made a lot more concrete with examples and exercises, of which I’ve had plenty in the past years. Since starting my editing training, I have completed three out of the five courses of Queen’s University’s Professional Editing Standards program (“Fundamentals of Editing Standards,” “Copyediting Standards I,” and “Copyediting Standards II”) and one SfEP course (“Brush Up Your Grammar“) [The ‘Brush up on your Grammar’ course is no longer offered by CIEP, but a similar course about the same topic is, ‘Getting to Grips with Grammar and Punctuation’ – Ed, 2023]. I’m planning to take the remaining two Queen’s courses (“Proofreading Standards” and “Structural Editing Standards”) next year in order to obtain the certificate.

This is not where it ends, of course; any professional editor will engage in lifelong learning in order to stay up to date and hone their skills. I’m definitely planning to take more advanced copyediting and grammar courses and sharpen my MS Word skills in the future (especially concerning macros and wildcards).

For now, I’d like to share a few things that I have learned from my editing courses, thanks to fantastic instructors and colleagues. Of course, I learned much, much more than I can convey in one blog post, but I hope the selection below gives an idea.


First, I significantly strengthened my grammar skills. I especially improved my understanding of restrictive and non-restrictive clauses, subject/object cases of pronouns (“you and I” vs. “you and me,” “whom” vs. “who,” and “it is me” vs.  “it is I”), and number agreement (the majority of readers is or are?).

I practiced many of these at Peck’s English Pointers, a great, free resource with explanations and tests (I still refer to my notes on these whenever I am not sure about something!). I especially enjoyed the article “More Dubious Agreement.” Oh, to be able to write so clearly and understandably about grammar! Also, fun fact: did you know that 156 pages were devoted to the subjunctive in An Historical Syntax of the English Language, 1963–73, by F. Th. Visser? The stuff you learn!


Second, I learned to approach editing projects in stages and work with checklists, because there are so many steps involved in an edit. I developed several checklists that help me make sure…

  • …that I understand what the edit involves before I start: what is the preferred style and spelling? Are there style guidelines? To what extent is fact-checking involved? Do I check all elements? What is the intended audience of a text? What is its purpose? etc. This also helped me estimate how long a job would take and hence how much I should charge;
  • …that a text is complete: are all references in the reference list present in the text and vice versa? Are all claims properly substantiated? Do the references contain all necessary elements (author, publication year/title, place of publication, and so on)? Are all abbreviations, tables, figures, etc. listed in the lists of abbreviations, tables, figures? Do all visual elements have captions? Etc.
  • …that a text is consistent: Are all headings and captions styled in the same way? Are tenses used logically and consistently? Is language appropriately and consistently formal or informal? Are tables formatted consistently? Is capitalization and punctuation applied consistently? Etc.
  • …that a text is correct: Do percentages in tables make sense? Do graphs and other visual elements show what the author says they show? Are there any spelling and grammar mistakes?

Third, I learned how to query authors effectively, politely, and clearly. Writers work hard to get their words on paper, and no one is served by unclear or harsh comments. I learned to clearly state what it is that I find problematic, why I suggest a certain change, and, if applicable, which options an author has if they want to rephrase a sentence. Depending on the context, I usually go ahead and change something myself, but whenever I feel that a change needs an explanation, I provide one. I always phrase my feedback citing the reader, in whose interest I work at the end. Some examples of diplomatic queries or comments:

  • “Can you insert a reference for this claim please?”
  • “Please make sure the citation is 100% accurately copied, as this seems to be a mistake.”
  • “The meaning of this sentence is unclear. Did you mean [insert interpretation 1] or [insert interpretation 2]. If you meant [interpretation 1], please write [suggestion 1]. If you meant [interpretation 2], please write [suggestion 2].”
  • “Could you add a time period or year to this event? The reader may not know when this occurred.”
Clarity, conciseness, coherence, and flow

Fourth, I learned a lot about effectively improving a text’s clarity, conciseness, coherence, and flow. Is there a less convoluted, more specific, clearer way of stating something? Through studying textbooks and practicing with countless examples, I learned about noun strings, parallel constructions, nominalizations, active/passive voice, paragraph/sentence structure/emphases/length, comma splices, run-on sentences, dangling modifiers, tone, mood, style, voice, needless words, and more. Some fun examples from my own editing work and course exercises:

  • As Foucault’s genealogical work and all those who followed him demonstrates -> As Foucault’s genealogical work and that of all those who followed him demonstrate …
  • beliefs that are at war with each other -> warring beliefs
  • may merely be the beginning -> may be merely the beginning
  • Scholars first placed under strict scrutiny -> Scholars first thoroughly scrutinized
  • either due to accidents or gross negligence -> due to either accidents or gross negligence
  • We conducted an analysis -> We analyzed
  • This paper is an investigation into information processing behavior involved in computer human cognition simulation -> This paper investigates how computers process information when they simulate human thought.

Finally, while editors are not responsible for the final form in which a text is published, we have a duty to flag issues that can lead to claims of plagiarism, copyright violation, defamation, invasion of privacy, or libel. As a former academic, I was very well aware of what plagiarism is and how to avoid or detect it, but it was interesting to learn about what constitutes libel in different jurisdictions and what the deal is with using trademarks in fiction. However, ethics are not just about avoiding being sued by someone. They’re also about fairly representing people, avoiding racist, sexist, ableist, ageist, and other biased language. Is it necessary to mention someone’s gender, race, age, or hair color? Can we change a sentence like, “A good doctor will use his knowledge and experience when diagnosing his patients” into “A good doctor will use their knowledge and experience…”?

Some resources:

I hope this post has given you an idea of the depth and width of editing training. If you have any questions or want more examples, feel free to contact me!

This blog post was originally published on Marieke Krijnen's blog.

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