IPEd Editors Conference

The 10th IPEd Editors Conference will be hosted online on Monday 28 June 2021 to Wednesday 30 June 2021.

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IPEd Strategic Plan July 2020 to June 2023.

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The branches of IPEd host workshops, seminars, member meetings and other events that are open to all IPEd members and non-members. Information and booking details are listed on the Events page of this website.

From the president: committee report

Hi all

As we settle into life under our new Zoom overlords, I have been thinking a lot about how the world is changing and how editors are one of the groups best suited to our state-imposed lifestyle. As one of the vulnerable, I have been working from home for over a month and spending my time in exile connecting with friends for crafterZooms, dancing in the dark with strangers online, baking (of course), and doing some editing with a writer friend. The main things I miss are hanging out in the park with my nephews and being able to select the most gorgeous bunch of spinach at the markets (the markets are open but I am not interacting with the outside world beyond a solo morning walk).

I am optimistic the isolation and distancing restrictions will foment an enormous creative outpouring for writers who in a few months will be knocking on our virtual doors seeking editorial guidance. Fingers crossed!

Following the raging success of our first Zoom member meeting last month, our May speaker Jeni Lewington is sure to draw a crowd. Jeni’s presentation delves into editing with disability. This presentation was selected for a Canadian editing conference which has sadly been cancelled due to the pandemic, but we can still benefit from Jeni’s experience. (This was written before Jeni's presentation. A report will be in the next issue.)

EdQ is looking at new opportunities for professional development (PD) now that travel is no longer a barrier. If you have got an idea of what type of PD you would like, let Lorraine know (edqld.training@iped-editors.org). Even better if you have got an idea of who could deliver the PD (bonus points for having a connection already to break the ice!).

In membership news, Editors Queensland currently has 235 active financial members.

In the past month we welcomed associate members James Ayres and Eloise O’Toole.

Christine Atkinson

Member meeting reports 

Topic: Plain English, plain language and a virtual advantage!
by Lainie Peltohaka

Dr Judy Gregory
Photo credit: Julia Sudull

As a current member of IPEd’s Queensland Branch and former employee of the super-skilled Dr Judy Gregory (at her now-closed café and gift shop in Brisbane; see her book, Newbies In The Café for more on that enterprise), I had to tune in via Zoom to attend the April Editors Queensland branch meeting—this time, from my lounge! The COVID-19 virus has necessitated such an innovative format for our meetings, of course, but this enabled around 36 editors to participate from across IPEd; despite some later good-natured ribbing from Queensland colleagues, our southern (and other branch) counterparts were most welcome! Many even attended with drinks in hand, as we would have done in less restrictive circumstances anyway.

President Christine Atkinson opened the meeting with some introductions before mention was made of our 235-strong membership and the increased likelihood that we all attend future meetings in this virtual manner. Such steps had been discussed in the recent past anyway, but the current government directives provided the imperative for them to happen now. It is a great opportunity to take advantage of our collective ability to adapt.

Judy’s topic for this meeting was ‘plain language’ (writing for those with a reasonable level of literacy, as distinct from ‘easy English’ for those with lower literacy skills); with her professional training and background in writing consultancy for governments and other large corporate clients, Judy’s business has always been in ‘taking complex concepts and making them simple’. 

As it turns out, plain language is itself not such a straightforward subject as some might think, but Judy’s expertise simplified the varying thoughts we may all have had on the subject throughout the meeting. As she said, ‘If you’re an editor, you do plain language!’ However, just as skills develop over time, what is considered to be plain language can change over time. It is not stable, and plain English is not a ‘set and forget’ activity. Within both practitioner and reader (the audience for whom we do this work), and among communications between them, it is a ‘slippery concept’ covering different levels of understanding, encompassing many dependencies, and with varying levels of success. Plain language, as Judy puts it simply, is ‘not a fixed concept free of context’.

Plain language is not necessarily something you learn easily (‘it’s not a discipline in its own right; it’s not even a qualification you can do’); it’s not just about ‘correctness’, but about ‘creating success for your readers’. The more you know of a discipline, the harder it is to remember what you did not know, or what your reader would not know, so the harder it is to communicate to those readers; it is about your audience, and what will sit in their minds, rather than about some flawed but readily measurable readability index. Plain language is ‘different things to different people’ and its use is not a guarantee; meaning is what really matters, and writing in plain language enhances the experience for your readers (here, Judy used the analogy of Beatrice Warde’s ‘Crystal Goblet’ design theory and referenced Robyn Penman’s idea that the audience is the only real judge).

