Monthly Archives: September 2020

Lekker editing in South African English

By Katherine Kirk

A favourite pastime of South Africans seems to be seeing how many dialects we can squeeze into a sentence. South Africa has 11 official languages, and at least ten distinct dialects of English, so when I was invited to write about ‘South African English’ I thought it might be a bit hectic. In the end, I had a jol, and I hope you will too on this lexical adventure.

Hopefully, I can save our colleagues from elsewhere a little time and trouble by giving you some basics. I hope this can be a kiff resource for future chinas who are helping to bring South African writing to wider audiences.

Spoken South African English is made up of several varieties: White South African English, Indian South African English (which closely resembles Indian English), Cape Flats English and Black South African English (BSAE). White South African English (WSAE) can further be divided into ‘Cultivated’ or ‘Conservative’ SAE, ‘General’ or ‘Respectable’ SAE and ‘Broad’ or ‘Extreme’ SAE. As you can imagine, there is a fair bit of not-so-lekker prejudice towards some of the Englishes; not all Englishes are considered equal. And this can be even more confusing for editors!

Black SAEIndian SAECape Flats SAE
AcrolectMesolectBasilectAcrolectMesolectBasilect
Spoken by individuals whose first language is an indigenous African language.Spoken by South Africans of Indian descent. Resembles Indian English.Originally associated with inner-city Cape Coloured speakers.*
White SAE
Cultivated/ConservativeGeneral/RespectableBroad/Extreme
Approximates England's standard RP and is associated with the upper class.Social indicator of middle class and is the common tongue.Associated with the working class, low socioeconomic status and little education. Approximates Afrikaans English.

*Note: The term ‘Coloured’ is currently treated as a neutral description in Southern Africa, classifying people of mixed race ancestry. Cape Coloureds are particularly from Cape Town, where their Malaysian roots have contributed to their distinct language and culture. The Coloured community in South Africa uses the term to refer to itself as a group.

In writing, it is a little simpler, thank goodness. Written SAE tends to fall somewhere between ‘Cultivated’ and ‘General’ WSAE depending on the purpose and register of the text, so that is what I’ll be talking about for the rest of this blog post. It helps to be aware of the others, though, as they might crop up in dialogue in South African fiction, or in communication with South African clients.

How widely is South African English used?

South African English is used primarily within South Africa, but authors like Lauren Beukes and JM Coetzee are widely read abroad. However, there is a feeling among authors in South Africa that by writing in SAE they risk siff reviews from readers who are unfamiliar with its quirks. As a result, many South African fiction authors tend to write in US or UK English to appeal to a broader market and get those schweet five-star ratings. Poms tend to be more forgiving than yanks. South African fiction authors might then favour US English, although they learned in school to write with British spelling. This can lead to a mixture of the two in writing, as well as occasionally idiosyncratic usage of idioms.

Corporate, academic, governmental and other such non-fiction writers don’t get tuned so much by reviewers, so they usually keep it simple and stick with a more British version of SAE.

Does it follow more a UK or a US style in terms of punctuation and spelling?

South African English mostly follows UK spelling and grammar, but mixes US and UK punctuation. We use double quotes with nested singles, open en-dashes, and -is- rather than
-iz-. We like keeping the u in words like colour and we pronounce the h in herbs.

South Africa uses a decimal comma rather than a decimal point, e.g. 4,5 not 4.5. Dates are written in day-month-year order. When in doubt, aim for consistency.

How is the vocabulary different from other Englishes?

This is perhaps the most fun part of SAE. With the influence of so many languages and cultures, we have a wide repertoire of slang. Slang is regional, cultural, class-divided and used interchangeably by many people of all groups. We have words from Afrikaans like lekker, some Zulu words like babelas (from ibabalazi) and, like the Aussies, we even have Cockney rhyming slang like china (plate = mate). We have words borrowed from Yiddish, Lebanese and Portuguese.

Some words have been co-opted into corporate-speak like indaba (a meeting or conference, from Zulu). Some words are thrown in for flavour just-for-just, like ag, eish and eina! And there are some temporal markers we use for deliberate obfuscation, and to get out of doing things we don’t want to do, like nownow (‘I’ll proofread the footnotes now-now’).

We refer to our money as bucks rather than krugerrands. We put our groceries in a trolley and then transfer them into packets at the till.

