MET workshops

Editing humanities and social science texts: theory and practice

One key challenge for language professionals (LPs) editing humanities and social science (HSS) texts written by non-native-English speakers is to discern whether a given linguistic peculiarity is a language error (requiring repair) or a deliberate feature of the text (requiring preservation). The editor's ability to engage with potential problems in the text relates to practical concerns such as the level of LP domain knowledge and the quality and frequency of author-LP communication, and to other constraints such as available time and funding.

In this workshop, authors’ editors Maria Sherwood-Smith and Theresa Truax-Gischler will review common features of academic HSS texts and discuss possible editing approaches. They will present practical skills and conceptual insights so participants understand the features of HSS texts, problems editors may typically encounter, editing pitfalls to be on the lookout for, and possible strategies for improving editorial outcomes.

In presenting these reflective HSS editorial strategies, the facilitators will move between HSS editing theory and practice, with an emphasis on how to apply theory. Both elements come into play when we make informed editorial interventions in HSS texts; indeed, our familiarity with HSS editing theory is itself one of the practical parameters that may influence editorial choices. In the best HSS editorial outcomes, the concerns of theory and practice will have been interwoven.

Facilitators: Maria Sherwood-Smith and Theresa Truax-Gischler

Purpose: To help participants gain the practical and conceptual knowledge necessary for working with HSS texts and to give them hands-on experience in solving typical HSS editing dilemmas.

Description/structure: In combining HSS editing theory and practice, the workshop focuses on features, pitfalls and parameters. Our point of departure is the influential 2006 Guidelines for the Translation of Social Science Texts of the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS). Despite their limitations in relation to HSS editing (to be discussed in the workshop), these guidelines serve as an accessible base for identifying characteristic features of HSS texts in the realm of stylistic peculiarities (subordinating syntax, nominalizations) and conceptual rigour (terminology, word choice and novel concepts introduced by the author). The guidelines also highlight associated editing pitfalls such as over-applying editorial standards from other disciplines, misjudging issues relating to domestication versus foreignization, overlooking conceptual false friends, or taking insufficient account of a conceptual term’s history and meaning. On the practical side, we discuss parameters and constraints that may affect editing choices (LP domain knowledge, author-LP communication, the basics of time and money). In the areas where both authors and LPs typically struggle, we suggest practical strategies for working with HSS texts, drawing on our experience as authors' editors and on insights from research concerning how HSS texts are structured and how LPs might best handle that specificity.

We will work through the ACLS guidelines issue by issue, presenting first the conceptual vocabulary for understanding how HSS texts work, then short examples from our practice. Participants will apply the conceptual and practical approaches covered in the workshop to edit these examples and to view and discuss how the facilitators handled them. The workshop will mix facilitator presentation, hands-on exercises in breakout groups and group discussion.

Who should attend? This workshop is primarily aimed at editors and translators working partially or wholly in the humanities and social sciences who would like to extend and consolidate their skills and practices. It should also appeal to LPs looking to move into the HSS field.

Outcome skills: Participants in this workshop should
  • be able to identify a number of generic features of HSS texts and have conceptual vocabulary for understanding them
  • gain insight into typical problems encountered when editing HSS texts and common editing pitfalls
  • obtain practical, immediately applicable strategies for editing HSS texts 
  • have a greater awareness of the parameters and constraints affecting HSS editing theory and outcomes and how they may be navigated

Pre-workshop information: Participants should familiarize themselves with the ACLS Guidelines for the Translation of Social Science Texts in advance. A highlighted version of the PDF along with exercise handouts and a short bibliography of useful sources will be provided. During the workshop we will work together to try our hand at a few problematic HSS text excerpts that exemplify the issues covered in the workshop.
About the facilitators: Maria Sherwood-Smith is a lecturer in Academic English at the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences in Leiden; she also works as a translator for the Netherlands Police and a freelance translator and editor. She has a degree in French and German and a doctorate in medieval literature. Maria’s translation work includes monographs by German and Dutch academics, mainly in history, art history and theology. Her editing work spans the humanities and social sciences.

Theresa Truax-Gischler is an authors’ editor specializing in substantive and developmental editing for multilanguage writers in the narrative social sciences and humanities. She has graduate degrees in anthropology, history and Near Eastern studies and certificates in editing and applied behaviour analysis. Books and journal articles she has edited have been nominated for and have won prestigious prizes and honourable mentions in their fields. An enthusiast of cross-cultural knowledge production and disability studies, Theresa lives in Leiden, Netherlands.