Archive for the ‘Conferences’ Category


LavaCon2018: Workshop day

October 22, 2018

I’m in New Orleans and it’s Sunday, which means it’s workshop day at the LavaCon conference! I attended Melinda Belcher’s Preparing Technical Content for Translation half-day workshop. There were about 15 people in the workshop and several were from other countries, so there were lots of perspectives and good information sharing. Some people were in the early stages of translation projects, others were well into it, and yet others were just trying to get information to tailor their documentation so that it was ready for translation sometime in the future.

Here are my notes from Melinda’s session.

Her focus was on optimising content for translation in terms of:

  • Clarity
  • Structure
  • Format
  • Localisation strategy.

Much of what she had to say was very similar to the principles of the plain language movement.


  • Keep sentences brief
  • Use as few words as possible
  • Short words are better than long words
  • Use plain English to make your point
  • Use a single term to identify a single concept
  • Write so your audience can understand you
  • Test your word choice and sentence design


  • Avoid unnecessary complexity
  • Lighten the cognitive load through strategic delivery of information
  • Use Standard English word order whenever possible
  • Use the active voice rather than the passive
  • Use relative pronouns like ‘that’ and ‘which’
  • Avoid phrasal verbs (containing a verb form with one or more articles)
  • Avoid long noun strings


  • Make sure it fits (e.g. German takes much more space than the English equivalent)
  • Be clear with international dates and measurements etc.
  • Allow extra space for translated words
  • Allow extra time for formatting text in languages that read from right to left
  • Make readers aware of other [language] versions

Localisation strategy

  • Avoid humour
  • Strengthen your organisation’s capacity for translation oversight (not just words – cultural nuances, context, fonts, non-Romanised languages, compound words, dialects, other influences)
  • Establish and implement written guidelines for translation methods and for assessing the qualifications of a translator/agency
  • Consider a transcreation process (not necessarily good for long text, but may work well for marketing material [e.g. taglines, slogans, apps])
  • Other approaches to translation: single one-way translation; multiple one-way translation; reverse translation (i.e. translation back into English)

Early on in the session, she made a comment about text embedded in images – get the words out of the images and put them into callouts, captions etc.

She also mentioned these tools:


ASTC 2017 Conference

November 12, 2017

I attended and spoke at the Australian Society for Technical Communication (ASTC) 2017 Conference, held for the past two days in Sydney. Although it was a small conference with only one track for sessions, it had lots of valuable information presented, and the small size allowed for more regular and personal interaction among the attendees.

There was a great mix of sessions — from highly technical information, to case studies, to new ideas and approaches. I usually take notes of the sessions I attend, but this time the super-smart Sarah Maddox was also attending and speaking, and she takes far more comprehensive notes than I ever could. So if you want to read about the sessions, head over to Sarah’s blog and check out her summary of the conference, and the links to her blog posts for each session:

[Link last checked November 2017]




The benefits of downtime after a conference

September 17, 2017

For the first time ever, I allowed an extra day after the conference before flying home. Usually I leave the day immediately after the conference in my hurry to get home. But not this time. This time I stayed. And you know what? I got an awful lot done!

Typically, I get home from a conference and life takes over. I have my scribbled notes, websites I want to investigate, business cards for those I need to add to my contacts list and send an email to. And it can take a week or two — sometimes some months — before I get around to doing all that, or I do it in dribs and drabs, eventually not doing some of those things as their priority and my interest slips down the list. Paid work takes priority and, as I said, normal life resumes.

So to have a ‘free’ day to just work on catching up from the conference was great. I went for a long walk, then back to the hotel to type up my notes in blog posts, add contacts, send emails, and investigate websites and software that I heard about during the conference. In fact, this day went so well and I was so productive, I didn’t have breakfast or lunch, finally stepping out around 4pm for a bite to eat!

Another advantage of doing it all the day after was not having to bring home paperwork (e.g. conference program, vendor flyers) to refer to later — except the ones I investigated/read on my day off and decided to keep. The rest went into the hotel’s recycle bin and I saved on a little weight in my luggage.

I think I’ll add an extra day to my conference agenda from now on (well, after the next two conferences, as I’ve already booked and paid for them and Qantas charge a HEAP to make a schedule change).


Conference etiquette

September 16, 2017

I’ve just finished attending a 2-day conference and half-day workshop. I’ve attended plenty of both, but some things happened at this one that made me just a little bit angry because I felt I didn’t get what was promised. These things irk me at ALL conferences, not just this one, so I’m not picking on the one I just attended. Most are to do with attendees, but a couple apply to the presenters or conference organisers. So if you’re attending a conference in the near future, take note.