We call our mothers Mom and fathers Dad, although some folks use the British Mum and, just to confuse you, Pop.

There are some words we have to be careful not to use in books aimed at mainstream US or UK audiences, like:

  • hooter: the loud bit on a car
  • robot: the traffic light
  • boot: the back of the car
  • bra: also bru, used like bro to refer to our male buddies
  • slops: flip-flop sandals (we may giggle at thongs)

Pants are trousers. A jersey is a cardigan or jumper. Cooldrinks are fizzy.

If you are still having trouble distinguishing between broer and boerewors, or boetie and baboetie, you might want to look up some South African colloquialism lists, lest you accidentally eat your little brother.

Grammatical quirks

Must has a much lower impact in SAE and is used as a synonym for should or shall. You might also encounter constructions that have been influenced by German and Dutch, such as come with (‘Are they coming with?’).

Are there any pitfalls or sensitivities to be aware of?

It is important to be aware of the prejudices towards certain varieties of SAE, as I mentioned earlier. The social effects of history linger on, and we must pay extra attention to accurate, authentic and respectful representation in literature.

Editors must also be alert to common errors like aswell and isit, and the confusion of borrow and lend, which are fine in conversation but unacceptable in writing. If you can catch things like that, you’ll be hundreds.

What are the main resources?

The OUP has published four editions of the Oxford South African Pocket Dictionary. It has a good introduction with more detail on the quirks of South Africanisms and includes South African slang terms and borrowed words.

For specifics regarding punctuation, spelling and grammar, I was able to find this government-issued style guide. I also tracked down this style guide from the University of Johannesburg, which may help academic editors. It is best to get a style guide from the university in question, if possible, since there may be differences between institutions.

The general rule of thumb is to follow UK spelling and grammar and aim for consistency – what a relief!


References

Mesthrie, R, (ed.) (2002). Language in South Africa. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

De Klerk, V and Gough, D (2002). Black South African English. In Rajend Mesthrie (ed.), Language in South Africa. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 356–78.


Katherine Kirk is a South African-born proofreader, copyeditor and developmental editor who married a Texan. They spend most of their time arguing over whether to call them pavements or sidewalks.

When she isn’t torturing her spouse with incomprehensible regionalisms, Katherine hunts down commas and misused apostrophes in fiction. She especially likes applying her love of etymology to worldbuilding in science fiction. She currently lives halfway up a mountain in Ecuador, where the weather is always lekker.


When we posted Katherine’s blog on Facebook, two distinguished editors, Jill Wolvaardt and Penny Silva, got in touch to tell us about the Dictionary of South African English, which, following extensive digital enhancements, has been released as a Mobile Edition designed for use on smartphones and tablets. First published in print as A Dictionary of South African English on Historical Principles (Oxford University Press, 1996), this unrivalled record of the development of the language variety over three centuries is available with free access at https://dsae.co.za.


Photo credits: Flag by Barend Lotter, on Pixabay; South African Time by Katherine Kirk (Gecko Edit).

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

Wise owls: dialects

There are many different Englishes – and there are Englishes within Englishes. The wise owls have turned their thoughts to their favourite features of dialects of England.

Louise BolotinLouise Bolotin

I’ve been a sucker for a flat northern vowel ever since I watched Coronation Street as a kid (long ousted for EastEnders, whose mockney lacks the same appeal). I’m a southerner by birth so when I moved to Leeds in the 1980s I was thrilled to be called ‘duck’ by the Loiners and hear them rhyme bath with math(s). I have an unconscious tendency to mimic other people’s accents, so it wasn’t long before I started flattening my own vowels when in the company of northerners. I quickly added owt, nowt and summat to my verbal repertoire, and have been using them ever since because, well, they are just so much more succinct.

What I also love about northern dialects is the rich vocabulary – I’ve been in Manchester for more than 12 years now and I’m still learning the lingo. Words like bobbins (rubbish) and brew (a cup of tea) roll off my tongue as easily as fookin’ hell (no one swears quite as awesomely northernly as Liam Gallagher), often shortened to ‘kinell. However, I doubt my stepson would approve if I called him ‘our kid’. My absolute favourite is ‘out out’, as in ‘Are we going out, or out out?’ This is Mancunian for deciding how dressed up you ought to be for a night on the tiles.

