Editing academia: Working with students

320300354_a8e1ce5eef_zI loved academic writing when I was a student, and now I get really excited when I get to work with students as an editor. In the past few months, Talk Science has done formatting, copy-editing and writing coaching for graduate students in sociology, political science and education.

The Editors’ Association of Canada (EAC) has guidelines for working on theses and dissertations that clearly outline everything you should consider. We follow these strictly at Talk Science, and I’ve gone through and picked out a few points to expand on with my own experiences.

The ethical issues Student work brings with it a unique set of issues, particularly from an ethical standpoint. Students are being evaluated on their work, and their writing is meant to reflect their own ability. This is where the ethical fuzziness comes in: How much support can we give before we’re distorting the work away from being an accurate representation of the student’s skills? Where’s the line between helping and doing? One way we figure this out is by identifying which skills the

Resolutions for writers, and why

Minor_Scale_test_explosionApart from sticking to deadlines for timely submission, what other useful habits could/should writers adopt to help workflow? Here are some habits that could help keep the words coming, and why they might help.

Inbox zero and muting the ping!

File this one under “removing distractions.” How many times an hour does that ping of mail arriving interrupt workflow? The answer is too many, so turn off the notifications. In addition to interrupting creative flow, checking emails throughout the day messes with your mood. According to a recent paper from UBC, checking your email less frequently reduces stress.1 In a two-week within-subjects study, Kushlev and Dunn (2015) found that when participants limited inbox inspections to three times per day, they reported lower stress levels than if they checked for new mail as many times as they wanted to throughout the day.

Focusing on email checking as a form of task switching, something already known to negatively impact well-being and increase cognitive load to the point of further distraction, Kushlev and Dunn used an exploratory approach in

International Plain Language Day

October 13th is International Plain Language Day (IPLDay), a celebration of clear communication and the plain language movement. In Vancouver, we celebrated IPLDay a week early at Communication Convergence, a conference that brought together communicators from different fields for an afternoon of discussion. I’m fairly new to the concept of plain language, and throughout the afternoon I began to reflect on how it fits in with my role as a science communicator.

What is the plain language movement?IPLDlarge

The plain language movement encourages writing that is clear and easy to understand. Plain language advocates argue that access to easy-to-understand information is a human right. Often, important communication is difficult to understand: think about medical reports, rental agreements or job contracts. We like to joke about legalese, but misunderstandings of legal or medical documents can have serious consequences. This TED Talk explains it best.

Many governments have passed laws that require government documents to be written in plain language. October 13th was chosen as IPLDay because it’s the day Obama signed the Plain Writing Act of 2010, which states that all US government agencies must use

Copyright: Quotes

My alma mater’s policy on quotation is (loosely paraphrased): “Please for the love of all that is good and pure in the universe, properly attribute all words from external sources so that we don’t need to award you a special mega-F and chisel your academic malfeasance into your headstone.” Point being, at least in my experience, talking to students about quoting is mostly a matter of begging them to actually do it rather than plagiarizing. At no point in my undergrad career did anyone explain the concept of “academic fair use” to me. I happily typed away, quoting (and properly citing, of course) to my heart’s content.

A beautiful tardigrade, easily procured without incurring anyone’s wrath. © Jacopo Werther, 2013 (CC BY 2.0)

The thing about academic fair use is that it only covers you when you’re writing for a school of some kind. Even if you’re absolutely faultless in attributing the words you use, the sources from which you derive them and the use to which you put them both bear on

Forget zombie nouns–watch out for vampire verbs

I don’t often leave a six-hour seminar with more energy than when I came in, but if it’s six hours of language stuff, I’m pumped. This past Saturday the BC branch of the Editors’ Association of Canada hosted a workshop called Eight Step Editing, delivered by veteran editor and writer Jim Taylor, who developed the program in the 1980s. Jim has taught this process literally for as long as I’ve been alive, and I soaked up all the expertise I could. Eight Step Editing provides a framework for the editing process, a systematic way to approach editing that begins with making the fewest changes to the author’s words and becomes progressively more in-depth. I won’t go into the eight steps (you can find a good summary here), but I will share with you what got me so excited.

Words to Avoid in Writing. Image © Roma Ilnyckyj, 2014

In step 5, “Eliminate the Equations,” Jim proposes that sentences have energy, and that this energy depends on their verbs. Of course this makes sense, because verbs usually express some sort of