30 July 2013

Strangest numbers, more

John Huerta and his supervisor, John Baez, have done something extremely science-writer-friendly by making accessible both their original draft and the final version published by Scientific American. The links can be found here.

Many thanks to the two Johns.

29 July 2013

Economist lambasts financial writers and publishers

The subheading -- The world's worst sentence? -- gives a good idea of the content. Certainly the sentence quoted is a fairly strong candidate for the title.

28 July 2013

The strangest numbers

Compared with technical journalism, science journalism is in quite another realm. The contrast is perhaps most pronounced in the case of journals like NatureScientific American and a handful of others in English, plus a smaller number in other languages, partly because they attract skilled writers working on challenging topics, partly because the articles go through rigorous peer reviews combined with in-house editing and refinement, also because the production cycle is long. None of which is true of the types technical journalism encountered in trade publications and media focusing on companies and their products, which I mention simply because that is what I have worked on for most of my career.

These thoughts and others came to mind this Sunday after reading an exemplary piece of science writing/journalism. The article is entitled The Strangest Numbers in String Theory. The full paper is available here.

If you are interested in imaginary numbers, physics and fine science writing for a broad audience, I earnestly encourage you to download it, print it and read it through carefully and quietly. It deserves, IMHO, more attention than on-screen reading can offer. And, it may -- just may -- give you an early insight into what might turn out to be a paradigm-shattering breakthrough in theoretical physics. I had the considerable good fortune of meeting one of the authors, John Huertas, at an informal get-together here in Lisbon last weekend.

Like other areas of professional writing, science journalism is also in a state of flux. For an overview and links to more on the subject, read Science journalism: Supplanting the old media?, published in Nature in March 2009.

26 July 2013

Passive voice in TJ

There is no end of advice on writing in English available on the internet, much of it good. Pieces urging writers to use the active voice in preference to the passive are everywhere de rigueur.

The article Using the Active Voice to Strengthen Your Writing by the ever-reliable team at DailyWritingTips is typical of many.

Without disagreeing with anything this article claims, I do think that it is somewhat overstated despite several carefully explained exceptions and concessions.

Technical journalists and their translators are especially aware of this issue for the simple reason that their articles focus more  often about products and processes rather than they do on agents, which is to say people and institutions. In such contexts, the passive voice is spontaneously the more appropriate and often the only choice because it puts the subject of interest -- the produce or process -- in the foreground.

"The ship was launched ..." is perfectly natural when the subject is the ship. To shift the emphasis to who launched it will be fine in some contexts, but ill-advised in an article focusing on the ship itself.

As the article says, "using the passive voice can be an excellent way to avoid assigning responsibility for a job or problem". This too is often required when a company writes about an accident, mishap, delay or whatever and for obvious reasons does not which to name names... especially not for the sake of a change from the passive to the active voice.

15 July 2013

Translation scams

Through the web page he's constantly updating, Lisbon-based colleague and friend João Roque Dias is doing a fine job helping colleagues and translation service buyers all over the world to limit the damage being done by Translator Scammers.

Keep up the good work João.

João's website is exemplary in the world of expert professional freelance translation.

Article breakdown

As part of the analysis leading to his answer to the question Is Mentoring Just a Memory?, Mark Nichol of DailyWritingTips defines the components of English-language 'news style' including such terms like 'lede' (or 'lead'), 'inverted pyramid form' and nut'.

The Wikipedia article on 'news style' goes into more detail and explains the differences between a news story and a feature article. It is interesting to observe that this Wikipedia article has parallel versions in several eastern European languages, but only one romance language, namely Portuguese. The reason is that journalism in each culture developed independently before entering a period of global convergence after WWII while continuing to be based on culturally specific traditions, methods, preferences and so forth.

There must be ample material here for a thesis or three on the translation challenges associated with these cultural differences. To begin with, the names for the different parts of an article will only have meaningful equivalents if it can be assumed that the target-language reader is familiar with a comparable breakdown, or taxonomy.

The differences are of similar significance in the various forms of technical journalism that I have encountered throughout my career.

A question in passing. Magazines under the IHS Jane's banner often begin with a 'standfirst' (aka a 'kicker') ending "...., writes (name of journalist or specialist)". I wonder if this device has a more specific name?

04 July 2013

Making translated TJ sing

An esteemed colleague is translating (from German into English) daily updates for a page of the Continental tires website entitled Continental and Tour de France: A success story for over 100 years. (Note, the site calls its products 'tires', not 'tyres'.)

My colleagues is not only an experienced and technically alert translator with  proven target-language writing skills, he's also a keen cyclist. In other words, he has precisely the skillset Continental needs to post translated technical journalism that sings.

Language service buyers everywhere who aim to achieve similar impact should follow Continental's excellent example.

On acronyms, pseudo-acronyms, et al

Wikipedia has a useful article on acronyms, pseudo-acronyms and the like that wisely proceeds on the basis of examples rather than over-systematisation.

The section on pseudo-acronyms is of special interest, although it might have been useful to include the term 'empty acronym' as used here.

Technical journalists and their translators need to understand the many and various distinctions in order to ensure consistent usage.

For translators, one of Wikipedia's greatest benefits is, of course, immediate access to parallel or approximately parallel articles in a host of languages.

Glossary. Too little research.

Following this exchange on the Facebook  FR<>EN Translators   forum Catharine Cellier-Smart shared a link to the group: FR<>EN...