Obviously, I still get confused when Mancunians say dinner when they clearly mean lunch; I’ve had some awkward attempts to diarise meetings thanks to that. But when I turn up for lunch/dinner, I’m as likely to greet my companion with ‘Yallright?’ as I am to say hi. I’ve lived far longer in the north of England, or Oop North, as I call it, than I have anywhere else, so the accents and vocabulary have left a bigger imprint on my brain than those of all the other
cities and countries I’ve lived in. And that’s not bobbins. Maybe one day I’ll be taken to be proper Manc.

Hazel Bird

A variant of dialects that I find interesting is idiolects, which are
uses or coinages of words particular to individuals or small groups (such as friendship groups or families). They tend to grow organically out of day-to-day interactions, and unlike dialects they can be
cross-regional.

For example, I have just looked up the term ‘hoon’ in the Oxford English Dictionary and learned that it is an Aussie/Kiwi term for ‘behav[ing] in a loutish or irresponsible way; spec. to drive fast or recklessly’. However, by way of a link with rally car culture, my family has come to use it to refer to ruminant animals’ prancing across a landscape. Our definition is quite precise: sheep can hoon; cows, horses and such cannot.

We also use the word ‘puggle’ to refer to (1) the act of moving foodstuffs around a cooking pan to prevent them from adhering to the bottom or (2) fussing a cat. The OED has the meaning ‘to poke out’, which bears passing resemblance to (1) but not to (2). How we came to adopt these meanings is a mystery.

Another oddity is the spelling ‘baout’ (pronounced with extreme emphasis on each vowel) for ‘boat’. A baout can be a water-worthy object of any description, with the word denoting a sense of longing. However, like many dialect and idiolect words, it has a shared significance that is hard to put into words.

I often encounter dialect and idiolect words in my creative non-fiction editing work. When
used well, their effect can be powerful, conveying intimacy, alienation or a little of both.
They can make the reader the author’s closest confidante or deliberately shock them into
a new perspective.

Melanie Thompson reading the SfEP guide 'Pricing your project'Melanie Thompson

Nah then, mardy bum! There are often discussions in the CIEP forum about whether it’s permissible to quote song lyrics, but in this case the famous line is part of my childhood vernacular, and if you tell me I can’t write it, I’ll get a reyt face on.

One of the biggest thrills of my life was to hear that line sung at full throttle by the passengers on the crammed tram conveying myself and my (then) teenage son to hear Arctic Monkeys play in their (and my) home town: Sheffield.

Unlike the next-most-famous city band (the Human League) who adopted the ubiquitous
1980s musicians’ twang, Arctic Monkeys are proper tykes who know how to pronounce Beauchief (Beechiff) and will know that they need to pack their brollies if someone tells them
it’s silin’ it dahn.

Lots of people think they can ‘do’ a Yorkshire accent by splatterin’ apostrophes awl o’er t’ro-ad but Sheffieldish doesn’t work quite like that. Indeed, there are regional variations even within the city boundaries depending on whether the speaker hails from the northern or southern side – and it’s nothing to do with whether they support the Owls or the Blades.*

TV and radio programmes often fail to do the Sheffield accent justice: not all shows can afford Sean Bean (sadly!). But to hear a bit of authentic Sheffield banter, try Tom Wrigglesworth
and ‘family’
on BBC Radio 4. Every time I hear Tom’s fictitious dad answer the phone with ‘Sheffield 973629’ I am transported 150 miles north! (Why do my older northern relatives recite their number?)

I had the full force of my Sheffield accent elocutioned out of me, as a teenager, but my dad is an aficionado. This has been known to cause major confusion among his southern careworkers, but the fuss is usually somert and nowt, such as a mix-up between putting something o’r’ere or o’r theer.

To me, dialects are not just about words and pronunciation, but a way of life – some of which is sadly now dwindling.

Back in the day, my nannan used to gerron t’bus to go shoppin’ dah’n’t’cliff armed wi’a bag o’spice to share with the other passengers! She’d gerroff and buy some breadcakes, peys, a pound of tripe and a bottle of Hendo’s, then reverse the journey to be home in time for dinner.**

As I set off out to play, my mum might have told me not to get my clo’e’s loppy from scrawmin’ around in’t’ gennel; and if a friend later called round for me, the response would be ‘She in’t-in’.