It’s a while since I taught a hands-on computer software class, but I really felt for the presenter when the questions started coming and she was running around like a blue-arsed fly trying to sort out people’s issues because they:

  • didn’t download the program beforehand, or tried to download it the night before the workshop but failed and were now trying to do so on a shared but limited Wifi connection in the convention centre AFTER the class had started (the info on downloading the software had been on the conf website and in the confirmation email for months)
  • didn’t follow the presenter’s emailed instructions (with attached class files) and load the files onto their laptop, as requested, meaning the presenter had to run around with her thumb drive to help those people
  • saw that their Mac screen was different to the Windows screen of the presenter and despite having a complete set of instructions WITH CORRECT MENU PATHS and screenshots for a Mac, continued to ask how to do it on a Mac
  • didn’t know how to resize a window, or a pane within a window, or sort a database column, move column headers etc.
  • asked about things the presenter had just given CLEAR INSTRUCTIONS (with a demonstration) for
  • turned up late (some were in a late-finishing morning workshop, and the conference organisers had only allowed 30 minutes for lunch — unfortunately, there was only one place close by for lunch, and they had to wait for their orders to get filled and to eat their lunch); the result was that the presenter waited nearly 10 minutes for them to arrive, thus penalising those of us who’d turned up on time.

The presenter wasn’t a quick talker, so there’s no reason why some people seemed to get left behind. I didn’t hear any needless chatter from where I was sitting, so I’m wondering if some people just don’t listen or read, despite them all working in the field of clear communication.

On a side note, questions like some of those above, plus some late arrivals, meant that it took about 20 minutes of the 4 hours before the presenter could really get started. That’s a real red flag to me — I’ve paid good money to get a 4-hour workshop and to find that effectively it’s 3.5 hours, less another half hour break for afternoon tea (not announced in the program), so effectively 3 hours, doesn’t sit well with me.

For workshop organisers

  • Allow enough time between workshops for lunch, especially where there’s only one lunch venue for the whole convention centre, and many will be trying to get their lunch at the same time. Or get lunch catered for and add it into the workshop fee.
  • Arrange for enough power outlets for any hands-on computer software training! All participants in my workshop got an email from the organisers two days beforehand telling us there’d be no power in the room and to make sure out laptops were fully charged!! During my email exchange with the organisers I was told this was a ‘safety’ issue. Really? In a convention centre that hosts hundreds of events each year? Fortunately there WERE some power points around the room, so those who needed them were able to charge their laptops. Despite mine being a recent laptop with specs indicating an 8-hour charge (I think), I was down to 65% after 2 hours. Anyone with an older laptop might have been struggling.

Conference organisers

These suggestions are for conference organisers and the people who introduce the speaker(s) to the audience. In the conference I attended last week, all sessions were 45 minutes, which included a mandatory 10-minute question time, so effectively 35 minutes. There was NO break between one session ending and the next one starting — with sessions running simultaneously in three rooms, that meant running from one room to the next.

  • Allow sufficient time for attendees to move from one room to another — 5 minutes as a minimum, but preferably 10 minutes. This also allows the next speaker time to get to the room, set up, and do any final prep for their session — and to breathe…
  • Do NOT let those introducing the speaker repeat the biographical info that’s already in the printed program, on the website, and in the conference app. We can read. It’s a waste of time for everyone concerned, especially for a tight session.


  • Do NOT repeat all the biographical info that’s in the program, website, and app, or on the THREE slides you have that describe your history from childhood. In one of the sessions I attended, by the time the person doing the intro had given a potted bio, then the two presenters had each given their bios, we were nearly 15 minutes into the session, leaving effectively 20 mins to present the information.
  • And while on bios, I don’t want to hear “I really loved reading as a child” unless for some reason your topic is on childhood reading issues! Any bio info must be recent, preferably summarising only things related to the work you’re doing now and nothing older than 10 years. Before that, no-one cares!!!
  • Speak up if there’s no microphone — those at the back WILL strain to hear you. If there’s a microphone, speak into it. If there’s a hand microphone, learn to use it so that it doesn’t end up well away from your mouth and no-one can hear you.
  • When you get a question from the audience, REPEAT THE DAMNED QUESTION into the microphone. One, it shows that you heard/interpreted the question correctly; two, those sitting at the back can’t hear any question a person facing you has asked.
  • Start on time. Do NOT reward latecomers by starting late.
  • Finish on time or even beforehand, especially if there’s no break between sessions. Often there’s a session straight after yours and the next person needs time to get set up.
  • Pack up your stuff and get it out of the way of the next presenter ASAP. If there’s time between sessions and some people still want to ask you questions personally, move aside, or take the discussion outside into the corridor.

I’m sure there are more, but these are the ones I identified at this conference.

Rant over.


IPEd Conference 2017: Day 2

September 16, 2017

Panel: Building Alliances

There was a slight change in the order of business today, with the Keynote address coming after the Building Alliances panel.

The theme of the panel was the issues facing similar and/or allied organisations to IPEd (Australian Institute of Professional Editors), and how can we work together to address them. The panel comprised representatives from the Australian Society of Authors (ASA), Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA), the Copyright Agency (CA), the Queensland Writers Centre (QWC), and the Australian and New Zealand Society of Indexers (ANZSI).

