[Academic-discuss] new to Academic SIG - question

Debbie Hemstreet D_Hemstreet at rambam.health.gov.il
Mon Jul 16 09:05:33 UTC 2018

Hi Paula,

I think your perceptions are spot on! Having said that, some people do make the effort to communicate clearly. Just this morning, I sat with a doctor on his paper and pointed out something that I said, "after reading, I have an idea of what you mean, but this very badly expressed." He replied, "Well, that is how they say it in the literature."

I responded, "And is it clear to you?"

"Well, not really. I had to study it a lot. But I'm writing to that audience."

I hit him with the punch line, "And what about doctors who are new to the field, who speak English as a second language? Don't you want them to understand? Just because everyone else writes that way doesn't mean you have to."

His face lit up. "You are right!" And so he is rewriting the text.

So I want to encourage you. A lot of time it is how we approach people with the changes we believe are important.

As far as good examples, check out some of the papers published in Rambam Maimonides Medical Journal. No, I did not redo every single paper, but our Editor-in-Chief has asked me to do a lot of work on a lot of these papers, to ensure clarity for our international audience. I have rewritten papers and redone graphics, and only received a complaint ONCE from an author (his dignity could not handle the idea that he was a poor communicator, though he accepted ALL my changes in the end :) )

In Academia, passive is indeed more acceptable. But it has to be done well. There isn't a lot of room for the active voice when you are writing a research paper or a review… but the sentences can be made shorter. Concepts can be clearly explained. Information must still be well organized, and language can be simplified (where possible – sometimes it’s a real challenge though), to make an academic paper clear and meet acceptable standards.

I hope these thoughts are encouraging and helpful to you and others.


Deborah Hemstreet
English Editor and Writer to the Administration
Editorial Assistant, Rambam Maimonides Med J
Rambam Health Care Campus
T: +972-04-777-1285  |  M: +972-050-206-1273 | F: +972-04-777-2657
E-mail: d_hemstreet at rambam.health.gov.il<mailto:d_hemstreet at rambam.health.gov.il>
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From: academic-discuss-bounces at mailer.stc.org [mailto:academic-discuss-bounces at mailer.stc.org] On Behalf Of FineLines via Academic-discuss
Sent: Sunday, 15 July, 2018 9:49 PM
To: academic-discuss at mailer.stc.org
Subject: [Academic-discuss] new to Academic SIG - question

Hello academic types!  I am definitely not “one of you”…

that is, I’ve never trained for nor worked in education, until three years ago when I took a job as Sr. Editor (Programs) with Project Lead The Way (pltw.org). We produce curriculum for pre-K through 12 in the STEM subjects, specifically Engineering, Computer Science, and Biomedical Science. I’m the first real, professional editor to look at their content, which previously got only copyedit from a contractor if anything. Astonishing, right? Hm, maybe I shouldn’t have identified my company…

While a large part of editing is editing, regardless of the subject matter, I came up against a mindset that’s foreign to me. (My experience is largely in user doc for software.) And I often sense an attitude that conveys, “You’re not one of us. You don’t need to know xxx.”

I have always contended that the editor is not a commodity whose services get tacked on at the end. The editor should be part of the content writing/development team and have the opportunity to give input throughout the process. The editor (or this editor) has certain expertise and can add value that no one else can. At least that’s the way I was trained. I’ve made little headway in getting this point across to anyone and am almost resigned to the fact that this is how I’m going to spend the rest of my career – being undervalued, not considered a part of the team, with my “arguments” unabsorbed.

OK, you can respond to that part if you like, but my real question for you is this:  Why do academics/educators insist on writing—regardless of audience demographics—in the same style they were required to write for their dissertations and the like?  I get that you were trained to write that way through the course of your training (actually we all were, those of us who are around my age), but why is there such a disconnect when it comes to writing something instructional to teachers and students?

Have the ideas of “people first”, active voice, “less (words) is more”, and “plain or universal English” just not pierced your professional ranks? These “tenets” have long been part of technical writing best practices.  So I struggle with how we seem to be so far apart from each other in writing style for a lay audience.  The academics I’m talking about are those I work with (don’t mean to point the finger at anyone here), but I’m hoping you can give me a little insight into why this is the case.  Granted, none of my colleagues were trained to write using the best practices of tech com, rather they probably didn’t get any training in how to write (except by example)!

When I came on board, I quickly noticed the stiff, wordy, formal language and have been rewriting it ever since. I’ve created numerous job aids—some requested, but most at my own initiative—to help steer the writers, but I see little evidence that anybody even refers to these resources.  I can’t make the horse drink.  Can you tell I’m really discouraged?  I believe they think of me as the “fixer” and if subconsciously, make no effort to change their behavior because I’ll suggest all those types of changes.  (There’s always the excuse that timelines are too tight, which is the fault of management…)  Sorry I’ve gotten off on a tangent.

So back to my main question, do you have any idea why education has not really adopted the best practices of tech com?? (although it’s in the Standards for the students to learn!)

Thanks for listening.  Maybe we can stir up some discussion, as I’ve heard nothing from or about this SIG since I joined.  How many members are there?  Is this SIG in danger of being shut down?

Feeling defeated,

Paula Robertson, STC Associate Fellow
dba FineLines
Technical Editor, Writer, Designer

You have no idea what it's like to be a "just between you and me" person in a "just between you and I" world.
– William Haefeli, The New Yorker 8/30/2010

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