Dialects can be problematic in formal writing and speaking, but they are a matter of great local pride and shouldn’t be regarded as a lesser form of English, in the right context. Nuff said?

Ah’ll si’thi’!

* Sheffield Wednesday and Sheffield United football teams

** My grandmother would get on the bus to go shopping at Attercliffe, carrying a bag of sweets … to purchase bread, peas, tripe and the local delicacy Henderson’s Relish [try it on pie!], and return in time for lunch.

Sue LittlefordSue Littleford

It is my abiding regret that I wasn’t born in my grandmothers’ generation so far as dialect goes, to hear their grandmothers speak. Alas, I am a child of the Fifties, by which time dialect was fading rapidly, and almost gone from my little corner of Hyde, a Pennine foothills mill town eight miles east of Manchester. We were in that select group of people that says scoan, not sconn (much smaller geographically than I ever imagined), and we had ginnels (though not as generally defined – ours were always covered). A buffet (pronounce that T!) was a broad, low wooden stool, an exceedingly useful article, especially for a tiny kid as, if you turned it upside down, you could sit on the underside, surrounded by rather solid framework, and pretend it was a rowing boat. I’m delighted to find it in Oxford Dictionaries at definition 3 (sans boat) and the etymology appears to be Old French into Middle English 600 years ago.

Mum kept an odd bit of grammar going well into the present century. She’d say ‘When I’m waken’ for ‘When I awoke’. And I distinctly recall a small schoolfriend (we must only have been six or seven) tell someone to ‘Stop thy skrikin’ ’ – a term that wasn’t  used in my house, a couple of hundred yards away (not metres, back then), but was easy enough to figure out (‘Cease that noisy crying, forthwith!’) and if you couldn’t, well, it’s in Collins. Its etymology is harder to find, but it looks like being Old Norse for, not very excitingly, to scream or cry. We were just within the Danelaw, back in the day, so that sounds about right. Of course, the people around me didn’t speak a dialect, just as we didn’t have an accent – we just spoke how we spoke, but we knew it wasn’t like those posh folk on the wireless or telly – unless it was for comic effect and Marriott Edgar was being recited (I gave this monologue at a school show, and that was accent, really, not dialect). I’ve been living away for too long now to retain any strong linguistic links to home, and though I do still rhyme grass with crass, and bath with math, I no longer rhyme book with souk. Thanks for a lovely nostalgia trip!


The wise owls pop up on the blog every couple of months to reflect on their experiences on various topics. All are Advanced Professional Members of the CIEP.


Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator (who is quite a fan of bishy barnabees).

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

Of Indian Englishes, eating heads and doing the needful

By Ayesha Chari

‘I can’t get it done on time if you eat my head from the morning!’ Words I said aloud to my other half just before sitting down to write this. (Unusual, given that I’m the one who’s generally doing the nagging.) I am glad no one asked me to prepone submission.

Indian Englishes are as diverse as the people who speak them, and the buildings those people inhabit.

Indian English, as is widely acknowledged, comes in as many colours and variations as people in the sub-continent. It is not the equivalent of Hinglish, not the sole domain of Bollywood, nor the caricatured ‘incorrectness’ painted eloquently in English language literature. It seeps effortlessly through urban, semi-urban and rural terrains in the spoken and the written, and is accepted as the glue binding the 22 constitutionally ‘scheduled’ Indian languages and hundreds of other language-dialects, recognised or otherwise. Not without contention, of course, perhaps highlighted most by the ‘non-native English speaker’ label forced on the nation’s people by bureaucratic forms in all fields and worldwide.

Historically, introduced to the Indian elite via the East India Company, the formal teaching of the English language was established with Macaulay’s Minute on Indian Education and the English Education Act of 1835. Taking a shape of its own in post-colonial South Asia, ironically English became the tape for a linguistically and culturally fragmented nation and its Indian diaspora. Among the earliest documented works on the characteristics of Indian English is linguist Braj Kachru’s 1961/62 thesis, available from the University of Edinburgh Research Archive (Prof Kachru’s The Indianization of English and The Alchemy of English are widely used as references in the field). The controversial 2019 Draft National Education Policy re-emphasises the three-language formula first introduced in 1968, leading to questions on the role of English as a link-language for bilingual citizens of a multilingual nation.