Issues facing the various organisations


  • Assault on copyright
  • Funding issues (actually, no funding!)
  • Changing markets (publishing and producing is easier than ever, but the marketing side is more difficult as there are fewer opportunities for writers to get a foothold with more risk-averse big publishers)


  • Similar issues to ASA
  • Small membership base; most are freelance indexers; ageing membership (difficulty in attracting younger members)
  • Diversification of publishing models (without large publishing houses, more difficult for indexers to market themselves and know what’s going on)
  • More of the larger publishers are outsourcing indexing to overseas indexers
  • Need to advocate for quality indexes
  • Understanding required as to the many types of information that indexers work on


  • Working rights and conditions for freelancers, as well as in-house employees
  • Copyright issue is huge; lots of plagiarism
  • Diversity of membership and the sorts of things they are able to get published (e.g. a [insert name of ethnic group/culture] cookbook might get published, but probably not a work of fiction)


  • Same concerns as ASA
  • How do we communicate the value of what we do, and thus give the best advice to members


  • 30K members in Australia
  • Lots of educational content, but fighting the impact of globalisation of textbooks
  • Copyright issues and threats, with global forces trying to water down Australian copyright law

Key issues for partnership with IPEd

  • Promoting the value of what we do and being paid appropriately for that
  • Developing standards, codes of conduct so we are seen as trusted professionals and not hobbyists
  • Fair and equitable pay
  • Strategic issues (e.g. Style Manual, copyright, education and training)
  • Sharing resources between groups
  • Educating politicians about copyright, and the benefits of a sustainable local publishing industry

How can we work together as a bloc to address these issues?

  • Work together as a group for advocacy and lobbying
  • Change focus from dealing with crises (e.g. copyright issues) to looking for opportunities to cooperate

Keynote: Sean Leahy

Sean is a well-known Australian cartoonist, most noted for his topical and political cartoons and for the more light-hearted ‘Beyond the Blank Stump’ comic strip. Some of the highlights of his talk:

  • Online comic books/graphic novels are more like games with choices (‘choose your own adventure’ style)
  • Too much separation of comics/cartoons and books; however, children’s picture books join the two.
  • Cartoonists have difficulty monetising their content on the web, so they often get into merchandising other product with their cartoons

Sean showed us many of his astute political cartoons, and explained a little about how he caricatures political figures — and some of the responses of those caricatured (including talking about a defamation writ from a previous Queensland Premier, which was later dropped when the issue it was about actually came true some weeks later). He finished his presentation by drawing about half a dozen quick sketches of some of his favourite Australian politicians (favourite to draw, that is, not necessarily favourite person), including Pauline Hanson, Joh Bjelke-Petersen, Julia Gillard, Tony Abbott, and John Howard.

(As an aside, here’s a hint for presenters — find out beforehand if you can access the internet from the room [he could but didn’t know he could], and make sure the site(s) you want to show are either preloaded in the browser window, or are written down so you can type in the URLs and not spend 10 minutes doing random Google searches in the hope you find what you want to show, then wait to install Flash Player only to find it wasn’t the site you wanted anyway! You can seriously alienate an audience if you don’t.)

Embracing the future: Technologies to transform the business of being an editor (Peter Riches)

This was a great, practical session, with lots of hints and tips as to the sorts of technologies Peter uses in his tech writing and editing business in Melbourne. He split them into two categories — editing and proofreading, and business apps. His business uses Macs, but when he needs to use Word, he runs it via VMWare in a Mac.

He started off with five general tips for choosing tools:

  • Use as few as you can
  • Evaluation takes time and you must use real data for testing
  • You don’t have to use every feature
  • Not all tools (especially the niche ones) will be around forever
  • Sometimes, do-it-yourself is a better option (e.g. he’s created an Excel spreadsheet he uses for estimating)

Editing and proofreading tools

  • Microsoft Word
  • PerfectIt
  • AnyCount (deals with a range of file types, counts words more accurately than MS Word [includes hidden text, text in text boxes, headers/footers etc.]; these word counts are used in estimates for quoting)
  • StyleWriter (he uses this for assessing the overall quality of the writing for quoting; has statistical summaries of use of jargon, passive voice etc.)
  • Quote Engine (the Excel quoting tool he built for his business; not available publicly; NOTE: quotes always include a project brief)

Business tools

  • Daylite (project and lead management tool from Market Circle, Canada; only available for Mac)
  • Harvest (timesheet and invoice app; from the US; records all time spent on a project [including non-billable time] and generates invoices that can be auto imported into his accounting software; sends automated notifications about overdue invoices to clients; can also create a ‘retainer’ invoice for prepaid work
  • Xero (accounting software; cloud-based; can import bank statements; deals with payroll and superannuation payments; integrates with Harvest invoices)
  • Dropbox (he uses it for business accounts, email archives; has replaced a file server and backup, though he still backs up Dropbox data occasionally)
  • Confluence (wiki-based app for internal and external content to share with team members; has style sheets for various clients so all employees and contractors have access at all times; used to document his business’ processes [e.g. file-naming conventions])

Everyday agreements and contracts for editors (Roslyn Copas)

Another great session with lots of practical advice (I much prefer practical sessions where you can take away something immediately to action the following week, than sessions that are more theoretical). Rosyln emphasised that hers was general, not legal advice, and that she wasn’t a lawyer, but her experience with dealing with many state, national, and international contracts and lawyers has given her enough knowledge to share.