Judy, being a gold-level certifier with PlainLanguagePro, believes that the use of plain language can result in measurable outcomes, though, with practitioners and clients saving money by avoiding misunderstandings, and by showing an orientation to engagement with readers, allowing them greater participation. She has just finished a consultancy job with Logan City Council, where they badly needed a more stable, popular, informative website that worked on mobiles and followed more modern online reading trends. They have now ‘become the first council in Australia to achieve Gold-level certification for its website from PlainLanguagePro. The certification confirms that Logan City Council applied plain language principles in developing its new website.’ The Logan City Council has therefore made a public statement of commitment to its audience of constituents.

Such plain language accreditation schemes as the UK’s ‘Crystal Mark’ are not without their critics, especially in the academic sphere (although, in our current coronavirus-induced quarantine, the Plain English Campaign’s Gobbledygook Generator could provide us word nerds with some online fun). The layperson’s limited understanding of these accreditation schemes could set editors and other plain language practitioners up for a fall if end users expect perfection, or compare accreditation levels in ways which were not intended.

PlainLanguagePro’s three levels—Bronze, Silver and Gold—are not a linear progression, with one level being better than another, but provide a peer-reviewed indication of process: the Bronze level shows that plain language principles were applied in the process of writing; the Silver, in both research and writing; and the Gold level, that plain language was used in research and writing, which was then revised. Plain language needs a high-level champion, regular review, training for all writers and a commitment to delivering what customers want to read.

Judy Gregory has prepared a tool she uses in conjunction with PlainLanguagePro (comprising considerations of audience, purpose, content, complexity, structure, graphics and format, among others); she’s willing to share it with others, as she humbly says none of it is particularly original to her. She is a high-level champion for plain language, who always considers readers and what is best for them. And she is a champion for other writers, to encourage them to use plain language for their readers too.

Visit Judy’s website judygregorywriter.com.au, to access the information she’s graciously shared there (including the tools she uses, like the one mentioned above, and other resources she recommends). And—especially if you are using quarantine as ‘time to write’—incorporate a few hours to consider your audience before you write.

Member article: Editing slam! Borders no barrier
by Ruth Davies AE

We must take our silver linings as they come. A few weeks ago I was lucky enough, entirely because of the global lockdown, to join in an editing slam held by SENSE (the Society of English-language professionals in the Netherlands). Thanks to our new circumstances, about 16 of us—people in the Netherlands, Australia, Switzerland, Germany and Spain—were able to meet over Zoom. 

The setup was that two SENSE members, Sally Hill and Daphne Lees, had both edited the discussion section of a journal article written by a Chinese author about a particular kind of surgery. Attendees had been sent the section in Word—so we could make our own edits—as well as the PDF of the full article, so we could read the discussion in context.

During the session, Sally shared her screen to show us three pieces of text: the original, her tracked edits and Daphne’s tracked edits. We then discussed how their edits differed, and what further changes we had made. 

Apart from the mechanics, a key theme came out of the (very gentle) slam: if the text is for an audience of peers, familiarity with the topic is important. With Daphne having more experience in this field than Sally, she was able to avoid some queries because she knew a) what the author meant, and b) how to fix any errors. Sally had raised this as a point right at the start, saying that the first thing you need to ask yourself when editing in these specialist fields is ‘Do I understand enough to do this job?’ 

After we had been through the text, Sally showed us a summary of the types of changes. Most editors will find the mechanical ones and address them in fairly similar ways; these include corrections to prepositions, articles, modal verbs, subject–verb agreement, plurals, punctuation, tenses and style issues. However, there was more variety between Sally and Daphne—and across the bigger group—when it came to redundancy, wordiness, word choice and word order. 

There were also some nuances that came from being aware of the cultural background of the author, such as knowing that patients in Chinese hospitals are often cared for by their families. This kind of knowledge can be developed through your relationship with your client. Another good tip was to begin that relationship by sending a small section of edited text, so that your client knows how you work and what kind of edits they can expect. 

The session was diligently prepared and masterfully delivered, ending with a whisper about a possible rematch with another two slammers and a third moderator. Of course, I am thinking about being involved in just such a thing here. Watch this space!

Ruth Davies is Director of the IPEd Board and Vice-President, Editors Queensland, and can be contacted on edqld.vicepres@iped-editors.org

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