A basic internet search on Indian English will throw up scores of researched articles and resources (old, not-so-recent and more recent) on:

  • the history: British, but also Portuguese and Dutch influences;
  • extent of use: exponentially growing, as I write;
  • characteristics:
    • British in formally taught style, grammar, spelling and punctuation – a legacy of colonisation
    • increasingly American in business, spoken and other forms of quick communication – the unquestionable influence of TV, social media and globalisation of the sub-continent’s ‘service face’
    • respectfully Indian in colloquial usage written and spoken – expansively mixed in idiomatic usage and everyday writings;
  • vocabulary, phrases, expressions, idioms and pronunciation: all distinctly Indian, reflective of regional vernaculars, all as diverse as the nation itself.

It won’t come as a surprise, then, if I say there are no standard resources, manuals, guides or websites to help editors edit.

For useful discussions on the myriad issues, pop in to the Facebook groups Indian Copyeditors Forum and the Editors’ Association of Earth. To keep up with contemporary urban lingo, bookmark Samosapedia. Interesting, informative reads include Kalpana Mohan’s An English Made in India (2019), Binoo K John’s Entry from Backside Only (2013) and the multi-authored Chutnefying English (2011).

And then there is the kaleidoscope of Indian English literature: from the traditionally recognised writings of Salman Rushdie, Mulk Raj Anand, RK Narayan, Ruskin Bond, Anita Desai, Nirad C Chaudhuri and Vikram Seth to the engaging, controversial, academic, popular (yet, often, quieter, less talked-about) and/or award-winning literary works of Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Kamala Markandaya, Arundhati Roy, Arvind Adiga, Vikram Chandra, Jeet Thayil, Amitav Ghosh, Nissim Ezekiel, Gieve Patel, Kamala Das, Anuja Chauhan and Chetan Bhagat, to those of Jhumpa Lahiri and Amit Chaudhuri, writing in English but not agreeing with the label of the genre, the list is endless and reveals there is no standard written form. And new tales continue to be embraced over chai and aadda.

Bottom line: Being aware of regional sensitivities, variations, expressions and context is key to recognising and understanding ‘Indian Englishes’ for their own sake. Because we are like this only.

Dear Ms Cathy,

Thank you to blog team for asking me to write up.
Please find herewith my draft blog contribution.
Please let me know if you wish to know any further. I will do the needful and revert back.

Sincerely,
Ayesha

Disclaimer: No offence is intended to native or non-native speakers of any language. All errors and inconsistencies are the author’s and the editor’s, who are both same-to-same.

Ayesha Chari is an Indian editor with ancestral, native and adopted linguistic roots in New Delhi, Benares and Lucknow (northern India), Behrampore, Dhanbad, Arrah and Calcutta (eastern India), Bombay (western India), and Madras, Madanapalle and Palakkad (southern India), not to leave out Rangoon (in now Myanmar) and Jessore (in now Bangladesh). Currently based in the UK, she has done the needful, sat on the computer and written – in true character of the topic – twice the number of words Catherine Tingle requested for this blog. When not doing timepass, she teaches her 2.5-year-old Indian English among other languages.


Lynne Murphy discusses a standard Global English and editing English for global audiences in a CIEP focus paper: In a globalised world, should we retain different Englishes?


All illustrations by Ayesha Chari.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

The A to D of writing multiple choice tests

By Julia Sandford-Cooke

Multiple choice tests are hard to get right. And I’m not just thinking of the time I scored 19% in a school physics test – statistically less than if I’d just guessed every answer. It’s actually really tricky to write high-quality questions and answer options that genuinely assess knowledge and understanding. As with a lot of the topics discussed on this blog, it’s a type of writing and editing that seems easy until you try it.

What do I mean by multiple choice (or multi-choice) questions and answers? They’re the ones with a standalone question (the stem) where the correct answer (the key) is hidden among three or four wrong answers (distractors). The people responding (let’s call them students) have to choose one or more answers from the options given. For example:

What noise does a cat make?

      1. Woof
      2. Moo
      3. Meow [key]
      4. Baa

And what do I know about multiple choice questions? Well, quite a bit. I have edited hundreds, maybe thousands, of them for one of the UK’s biggest test providers over the past 15 years. I’ve also written and edited them for, well, multiple other contexts, including textbooks, revision guides, workbooks and online learning materials.