She differentiated an agreement and a contract:

  • Agreement: Expression of assent between parties; exchange of promise. May be in writing, could just be verbal. Email agreement is classed as an ‘everyday agreement’.
  • Contract: Specific agreement to do/not do certain things. Often in writing; tends to be more formal and/or complex. May be enforced by law.

General points

  • Using agreements is good practice for your business and makes your business look professional
  • Creating your own agreements or influencing the terms of agreements you’re offered is advantageous
  • If you understand agreements you received before you sign them, it’s more likely to end well
  • Only make agreements that reflect what you really intend to do

Why have an agreement/contract?

  • Clear record for all parties of the intent, obligations, and scope of the project (no conflicting interpretation)
  • Basis for claiming payments, refusing ‘scope creep’, assigning risks/benefits
  • Legally enforceable

Minimum characteristics of any agreement/contract

  • Is always between parties with legal capacity to make the agreement
  • Sets out expectations, obligations, intentions, offer and accpetance
  • Sets out the payments to be made, how, and when
  • Sets the dates — start/end dates, timeframe
  • Specifies the legal jurisdiction (if both parties are in the same State, then defaults to that State if there is no statement of legal jurisdiction; if in different states/countries, must specify the jurisdiction)
  • Signed and dated by all parties (some contracts require witnesses too)

Before you sign

  • Read EVERY word
  • Clarify where necessary — don’t assume you can get a variation later
  • If possible, draft your own scope of services, or influence the other party to do so
  • Verbal agreement is legal, but a written agreement (even via an email trail) will override any verbal agreement
  • Request corrections of any errors, or, for minor variations, make the change and initial it
  • Don’t sign if it isn’t what you agreed — get legal advice
  • Good idea to use an annex to the contract that details the scope of work

When you make an agreement

  • Be precise and specific, and ensure you meet the minimum requirements (above)
  • Make sure what is in the contract is reasonable, do-able, and legal
  • Make sure at least two copies of written agreements are signed, one for each party
  • Keep a safe copy of email agreements

Considerations for editors

  • Intellectual property — who owns it and until when?
  • Plagiarism
  • Confidentiality
  • Future of documents and other files, and ownership
  • Standards and guidelines to follow
  • Meaning of relevant terminology (e.g. client may not know the various levels of editing and these need to be stated)


Giving science a style makeover (Julie Irish)

Biotext, the company Julie works for, released the Australian Manual of Science Style (AMOSS) in 2016. It is only available online, under a subscription model ( At the beginning of her presentation, she announced that they had just signed a formal agreement with Macquarie University (owners of the Macquarie Dictionary), so it would be good if AMOSS and the dictionary could become a combined subscription!

Some information about AMOSS:

  • Covers various scientific disciplines; started with health, biomedical, agriculture, and environment and will expand into other disciplines over time
  • Divided into four broad sections all related to science — writing, editing (including terminology for various disciplines), showing (use of tables, figures, graphs, etc.), and resources.
  • Doesn’t cover general style/grammar, highly technical details for specific disciplines (but has links to those resources)
  • Features: links to international and Australian standards and conventions and related resources; terms to watch out for; examples of usage; internal and external links; tips; search function; bookmarking ability to you can go straight to personal areas of interest; downloadable guides (short PDFs); feedback mechanism

The value of cross-linked scientific information in the age of digital publishing (Maryam Ahmad)

In this case study, Maryam talked about how the CSIRO was part of an interagency, multidisciplinary team (CSIRO, Bureau of Meteorology, Commonwealth Department of the Environment and Energy, and Geoscience Australia) who did a bioregional assessment of an environmental issue covering 13 bioregions on the east coast of Australia.

Some of the issues facing the team from an editorial perspective included:

  • Agreeing on the terminology and creating a common glossary
  • Version control
  • Hyperlinking publicly available datasets and coming up with the GUIDs and URIs to differentiate these, then automating the process of creating a list of datasets (like a list of references)
  • Producing PDF and HTML formats from Word documents

Related websites:

Index of unreadability (Philip Bryan)

I’ve done many sessions  on readability at other conferences and have done some of my own research into readability and usability of screen-based materials. But none was a fascinating as this insight from Philip, who had a bicycle accident resulting in concussion. For some weeks and months later, he had great difficulty reading any material on computers, TVs, and other electronic devices, though he had no problem reading on paper. He decided to investigate why and has come up with his ‘index of unreadability’, based on his own experiences. While his list is subjective, it matches well with information I’ve found over the years from other sources.

