Editing non-native English: academic editing

2017 update: the latest players in academic editing

eCPD Webinars’ follow-up to Editing non-native English with Joy Burrough-Boenisch looked specifically at academic and scientific texts:

With so many non-native-English university students, academics and scientists expected to write in English there is huge demand for proofreaders and authors’ editors to make their texts fit for purpose. The presenter will discuss the nature of this work: what it entails, methods and techniques to use, and resources to deploy. Attention will also be given to the ethics of editing texts that are to be assessed by academic institutions and/or are intended to be published in pursuit of academic or scientific kudos.

To recap, typical ‘non-native’ features that need to be corrected include learner English problems and transfers from the author’s language and culture.

A growing number of non-native English (NNE) higher education students are required to write in English because they are studying in Anglophone countries or their courses are being taught in English (not always by native English speakers). Scientists are publishing more in English than in their own language.

Both individuals and companies offers editing help. See American Manuscript Editors, who offer to “correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors. He or she will also improve the flow of your paper, eliminate any awkward sentences or phrasing, and ensure that the writing is clear and concise while meeting the formatting requirements of the targeted journal”. This is not just copy or language editing, and could be considered invasive.

In UK universities the language correction services offered to students as ‘proofreading’ (not to be confused with the reading of galley proofs or electronic texts to detect and correct minor errors before the text is published) are often provided by academically trained and generally not commercially-oriented persons.

This term proofreading, which historically the term only applied to the final check of galley proofs against marked-up text, is now used for checking final or near-final version of text and rectifying minor shortcomings. How minor is minor? See True Editing’s Academic Services for details of what they will do.

educateIf the text is to be graded or assessed, there are ethical issues, as writing skills may be part of the assessment. Editing hence entails correcting wrong or strange English, plus addressing other shortcomings.

If the text is an article for a peer reviewed journal or similar the usual aim of editing is to give that person a credible voice in the academic community, and hence editing entails correcting any wrong or strange English and non-Anglophone conventions, plus addressing other shortcomings.

You can choose to edit to educate – the third circle of the Venn diagram.

Ethical editing for students involves fixing language-related errors and flagging errors you think the student should be able to fix. Consider teaching via comments, either via marginal comments or as inline comments inserted in the text, forcing the author to engage with comments and remove them manually.

A further issue is plagiarism – keep an eye open for unexpected changes in style.

Universities are starting to develop policies on proofreading aka academic editing, eg LSE’s Statement on editorial help, Essex on proofreading, which bans noticeboard ads from proofreaders and has developed a register of proofreaders, with regular meetings for ‘control’. Their policy includes, for example, reformatting only a section of a bibliography as an appropriate level of intervention, but rewriting sections, reordering paragraphs or correcting factual errors as not. Substantive or structural editing is the role of the student’s supervisor. (Lots more on this plus examples in slides 57-62. See also Guardian article.

Professional organisation are also beginning to offer guidance. See the Institute of Professional Editors (PDF; 2001; see IPEd) in Australia and the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP), who have published a guide to checking the language of theses and dissertations.

Bottom line: the editor’s contribution should always be acknowledged. It should be clear whether the editor was responsible for the final or near-final draft. (Authors may ‘improve’ the edited manuscript without consulting the editor.) Examples on slides 65-68.

To edit academic texts you should:

  • be familiar with the jargon and discourse conventions of the given field of science (the ‘tribal language’)
  • know the style and conventions of the text genre (eg research article, grant proposal)
  • for journal articles, be acquainted with the journal’s instructions for authors

Google Scholar (dansk) can be used to check that words and phrases are acceptable jargon in both the SL and the TL. If it is only used in the SL try Google Translate. Alternatively a specialist corpus such as Springer Exemplar can be used – it shows the country or usage, over time etc. (Sometimes words do make it out of the SL into broader usage.) If this does not resolve the issue, ask the author!

From the Q&A:

  • to calculate how long it might take, translate 1K words and add on a margin – if it takes 4 hours, you are going to have to re-examine your level of edit and find a compromise; JBB goes with four double spaced pages of text/hour + 1 page wriggle room
  • state that will charge less if takes a shorter time; what if more?
  • the PhD issue – technical translators don’t usually have PhDs in the subject; you can be self educated due to an interest and gain background knowledge cf Karen Shashok, the main thing is to be linguistically gifted, there are techniques you can use; once you specialise in a field you start to feel comfortable with the ‘tribal language’
  • can’t they get away with dodgy English? – one country’s NNE may not be understood by NNSs from another country, the whole thing will get lost in translation; an international norm is needed which is understandable to all; lowering the bar perpetuates errors and may well lead to dodgy English getting into a corpus, or becoming the norm for a tribe, see EU English

Clearly the further you move up the editing scale the more you can charge. Academic proofreading prices range roughly from £16 for a 2,000-word essay to £600 for a doctoral thesis (from ghostwriting article), but Harwood found offers varied widely, with some charging by the hour and some by the word. JBB charges by the hour for editing, but by the word for translating. EASE allegedly charges £29.60/hour (low), while Libro charges (2014) from £6 per 1000 words (standard) and £9 per 1000 words (urgent).

Links:

See also my post on academic writing, which includes some English for Academic Purposes and style links.

Who does it?

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