A good multi-choice test is an objective measurement of a student’s knowledge, which can be taken and marked online, with instant feedback. However, from my experience, authors usually don’t know what a good () – or bad ()– multi-choice test looks like. They might be experts in their subject but they’ve never been taught how to actually write a test. And there’s a lot they should know, involving some pretty complex pedagogical concepts. I don’t have space to go into Bloom’s Taxonomy here but the goal is to ensure that the test is an unobtrusive channel for assessing the student’s knowledge.

So here’s a quick primer, covering four common problems.

Problem A: The question doesn’t make sense

The question must be pitched appropriately for who is taking the test. Unless it’s a Key Stage 2 SATs test, the aim is to find out what students know, not how well they can read or understand long words. Clarity is vital. The wording of question and answers should be concise and unambiguous, assessing knowledge, not literacy skills. There is usually no need to fill the question with irrelevant and confusing information:

Pet cats may be kept inside or outside, or be able to move freely between the house and garden. Sometimes neighbouring cats can enter the house in this way but owners can allow only their cat to come in by installing a special cat flap. How?

What type of cat flap prevents the wrong cats from entering the house?

Students shouldn’t have to waste time under exam conditions trying to work out what they are being asked. The question should be self-contained so that it makes sense without the answers.

My cat Pixel is:

      1. tortoiseshell.
      2. black and white. [key]
      3. ginger.
      4. tabby.

What colour is my cat Pixel?

      1. Tortoiseshell
      2. Black and white [key]
      3. Ginger
      4. Tabby

Avoid colloquialisms and unnecessarily complex language. Of course, you might want to find out whether students know a particular technical term, but the structure of the question should make that intention clear and direct.

A cat is a digitigrade. What does this mean?

      1. It has a different number of toes on its front and back paws.
      2. It walks on its toes. [key]
      3. It stands with its toes flat on the ground.
      4. It has claws.

Technical terms applied in the wrong context might also make for credible distractors.

Opinions differ on negatively phrased questions. Some people argue that they’re confusing, while others say they make students read the question more carefully. I think they’re fine under the right circumstances, and as long as the negative word (eg ‘not’) is obvious (eg formatted
in bold).

Problem B: The distractors are too obvious

I see this issue more than any other. The author knows what they want the students to know but struggles to think of plausible distractors.

What is the common name for the species felis catus?

      1. Cat
      2. Dog
      3. Elephant
      4. Human

If the correct answer can be easily guessed without any background knowledge, the question has failed in its purpose. And a test isn’t the time to try to be funny.

If it’s too hard to think of wrong answers, perhaps it’s the wrong question. Try asking it in a way that allows the distractors to be worth considering. They could be frequent misconceptions, commonly asked questions, otherwise true statements or other related terms or concepts that the student might know. For example:

What is the Latin term for the domestic cat?

      1. Felidae [Latin term for the family ‘cat’]
      2. Felis catus [key]
      3. Panthera [the genus of cats that roar]
      4. Felis silvestris [European wild cat]

All the answer options should have a similar sentence structure that follows on logically from the question. It’s the same principle as wording bullet lists to follow platform sentences – errors may unintentionally draw attention to the wrong (or right) answers.

Cats are crepuscular because they:

      1. they like to knead your laps with their paws.
      2. of their rough tongues.
      3. like to go out at dawn and dusk. [key]
      4. prefers to go out during the day.

Option lengths should be consistent – often, the correct answer is obvious because it is much longer or shorter than the distractors, and phrased slightly differently.

Where does Pixel most like to be stroked?

      1. On his back
      2. Around his face, ears, chin and at the base of his tail, where his scent glands are [key]
      3. On his tummy
      4. On his paws

Pixel deep in thought during a maths test

Avoid ‘All of the above’ – it’s a copout. Students only need to realise that more than one answer could be right to reasonably guess that ‘All of the above’ is the correct answer.

What is a cat’s favourite pastime?

      1. Sleeping
      2. Being stroked
      3. Sitting on laps
      4. All of the above.

With this example, you could also argue that ‘favourite’ implies a single pastime that the cat enjoys more than any other. ‘All of the above’, therefore, is doubly confusing.

‘None of the above’ is also a meaningless option, as it does not identify whether the student knows the correct answer.

On a related note, avoid acronym questions. Not only could a student successfully argue that a collection of letters stands for anything you want it to, but it’s also hard to write realistic distractors for a specific acronym.