Materials in order of increasing unreadability

  • Book (print)
  • Newspaper (print)
  • Magazine (print)
  • Computer monitor (electronic)
  • Web pages (electronic)
  • iPad (electronic)

Philip’s thesis is that communication can be destroyed by the means of delivery.

He distinguished between readability (how hard something is to read) and legibility (the clarity of the material to be read).

Print items and selection options for readability

Print is all on paper — and paper has no other information than the symbols printed on it, which we interpret to mean something.

When selecting options for readability consider:

  • Typeface
  • Line length (too long [>80 words] is tedious  tiring, and causes the eye to flip back to the beginning of the same line when trying to go to the next line)
  • Text colour (black on white is the best contrast)
  • Serif/sans serif (serif for extended reading, sans serif for signs, facts, legibility)
  • Alignment (left-aligned, ragged right is best for readability)
  • Paper colour
  • Regular/condensed fonts (use condensed only for margin text)

No matter what selections you make, they MUST be suitable to the intention of the work, and to the reader.

Electronic items and selection options for readability

The considerations for paper (above) also apply to screen, though line length usually isn’t an issue.

However, other areas of consideration for screen include:

  • Pixellation (every pixel flickers, and with millions of pixels on screen at any one time, that’s a LOT of flickering)
  • Static/active pages (active pages include those with flashing things, autoplay videos, moving tickers, etc.; can use ReaderView [in Firefox and Safari; extension for Chrome] to eliminate ads, sidebars, menus etc. and just display the text and the images associated with the text, with options to change contrast, font size, etc.)
  • Brightness (less bright is better)
  • Moving images in general
  • Blue light, which goes straight through the retina into the brain (suggest get glasses that block out blue light)

Every design consideration has an impact on the readability of a page or screen. Don’t let the means of delivery destroy the communication.

See also:

Conference close

The final session of the conference was the closing, where those involved in organising the conference, the sponsors, etc. were all thanked, and where the team organising the next conference (May 2019, in Melbourne) were introduced. The Melbourne conference tagline is ‘for the love of words’ and the main themes will be inclusion, diversity (people and publishing methods), and editing ‘out of the box’.


See also:

[Links last checked September 2017]


IPEd Conference 2017

September 14, 2017

Held in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, September 13 to 15, 2017.

Pre-Conference Workshop: Endnote

This was meant to be 4-hour workshop on learning some of the basics of the Endnote referencing software. However, we only had three effective hours after taking out 30 mins for afternoon tea, and 30 mins for a late start and the presenter dealing with those who, despite multiple emails and other information on the conference website months ago, had not downloaded the required software or sample files.

The actual presentation by Dr Hilary Cadman was good and I learnt a lot. I’d played with the software for a few days the week before the conference, so had some familiarity with it, but this answered lots of my newbie questions and gave me enough information to decide whether to purchase it or not.

Day 1: 14 September 2017

The first day of the conference started with the usual welcome speeches, including a ‘welcome to country’ from a local Aboriginal elder, followed by a keynote address by Sophie Cunningham who spoke about her editing life in the Australian publishing industry.

Freelancing Panel

This panel comprised six freelance editors, who each spoke for 5 minutes on one aspect of freelancing that they now know that they wished they’d known when they started. Even though I’ve had my own freelance business for nearly 20 years, I still learnt from their experiences. Some points made by the various presenters:

  • After taking out time for 4 weeks’ leave, 2 weeks’ sick leave, and 2 weeks’ for public holidays, you’re left with a possible 44 billable weeks. Assuming you can work 5 billable hours per day (some of the rest of the day may be business admin etc.) and that you work 5 days a week, then you have 1100 potential billable work hours in a year. To calculate your fee, work out the salary you need to earn, take off $5000 for expenses, and then divide the result by the number of billable hours (e.g. $60K salary less $5K expenses = $55K, divided by 1100 hours = $50/hour).
  • Networking as an introvert:
    • Move out of your comfort zone – talk to people in person.
    • Look for opportunities to connect anywhere
    • Be personal and supportive, whether in person or online
    • Present a professional image – personal, website, logo etc.
    • Be confident – in yourself, your services, your expertise.
  • Promoting ourselves online – sand, river, and ocean:
    • Sand: Foundation for our own promotion (website, mailing list of clients, create free product (e.g. videos, handouts)
    • River: Social media (choose three platforms – e.g. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn); online networking (e.g. answering questions on related forums, Quora)
    • Ocean: collaboration with 3rd parties (write for online ezines, IPEd website entry, bid for work on online editing sites)
    • Use a simple strategy
    • Do one marketing task every day.
  • Implement a structure – working in an office gives you a framework; as a freelancer, you need to create one for yourself. Structure time for:
    • Admin minutiae
    • Exercise, lunch, when you stop/don’t work
    • Have weekly and daily plans.
  • Be more efficient with your time by using technology such as IFTT (if this, then that for creating alerts for jobs posted on Twitter, LinkedIn etc.
  • Make sure your business is set up as a business:
    • Cultivate good long-term relationships
    • Take care of yourself – no money comes in if you’re not healthy, so good eating habits, good exercise, and set boundaries.

