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 (NNES) 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 online 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.

Developers and 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 before the workshop.

Participants should access this online workshop from a desktop or laptop: 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 and at VU University Amsterdam, and also works as a freelance translator and editor. She has a degree in French and German and a doctorate in medieval literature. Maria’s translation work has included several monographs by German and Dutch academics, mainly in the fields of history, art history and theology. Her editing work spans both the humanities and the social sciences.

Theresa Truax-Gischler is a freelance substantive and developmental authors’ editor in the narrative social sciences and humanities. She specializes in NNES language support in Turkic and European languages. She began editing in the mid-1990s during graduate work in anthropology, history and language studies, and later worked in grant writing, management, reporting and review. Her favourite recent projects: developmental edits of monographs in history, anthropology and political science, and cross-disciplinary articles in philosophy and anthropology. An enthusiast of cross-cultural knowledge production, she lives in Leiden, Netherlands with her family and a five-metre-high library.