What does RSPCA stand for?

      1. Really Special People’s Cats Association
      2. Royal Society for the Protection of Cats and Animals
      3. Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
      4. Running Short of Possible Cat Answers

If the test isn’t delivered via software that randomises the position of the answers each time it’s administered, vary the placement of the key throughout the test, to avoid any patterns.

Problem C: The questions and/or answers are ambiguous

This is the opposite problem to the obvious distractors. A student may find that more than one option could be correct, but a multi-choice test doesn’t give the opportunity for students to answer ‘it depends’.

What noise does a cat make?

      1. Woof
      2. Moo
      3. Meow [key?]
      4. Purr [key?]

Authors are sometimes advised to ask students to find the ‘best’ answer rather than the ‘correct’ answer but this rather skates over the need for precise wording. In this case, it would be better to ask a more specific question that tests a higher level of understanding:

What noise do cats make to communicate with humans?

      1. Woof
      2. Moo
      3. Meow [key]
      4. Purr

Don’t ask ‘What would you do?’, as the student could easily defend any answer with ‘Well, I would do that!’. Similarly, avoid anything that could be seen as subjective or absolute:

Why are cats so cute?
Why do cats love fish?
Why does Pixel only come into my office when I’m in a Zoom meeting?

But it’s also important not to be too specific. Avoid closed questions – they limit the distractors:

Are whiskers a type of hair?

      1. Yes
      2. No
      3. Sometimes
      4. Meaningless fourth distractor

Problem D: The test isn’t tested

It’s not always possible to try out the questions before using them, but they should at least be run past a colleague. You might know what you mean but other people might not.

As with any edited text, develop a style guide that encompasses any aspects that could be inconsistent – the use of numbers, units and punctuation, for example.

Remember to provide students with clear instructions on how you expect them to take the test. Ensure they know what learning objectives, topics or concepts are being tested, and whether they can refer to notes or use aids such as a calculator.

Tests that are to be administered live (as opposed to being used as self-revision in a textbook) should be kept on a spreadsheet that states clearly when and how the questions have been used.

If possible, keep anonymised data on how students answered each question. There’s quite a bit of analytical science relating to this but, for general tests, all that’s really important is to ask the following:

  • Were there any distractors that nobody chose?
  • Were there any answers that everyone got right?
  • Can variations in students’ results be explained by their different levels of knowledge alone?

Learn from the data and revisit the test to change elements as necessary. Consider, too, whether a multi-choice test format is suitable for assessing everything that needs to be assessed. A bit like this blog post, some topics lend themselves to longer, more evaluative responses, and can’t be properly examined within the constraints of a few options.

But, done right, are multiple choice tests effective tools for assessing learning, useful revision aids and direct channels for measuring knowledge? Well, yes – all of the above …

Julia Sandford-CookeJulia Sandford-Cooke of WordFire Communications has more than 20 years’ experience of publishing and marketing. When she’s not hanging out with other editors (virtually or otherwise), she writes and edits textbooks, proofreads anything that’s put in front of her and posts short, often grumpy, book reviews on her blog, Ju’s Reviews.

 


Photo credits: multiple cats – The Lucky Neko; hand and paw – Humberto Arellano; whiskers – Kevin Knezic, all on Unsplash

Proofread by Alice McBrearty, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

CIEP local groups: connecting and learning

The CIEP’s local groups enable members to share knowledge, hear from guest speakers, and gain new skills. Many groups meet monthly, and all have moved to online meetings since March. In this post, three members share what their groups have been up to.

Herts & Essex

By Antonia Maxwell

On 9 July the Herts & Essex CIEP local group welcomed Melody Dawes as guest speaker at its Zoom meeting. Melody is founder of Just Content (a specialist content services provider), and works closely with publishing clients to build teams of freelancers to meet their project needs.

Melody is ideally placed to offer advice and insight into the freelancer–client relationship. She highlighted the importance of scoping the project at the outset. This means establishing a brief, allocating the appropriate resources, and discussing the details of schedules, timing, pace of work – and of course fees. She emphasised the importance of two-way communication at this stage to avoid problems later on. Establishing expectations, hammering out a detailed brief and assessing the level of work are all areas where a freelancer – who may be the first person to delve into the detail of the project – needs to speak out and offer their expertise.