Editing for Education in a Digital World (Kylie Challenor and Lian Flick)

Kylie and Lian did a joint presentation on how the world of educational publishing has changed at Wiley in the past few years, from printed text books to far more interactive and online media. This was a good session marred by a slightly late start and then more than 10 minutes of the 45-minute session taken up with them discussing their backgrounds and history (much of which was in the printed program), thus leaving only about 25 minutes for the presentation and a short time at the end for questions. They handled the segues from one presenter to the other very well and it was very clear that they had practiced this beforehand.

How will editors adapt to an evolving digital future? (Dr Stephen White)

This was a fascinating look into the editing world of the Geological Survey of Western Australia, where digital atlases, maps, and virtual tours are becoming common. However, despite all the fancy technological innovations, editing existing text once it’s in the programs is still an incredibly manual and time-consuming exercise. What’s desperately needed are tools (external or built into the software tools used) that allow the metadata to be edited directly, or for the information to be tagged for changes.

Keynote: Monolithic and multilithic languages (Roly Sussex)

This was a super interesting presentation on the nature of languages and cultures. Monolithic languages are those that are pretty well fixed and rarely change (e.g. dead languages such as classical Greek, Latin, and Sanskrit; computer languages; and languages such as Icelandic [texts from 900 AD can still be read by Icelanders today], Estonian, and Latvian). Multilithic languages are those such as English, which have many variations (geography, dialect) and no fixed Academy to prescribe the ‘correct’ form of the language. He spent some time on the relationship between language and culture, an aspect that I found particularly interesting (e.g. L1/C1 means you speak the main language of the country and follow its cultural norms; L1/C2 – you speak the main language but follow another country’s cultural norms [e.g. speak Australian English, but follow Chinese cultural norms]; L2/C1 – you speak English as your second language but follow the cultural norms of the country you’re living in; and L2/C2 – you speak English as a second language, and follow the cultural norms of another country [e.g. new migrants]).


Day 2:

[Links last checked September 2017]


New tribes

July 31, 2017

Foreword written for Southern Communicator, Issue 41, June 2017


New tribes

Tribe: Colloquial (humorous) a family or class of people (Macquarie Dictionary)

In September 2008, after 16 years in the software technical writing world, I segued into editing technical documents. It was just as the global financial crisis was happening, and a time when mining and software companies (my main source of income) were getting rid of contractors to preserve their bottom lines. I lived in a rural area three hours’ drive from Perth (Western Australia), so was fortunate to land a temporary three‐month telecommuting contract with a global oil and gas company—I’m now in my tenth year with them—editing some of their Word documents. Yes, Microsoft Word.

Word is still heavily used by corporates for much of their day‐to‐day documentation and reporting. We can talk all we like about how other software is better for constructing documents, managing the review cycle, formatting, publishing to various outputs, and the like, but the reality is that other software (for example, Framemaker, InDesign, Author‐it, and so on) often remains the domain of specialist tech and marketing communications people, with little inroads into mainstream corporate life.

As I moved into this different, but related, editing world, I was still very much attached to my technical communication ‘tribe’ (I attended and spoke at techcomm conferences until 2014). But eventually I decided it was time to embrace this world I’d inhabited for six years. And what better way to embrace a new tribe than by hanging out with them in the places they frequent. For me, that’s conferences and online.

Dr Google told me about various professional and informal editing organisations, some of which were very specialised (for example, medical editors, thesis editors). I was already a member of the Western Australian editing society, which recently became part of IPEd, the professional group for Australian editors. IPEd holds a two‐day conference every two years, and the state branch holds a one‐day seminar each winter. But, like Oliver Twist, I wanted more.

Professional editing groups in North America and Great Britain were my focus, especially those that held multi‐day annual conferences. But which to choose? Eventually I opted to join the American Copy Editors Society (ACES); ACES’ original focus was newspaper copy editors, but now covers all types of editors. I attended and spoke at my first ACES conference in the US in 2015—I was a total newbie, only knowing one other person attending that conference. This was so different to the techcomm conferences where I knew many people. I’ve since attended and spoken at the 2016 and 2017 ACES conferences, and the circle of those I know in this new tribe is growing wider.

Speaking at a conference is a great way to meet people—it’s amazing how many stop you in the hallway to tell you how much they enjoyed your session, ask you a question, or just strike up a conversation over a drink or a meal because they feel they know you because they’ve heard you speak, or, as an Australian in the US, because they ‘just love your accent’! Speaking is also a terrific icebreaker, and I can’t recommend it enough for those who find themselves very lonely at a conference. Put yourself out there and offer to speak. The ASTC conference is usually held each October, so consider putting in a submission to speak at the next one, or try the TechCommNZ conference, held every two years.