Melody was keen to explore CIEP members’ experiences of working with publishing clients. Project management was highlighted as a particularly thorny area when scoping a project – where clients may underestimate the level of work required. Offsetting quality of work against budget restrictions was discussed too – and again Melody stressed the need for clear communication and honest appraisal of the project.

The meeting concluded with Melody’s reflections on the future. She has noted a shift in emphasis in publishing towards digital products, but emphasised that the editorial skills required for these products remain broadly the same as for print. Freelancers shouldn’t be afraid of taking on digital work – everyone is learning – and as ever the importance of dialogue to establish the client’s requirements and any training needs was emphasised.

Melody talked about freelancers’ concerns for the future resulting from COVID-19 and lockdown. Although there is uncertainty, she felt that publishing seems to have adjusted to some extent during lockdown – for example, catering to the changing demands of the home school market and increased demand for digital output. Whether a lull in publishers commissioning new titles over the lockdown period will ultimately impact freelancers’ workflow remains to be seen.

Thanks to Melody for sharing her insights and spending time with the Herts & Essex Group!

West Yorkshire

By Helen Stevens

Many freelance editors and proofreaders don’t often need to speak in public. In fact, sometimes there’s little need to speak at all in the course of a working day.

So what on earth would possess a freelance editor to step outside their comfort zone and train in public speaking? Neuroscience editor Julia Slone-Murphy agreed to enlighten us.

Julia described situations in the past when she had been obliged to speak in public: the sleepless nights beforehand, the sweaty palms, the racing heart rate, the script delivered rapidly and without looking at the audience … Stepping several miles outside her comfort zone, Julia decided to tackle her fear by taking a public speaking course.

Perhaps not surprisingly, increased confidence in public speaking was the main benefit of training. But Julia also found she was more fluent and confident in verbal communication generally, whether in meetings, at events or on the phone. Similarly, she found she was more logical, coherent and eloquent in her written communications.

Julia gained a great sense of success in seeing herself improve in leaps and bounds, particularly in an activity she had previously struggled with.

Julia’s top tips

  1. Make it personal: Weave your own experiences into the message you’re conveying. Your audience will relate to your ‘story’, and your speech will be memorable and entertaining.
  2. Focus on the message: Don’t worry about being the centre of attention. Instead, focus on delivering a message your audience will find interesting. This moves the spotlight away from you and onto your audience.
  3. Keep practising: Find opportunities to carry on honing your skills, otherwise you’ll be back to square one!

David Crystal, the CIEP’s honorary president, makes it personal when speaking at the 2019 SfEP conference

Julia encouraged all editors and proofreaders to improve their public speaking skills, whether or not they’re planning to actually make a speech.

Goodbye, sweaty palms and racing heart rate; hello, logical thinking, eloquent delivery and sparkling social and business encounters!

NEW: Discovery

By Claire Handy

Thank goodness for the internet! Without it, the local group meetings would have been another casualty of the pandemic. However, since we’ve moved onto Zoom to stay in touch with our fellow editors, I have attended more meetings, and got to know more wonderful people, than I would normally have done.

For security reasons though, it has meant that only members have been able to attend these events. In normal times, those interested in learning more about the CIEP and proofreading/copyediting could usually attend up to three meetings before deciding whether to join the Institute, giving them a chance to ask questions about starting out, and learn more about what the CIEP can do for them. This isn’t possible at the moment, so Discovery meetings have been created to offer interested people the chance to find out more before a career change or joining the CIEP.

We had two trial meetings back in June before the idea grew into its current shape, and the first official Discovery meeting was held on 17 July – all to great success. Each meeting had a panel of amazing CIEP members who gave up their time to answer questions – questions that we all had when we started, which ranged from ‘What course should I do?’ to ‘How long until I get my first client?’ to ‘Does proofreading bring enough income in?’ to ‘What benefits does the CIEP offer me?’ and more. The meetings lasted just over an hour and all participants reported back afterwards that they were incredibly useful and packed full of information. There was so much excitement and anticipation in the feedback I received, which was lovely to read, and we now have new members joining our ranks.

The Discovery meetings will be continuing for future interested people; check out the Events calendar for dates and times if you know anyone who would like to attend.


Photo credit: video call and coffee – Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

Proofread by Lynne Baybut, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.