Another tribal behaviour is the chat around the camp fire, or today, around the coffee machine. But how can you informally pick fellow editors’ brains when you work alone and are physically distant from your work colleagues, or don’t have any work colleagues? Join an online group. Despite the time zones, I try to participate in the monthly, hour‐long #ACESChat on Twitter. I also hang out at the Editors Association of Earth (Facebook group), where editors from around the world help each other decipher awkward sentences, solve Word problems, share bloopers, talk about language variations and regionalisms, and so on. And because we’re global, there’s always someone awake somewhere to help with a curly question, or offer moral support.

Tribes—it’s all about finding ‘your people’ and the feeling of belonging when you do. So search, join, attend, participate, speak—hang out with your people because it’s good for you professionally and it’s good for your soul to be with like‐minded people, even if just for a short while.


[Links last checked July 2017]


ACES Conference: 2017

April 13, 2017

I attended (and spoke at) the American Copy Editors Society (ACES) annual conference in St Petersburg, Florida in March. I loved the Tampa/St Pete area!

Just for my records, here are the sessions I attended, with a brief summary for each of them.

Thursday March 23

  • Quick fixes you may have forgotten about (Merrill Perlman): A nice refresher of things that you can overlook when editing. Merrill is a funny, engaging speaker.
  • Catch as catch can (John Russial): Math!! Especially the difference between percentage and percentage point increases/decreases. Valuable.
  • Professional Etiquette: Navigate networking without making enemies (Christina Frey, Sarah Grey, Barbie Halaby, Heather Saunders): Very professionally presented, with seamless segues between members of the panel. Lots of content and great ideas.
  • ‘Word by Word: The secret life of dictionaries’ (Kory Stamper): Kory’s book had just been published a few days before the conference and this was her first-ever reading from it. She read an excerpt from the first chapter. It was so good, I ordered a copy online immediately afterwards (it was a hardback and only 24 copies were available at the conference) — my ordered copy beat me home. I’m about halfway through it and thoroughly savouring every word. Highly recommended for word nerds!

Friday, March 24

  • The Online Misinformation Ecosystem (general session) (Craig Silverman): Craig works for Buzzfeed. This session was great on pointing out how news and social media can manipulate a story.
  • Computer-Assisted Copy Editing: Using Tansa’s Products for Clear, Concise and Consistent Content (Chris Grimm): Excellent overview of some online tools available for checking consistency. However, each requires a link back to an online server, and so wouldn’t be acceptable to my main client.
  • The Editor as Writer: Essential Tools and Strategies (With Music!) (Roy Peter Clark): Great session, covering many basic (but often forgotten) strategies.
  • Faking Extroversion as an Introvert (Samantha Enslen, Rachel Godward, Laura Lattimer): Good session, but unfortunately Sam only ended up with about 3 minutes to cover all she had to say, which was a shame as she’s an excellent speaker.
  • ‘French toast’ vs. ‘french fries’: The Wild West of Food Editing (Wendy Allen, Janet Keeler): I loved this session! I don’t do food editing, but I cook, eat, and dine out, and read cookbooks and menus. I’m sure that qualifies, right? Oh, I was the only one in the room who knew the difference between grazer (an animal that grazes on grass) and grazier (a person who looks after such animals) — obviously ‘grazier’, which is well known in Australia, is little known in the US.
  • Banquet – keynote speaker Anne Curzan: Introduced us to ‘grammando!’, and recommended we use it instead of ‘grammar nazi’

Saturday, March 25

  • The Art of the Possible: The Dictionary as Authority of a Changing Language (Kory Stamper, Peter Sokolovksi, Anne Curzan): Lexicographers and linguists — these are my people and they are ‘on fleek’! :-)
  • Save Time and Your Sanity: Increase your Efficiency with Microsoft Word (me!): The room held about 70 seats — all were full, and about another 30 people were on the floor or leaning on the walls, which is tough for 90 minutes! Thanks for coming — and for staying, if you were one of the floor people.
  • Government Contract Editing–Guidelines to Make It Work (Elizabeth LaPlante, Helen O’Guinn): Good advice on plain language when writing and responding to RFPs etc.
  • How to Diagram Sentences — and Why (Lisa McLendon): A whirlwind trip through sentence diagramming, with examples for us to try. This wasn’t taught in Australian schools when I was growing up, so was unfamiliar to me, but I like the structure of it.
  • Lightning Presentations and Closing General Session: More whirlwind presentations. Kudos to the presenters!!

EditorsWA Winter Seminar: Sex, lies and editing

August 31, 2016

On 13 August 2016, I attended and spoke at the annual Winter Seminar, held by EditorsWA, the Western Australian branch of IPEd, the national professional association for editors.

Here are my notes from the three sessions; the second session (on plain language) was mine, so there are no notes for it.

Session 1: Sex, lies, and blogging (Amanda Kendle)

  • Tweets – 140 chars forces you to be concise, remove redundancies, ignore punctuation, and abbreviate
  • Blog/social media writing is quite different
  • Style tends to be casual
  • Repetetive words/phrases may be there for SEO purposes, so not just redundancies
  • Each type of social media requires different styles of writing (Facebook vs Twitter vs LinkedIn)
  • Tips for developing a good blogging voice:
    • write like you talk
    • consciously choose your level of informality/casualness
    • use contractions and first person
    • read other blogs and identify styles you enjoy
    • tell a story, no matter what the topic is.
  • How to edit content for blogs and social media:
    • read aloud to get a good feel for appropriate ‘friendliness’
    • communicate clearly with clients about the style they want to use
    • give clients examples of blogging and social media posts that are of a suitably informal standard
    • suggest clients do voice recordings to transcribe from if they are writing in an overly academic or formal way.
  • NOTE: the rules are ever-changing and highly flexible.

Session 3: To ‘do it’ or not to ‘do it’: Things to consider before including a sex scene (Chloe Stam)

  • Various types of sex scenes
  • Should there be a sex scene?
    • in some genres, it’s expected.
    • some publishers have quotas!!! (e.g. three sex scenes, this many pages apart…)
    • realism – sex is part of human life, and in current culture
    • relevance to plot — if no function, don’t do it.
    • sex scenes in YA novels — if true to the characters, don’t avoid, but tone it down, especially as written from first person; sex is a reality with YAs, but don’t centre entirely on sex; don’t introduce unrealistic/harmful ideas (e.g. BDSM, ‘porny’ sex)
  • Even if graphic and anatomical, sex is ultimately about emotion and communication; emotion doesn’t mean love.
  • Editing sex scenes:
    • male or female point of view?
    • senses — use sensual impression to pull readers in to the story
    • conflict of the characters — what’s at stake? is something holding them back?
    • pacing — build-up to the sex scene with increasing sexual tension
  • Character development:
    • how does the act change your characters, show who they really are, or what they’re afraid of?
    • who initiated the intimacy, how is it displayed, what happens when it’s over, are their reactions equal?
  • There’s a ‘Bad sex in fiction award’!
  • Representation of sex and people:
    • diversity — normal in life, therefore should be normal in books; POC, queer, other minorities struggle to find positive representation in mainstream media; not about meeting a quota or making a statement; makes the book more interesting
    • default — characters are seen as white unless otherwise stated
    • asexuality — don’t find other people sexually attractive; often depicted as non-existent, needing a cure, robotic characters
    • people with disabilities — how are they portrayed? are they shown as sexual, or just dealing with their disability? Are they 3D characters and a real part of the story?
    • exoticism– calling someone ‘exotic’ reminds them they are different and emphasises their ethnicity; lots of stereotypes!! (mostly around women, esp. black, Asian)
    • queer – LGBTI etc. Often written about negatively; rarely a 3D character where their life doesn’t revolve around sexuality
    • elderly — seen as sexless and infantilised; disparity between men and women
    • self-love — seen as natural for men, but deviant for women
    • BDSM – requires trust, communication and emotional maturity. It is not sex and violence with emotional manipulation.
  • Sexual violence — avoid:
    • rape to punish female characters
    • rape as a backstory to make a ‘strong female character’
    • rape/murder only to affect male protagonist (women in refrigerators)
    • rape for shock factor/titillation
  • Disproportionate levels of rape against women as opposed to men – therefore masks issues of sexual assault against men
  • Journalistic reporting on sexual violence, victim blaming etc.

Session 4: The plagiarism games (Ffion Murphy)

  • What constitutes originality and does it matter any more? Literary theft, mimicry, borrowing, homage, or inspiration?
  • Universities invest huge amounts of $$$ in detecting plagiarism (e.g. Turn it in)
  • What is ‘originality’? where is the line? Is this idea of a line or border misleading even corrosive or stultifying?
  • Transformation — can be derived from another but must be significantly different and must transform the ‘original’, re-patterning of earlier works.
  • Inspiration vs copying:
    • work needs to share at least some qualities of what has been judged ‘good’ in the past
    • value is located in an act of digression, transgression, homage to, or transformation of what has come before
    • must be an acceptable type of copy



World domination achieved!

June 11, 2016

Yesterday I got an email from a US friend. He’s in Budapest (Hungary) attending a tech writing/user assistance conference (UA Europe). He’s in a session presented by someone from The Netherlands when he spots a screenshot of a page from this blog! He has enough time to capture it on his phone and send it to me. How cool is that — a Dutch presenter showing a page from an Australian’s blog, seen and captured by an American, in Hungary!

Even cooler, the presenter said that it was great example of a ‘perfectly complete task explanation’ and ‘This rocks!’ My work here is done — I think with this, I have achieved world domination ;-)


(In case you’re interested, the blog post the speaker referenced was: