Tag Archives: conscious language

Talking tech: Can a machine use conscious language?

In this Talking tech column, Andy Coulson delves into the world of artificial intelligence to find out how it might be able to consider the use of conscious language or edit text in the future.

For this issue of The Edit my column is going to be a little different from normal. Usually, I try to highlight how technology can help you with the theme of the issue. This issue’s theme, conscious language, proves to be a bit of a challenge on that front. What I am going to do instead is to get the crystal ball out and do a bit of speculating about how technology might develop to help ensure more conscious language use.

Natural language processing

Natural language processing (NLP) is the term used to describe a field of computer science that covers developing computer systems to understand text and speech in a comparable way to a human. This is a branch of artificial intelligence (AI), and I will get into some more detail about that later. This enables tools like Google Translate or the digital assistants Siri or Alexa to work. This is the field from which any tools (or indeed our competitors!) will come that will be able to improve how conscious the language in a text is.

Just to simplify things (slightly) I am going to ignore speech and all the computational issues that speech recognition brings. Let us concentrate on text and look at how machines are taught to understand that and make decisions about how to respond to it. To date, a lot of the NLP development has focused more on teaching a machine to respond to some text, whereas what we are trying to think about is how a machine would understand and amend a text. Microsoft and Grammarly both use AI to help improve their editing tools, so you can be sure there are other tech companies experimenting with this.

While language is to a degree rule based, it is also full of subtleties and ambiguities. The rules allow tools like PerfectIt to work – we can describe and recognise patterns and so teach a machine to do this too. This only takes us so far, as NLP then needs to pick the text apart to find the meaning within it. It must undertake a range of tasks on the text to enable the computer to ‘understand’ it. These include:

  • Speech or grammatical tagging, where the computer figures out the role of each word. This would be where it would identify ‘make’ being used as a verb (make a jacket) rather than a noun (the make of jacket).
  • Recognising names, so it can identify a proper noun. It knows Lesley is likely to be someone’s name rather than a thing, so ‘picking Lesley up on the way’ can be interpreted in the right sense.
  • Resolving co-references, where it relates a pronoun to a previously named object, so it recognises that ‘she’ is ‘Kathy’ from a previous sentence. This task can also be involved with dealing with metaphors or idioms – recognising that someone who is cold may not want an extra jumper but might not be much fun to talk to.
  • Sentiment analysis, which is also known as opinion mining. Here the computer is attempting to recognise more hidden aspects of the text, such as whether the tone is positive or negative.

All of these, and other functions we would need in order to make judgements about how conscious the language used in a text is, do not lend themselves to rules. Rather, they rely on a knowledge of context and conventions. Acceptable language in a novel set in 1960s Alabama would be quite different from that used in a modern social sciences paper about the same city and its inhabitants, but understanding the context will frame and shape language choices.

How machines learn

So, we have realised we are not going to be able to fix this one with a clever macro. What sort of computation do we need? Step forward AI – a term that covers a number of fields that involve machines that mimic human intelligence. One of the main aspects of this that NLP uses is machine learning, a field of computing covering machines that learn a task or tasks through different approaches.

One of the best-known AI companies is Google’s DeepMind division. They have made a name for themselves by approaching AI from the perspective of learning to play games using machine learning. To understand how they have progressed in the field we need a bit of a history lesson.

In 1997 an IBM project called Deep Blue beat the then World Chess Champion, Garry Kasparov. What Deep Blue did was to search all possible moves in the game and then pick the best next move. What is different about DeepMind’s AlphaGo is that they had to follow a different approach, as the game of Go has so many more possible moves than chess. This version of AlphaGo used neural networks (a brain-like arrangement of computing elements with lots of connections between each element) to compare the best move from the current position and the likelihood of winning from that move, which gave a more efficient way of narrowing down the choice of moves. AlphaGo was trained by playing vast numbers of games of Go to improve its ability to select moves and predict its current chance of winning. Eventually, in 2016, it beat Lee Sedol, widely regarded as one of the best players of all time.

DeepMind have since developed AlphaGo further and, instead of playing against experienced players, it learns from scratch by playing against itself. It uses a technique called reinforcement learning, where the system tries to optimise a reward called a Q-value. It has been able to play and master various video games from scratch (the Atari benchmark). Here AlphaGo tries to gain positive awards (and avoid negative ones) by, for example, collecting a game’s currency or surviving for a certain amount of time. It can then use the information about what it did and what reward it received to alter its strategy and see if that improves the Q-value.

Why is this important? It shows a progression from a very controlled environment with a limited (although large) number of variables, to a more complex one (Go) and then to a more generalised one (more varied games). We are still not at the point where this could be applied to a problem (like our language one) with very few constraints, but this certainly shows a progression. The latest version, AlphaZero, has apparently taught itself chess from scratch to a world champion level in 24 hours.

This technique of using neural networks and reinforcement learning seems to me to offer the potential to create tools with a more subtle understanding of learning. One issue that can cause problems is that AI often uses huge datasets to train the systems, but using already acquired data can bring with it historical problems. Microsoft created an AI chatbot for Twitter called Tay, designed to mimic the speech patterns of a 19-year-old girl, which it did very well right up to the point it learned to be inflammatory and offensive and had to be shut down. Microsoft believe that the trolling the bot experienced taught it how to be offensive. Similarly, Amazon developed an AI system to shortlist job candidates, and this showed a distinct bias against women. Amazon tracked the problem down to an underlying bias in the training data.

Given the increasing pressure on social media companies to filter offensive content, platforms like YouTube and Facebook are undoubtedly trying to use AI to recognise problematic language, and some of this may lead to tools we can use to highlight issues. However, as editors and proofreaders we are looking to improve poor language choices and make it more conscious. Looking at how the Editor function in MS Word and Grammarly have developed, they certainly point to a way forward. While I am not convinced a machine is going to take my job for some time, I can certainly see where it could make progress. I think the challenge of issues like conscious language is that they have too many subtleties, and the human ability to make judgements about these, and even to have a productive discussion with an author about a passage, means a human editor will continue to be able to add something a machine cannot to a piece of writing, for the foreseeable future.

About Andy Coulson

Andy Coulson is a reformed engineer and primary teacher, and a Professional Member of CIEP. He is a copyeditor and proofreader specialising In STEM subjects and odd formats like LaTeX.

 

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: chess by Bru-nO on Pixabay, robot by mohamed_hassan on Pixabay, Go by Elena Popova on Unsplash.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

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

Flying Solo: Conscious language and the business-conscious editor or proofreader

In this latest Flying Solo post, Sue Littleford considers the importance of conscious language in marketing and selling your services as a freelance editor or proofreader.

Alienating possible clients is a business no-no. Sure, you don’t have to work with everyone who approaches you. There are folk who ask for a service you don’t provide, or are not happy to provide in the circumstances. Fine (as long as you’re not breaking anti-discrimination law).

Conscious language is a hot topic, rightly. We’re figuring out more and better ways to avoid making people feel prejudged, and to avoid raising barriers against their inclusion. As language professionals, we need to show we walk the walk.

There are two ways that conscious language and its close kin, discrimination, can affect our businesses – you choosing to reject a potentially rather profitable client because of your own beliefs about the world, based on first impressions; or potentially profitable clients rejecting you because of what you say in response to their query.

But aside from being bound by anti-discrimination legislation, it makes no business sense for us to discriminate, to any degree. You are, in effect, reducing your pool of potential clients, and the income you would earn from them, based on what’s going on in your own head, not what they are offering as work.

Incidentally: intent is irrelevant. If you hurt someone, it doesn’t matter whether you meant to or not. The pain is the same.

A word against generalising

Microaggressions accrete until they are a heavy burden that pierces your very being. You may not even notice handing out those tiny barbs, but you surely notice them when they’re directed at you, time after time after time.

Therefore: make it clear in your public writing – social media, blogs, website – that you encounter people as people, not as apparent members of a grouping about which you may have certain preconceived ideas. Those preconceptions may be rooted in a specific unpleasant experience, but when they become expanded from the particular to the general, that’s where microaggression rears its ugly head.

I’m a Manc. My ex-mother-in-law wasn’t my biggest fan. (OK, I admit, it was mutual.) When my then brother-in-law announced he was marrying a girl from Hull, my MIL exploded, ‘Not another bloody northerner!’

That’s an example of one particular beef being expanded to general prejudice. Hull is a good hundred miles from Manchester, yet my new sister-in-law was being branded the same as me, purely on the basis of the cities we were born in, decades earlier. Ridiculous, isn’t it?

Your communications

Many editors work with people for whom English is not their primary language, or it’s now their primary language, but they came to it later on in life, rather than being immersed in it from birth.

How do you refer to those authors in your marketing, when you say who you help? Are you assuming that all such authors have poor English, and will make the same kinds of errors? Do you even hint that’s what you have assumed, when you think you’re saying you’ll bend over backwards to help these poor folk who need all your skills to be able to string a sentence together? That’s a microaggression at the least.

Working in such a heavily online industry as ours, your opportunities to discriminate on grounds of looks alone are equally heavily limited. But what about people’s names? What assumptions do you make based on someone’s name about how much editing they might need, and how much it will cost? And what about the country extensions to the domain names of some email addresses? Do you have a knee-jerk reaction to those you find less desirable in a client? Are you already formulating your No, Thanks, email even as you open theirs?

It is very much good business sense, as well as kind, not to make assumptions based on a partial picture, but to gather evidence – get a sample of the writing, in very basic terms.

That old saying – you only get one chance to make a first impression – cuts both ways. Someone who emails you looking for editorial services may use an unusual (to you) form of greeting, or seem overly formal or overly casual. When you email someone back, indicating your assumptions ahead of the evidence about their writing, you are also making a first impression – and will probably be judged on it.

Be conscious of the lost opportunities that can result, and look closely and critically at your public communication: your website text, your social media, blog posts and profiles, and your responses to client approaches.

Encounter people on their own merits

I’ve already stressed apparent members of a particular group, because we all know what it’s like to be (mis)judged at first glance. I’d now add that membership of any particular group may well be temporary, and it is definitely partial.

Consider for a few moments all the groups that you yourself belong to: your nationality, your locality, your position in your family, your education, your career history, your personal appearance, your accent, your sexuality, your health status, your financial status, your outlook on life, your sleeping pattern, your taste in food and drink, your religion and how you practise it, your lack of religion and how you express it …

Every one of us is a temporary and partial member of a plethora of potential groupings. No one group completely describes us.

Who are we to judge a person’s worth – or value to us as a client – based on what we have just guessed about them, before they show us who they are?

What you perceive is not all there is.

What you show is not all you are.

The thing is, we all make judgements about people the moment we meet them, whether in person, on the phone, by email or on social media; it’s human nature – a visceral safety mechanism to sort strangers into friend or foe. But people in your inbox are at a safe distance, and you can afford to explore further. (OK, I’ll make an exception for scammers – always remain alert to those.)

Resolve to let people (scammers aside) show you who they are, before you make a decision about whether to work with them. This means opening up a dialogue with people enquiring about your services, rather than ‘sorry, too busy’ instant responses because you perceive, from their name or their email address, that they’re not for you.

We do have to protect ourselves from bad clients, of course we do. We want to work for reasonable people at a decent rate and be paid promptly. So by engaging more with potential clients, and getting them to show us who they are, we can have the double benefit of finding the diamond in the rough as well as discovering those folks who arrive fully clothed in red flags and should indeed be avoided. Making judgements prematurely means that you can lose out both ways.

Educate yourself

There are some excellent resources around to improve this part of your skills. My go-to is the marvellous Crystal Shelley, whom many of us have encountered. Her Conscious Language Toolkit for Editors is such a help when you’re stuck for an alternative word or phrase, and has many links to further resources. Just reading through the list of terms that need alternatives should set you thinking hard.

In February 2022, EFA launched a course on the same subject, written by Shelley, for which CIEP members get a discount. Shelley blogged about the launch.

There’s also Gregory Younging’s book Elements of Indigenous Style: A Guide for Writing By and About Indigenous Peoples (ISBN 978-1-55059-716-5).

There’s the free conscious language style sheet for PerfectIt created by Sofia Matias. That really helps you pick up things you may miss as you edit – or write.

Not least, there’s the website Conscious Style Guide, which we should all bookmark.

Pop your own recommended resources in the comments!

Your editing/proofreading

Now you’re being more conscious about your language when you write for your clients, or to your clients, you’re in a better position to help the clients you’re working with. This is also excellent business sense – clients are more likely to recommend you to others if you’ve helped them avoid conscious-language missteps.

Support your clients to use more neutral terms; use descriptions that the groups use for themselves – but good luck finding high degrees of agreement on what those descriptions are: groups are collections of individuals who have in common one element of their being, they’re not homogeneous monoliths! And people aren’t fungible.

So you’ll need to do your research and use your editorial judgement when editing or suggesting changes – such as whether person-first or condition-first is most appropriate when talking about people’s health. Hint: it’s not always person-first.

Get really practised and expert at this, and you can market a new service or make it a feature of your current offer – more good business sense.

As I write this, I have a chapter in mid-copyedit – it uses ‘manpower’ persistently. Those are changing to ‘staff’ or ‘personnel’ or ‘workforce’ as fast as I encounter them.

In sum

It’s sound business sense to educate yourself about conscious language; to encounter people on their own merits, without making assumptions; to make it clear in all your public-facing communications that you do that; and to help clients to avoid micro (and not-so-micro) aggressions in their writing.

About Sue Littleford

Sue Littleford is the author of the CIEP guide Going Solo, now in its second edition. She went solo with her own freelance copyediting business, Apt Words, in March 2007 and specialises in scholarly humanities and social sciences.

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: cactus by Ryan Schram, counters by Markus Spiske, both on Unsplash, welcome note by cottonbro on Pexels.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

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

Curriculum focus: Conscious language

In a new regular feature for The Edit, training director Jane Moody shines a light on an area of the CIEP’s Curriculum for professional development.

Being aware of the language we use is central to all aspects of our profession. The main areas to look at in domain 1: Working as a professional, are in subdomain 1.1: Professional practice and ethics; and also three subdomains of domain 2: Editorial knowledge and practice. This time, I have stripped out the third column, to save space, as there is a large amount of material here, some of which is detailed below.

Knowledge criteriaEditorial competencies, professional skills and attitudes (extract)
1.1.3 Professional ethics• Is alert to the impacts of offensive, biased or non-inclusive material
1.1.4 Professional communication and negotiation• Presents queries concisely and clearly giving adequate detail and proposing solutions where possible
• Communicates politely and diplomatically
• Avoids errors in grammar, spelling and punctuation in communications
2.1.12 Principles of accessibility• Understands the importance of accessibility of print and online materials for all users, including people with disabilities
2.2.1 Grammar, punctuation and usage• Understands and can apply conventions of English grammar and usual practice
• Has adequate command of punctuation
• Has good command of punctuation, vocabulary and other conventions for the variety of English being edited or proofread
• Understands use of common symbols
• Has general knowledge of common English usage as appropriate to the relevant media and audience
• Understands that language develops and changes over time
• Understands the difference between prescriptive and descriptive principles in decisions about usage
• Understands appropriate usage for different audiences and arenas
2.2.3 Voice and tone• Understands reading level, register (degree of formality) and use of terminology appropriate to the type of publication and audience
2.3.2 Judgement of voice• Understands and respects author’s voice but can assess whether suited to the content and the target/likely audience, and appropriateness for context
• Can make changes in keeping with context

Karen Yin’s Conscious Style Guide could be the place to start your search, for anything you need to know about using language to empower the reader. Conscious language is defined here as ‘language rooted in critical thinking and compassion, used skillfully in a specific context’ (About Conscious Style Guide). Another rich resource is the Conscious Language Guide from Healthline Transform.

The American Medical Association’s Advancing Health Equity: A Guide to Language, Narrative and Concepts is essential reading for medical editors.

Writing with Color produces resources including advice for writers, guides and book recommendations centred on racial, ethnic and religious diversity.

The Diversity Style Guide is ‘a resource to help journalists and other media professionals cover a complex, multicultural world with accuracy, authority and sensitivity’. It includes over 700 terms related to race/ethnicity, disability, immigration, sexuality and gender identity, drugs and alcohol, and geography.

The Plain English for Editors course and the associated CIEP guide Editing into Plain English will give you a good grounding in this specific skill. Other useful resources include the CIEP fact sheets Good editorial relationships and Good practice for author queries, and the CIEP focus papers In a globalised world, should we retain different Englishes? and To whom it may concern.

Inclusive Publishing defines inclusive publishing as ‘the methodology and practice of creating a single, typically commercial publication which can be accessed by everyone irrespective of print disability, using mainstream or specialist assistive technology’. The organisation produces resources to improve the accessibility of digitally published material.

The US Book Industry Study Group (BISG) Guide to Accessible Publishing & Cheat Sheets was published in 2019. You can download it for free, although you do have to provide your details to get the download. The content is geared to the US publishing market, but the general information is relevant in all contexts.

The Accessible Books Consortium produces Accessibility Guidelines for Self-Publishing Authors, written by Dave Gunn. It offers clear instructions on how to make ebooks more reader-friendly for all users.

About Jane Moody

Jane has worked with books for all her working life (which is rather more years than she cares to admit), having started life as a librarian. She started a freelance editing business while at home with her two children, which she maintained for 15 years before going back into full-time employment as head of publishing for a medical Royal College.

Now retired, she has resurrected her editorial business, but has less time for work these days as she spends much time with her four grandchildren and in her garden.

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: pebbles by Il Solyanaya on Pexels.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

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

Forum matters: Conscious language

This feature comes from the band of CIEP members who volunteer as forum moderators. You will only be able to access links to the posts if you’re a forum user and logged in. Find out how to register.

One could argue that an editor’s job is entirely about the conscious use of language. That is, conscious in the senses of: being aware of and responsive to words and their meaning; having knowledge of the topic; having and raising a concern where necessary; being intentional in the choice of vocabulary when suggesting change.

In today’s world, where rapid and easy communication is exposing the unconscious use of language, ‘conscious language’ has become a technical term related to sensitivity and awareness. This interpretation is explored on the forums as members question the use and validity of words and phrases that, up until now, have been employed without thought or a broader understanding.

Resources for fiction editors

The specialist Fiction forum’s invaluable EDI Resources for Editors helps its members to ‘answer questions like “Is this insensitive?” and “How do I phrase this query?” as well as presenting solutions or giving advice for how to approach problematic texts’. There are over 50 links and references to books, websites, organisations, courses and guides that will help you develop your awareness of what conscious language is and how it is developing. The good news for those who aren’t yet on the Fiction forum is that many of these resources also appear on our dedicated EDI webpage.

Maintaining a safe space

While the overarching principle on the forums is that anything is up for reasoned discussion, questioning and point-making, threads can get heated at times. Usually, forum users keep the space constructive and supportive by acknowledging the many facets of different individual experiences. On the rare occasions that the tone gets too personal or aggressive, then the thread is either closed (so no further comments can be posted but all the interesting points can still be seen) or (even more rarely, if the argument is becoming harmful) removed to maintain the forums as a safe space. If you want to see the rationale then please visit section 2 of the CIEP’s Dignity Policy, ‘Statement of expectations’.

Always learning

A common editorial trait is a consciousness of the gaps in our knowledge and the desire to learn from change and from those who do know.

On SfEPLine, Helen Stevens said ‘I’m sure I’m not the only person who’s never considered the connotations of the word “aid”’ when she started Conscious language: the word ‘aid’ to share information about a campaign by organisations in global justice. This did lead to some political discussion, but even more importantly it uncovered useful links and different perspectives on one of the smallest words in the dictionary. Also on SfEPLine is ‘Patient’ as unwanted label: no discussion, just a link to an interesting article.

It’s no surprise that LGBTQ terminology is often discussed on SfEPLine; but that a linguistics gem – and a global language lesson – appears in Off topic is a surprise. Or perhaps not. Are editors ever really off-topic?

The newer Events forum is becoming a source of resources. The number of events that discuss EDI and conscious language is testament to a growing awareness of the importance of being careful about the words used in many situations. Why not add new events postings to your email receipts so you don’t miss out on adding to your skills, knowledge – and CPD for upgrading?

From the macro of Using ‘man’ for ‘humankind’ to the micro of Conscious language, ‘to dwarf’ (v.), from the general of Use of the term ‘Caucasian’ in SfEPLine to the specific of A character with Down’s syndrome in MG fiction – question in the Fiction forum, members are using the forums to clarify language for themselves, their clients and readers.

Discussions are also helping members develop their business through sensitivity or authenticity reading. Authenticity reading – how to charge is practical while White author writing about Black women’s hair is more wide-ranging, and Non-English dialogue in an English context in the Fiction forum places the reader firmly at the centre.

We hope you enjoy developing your knowledge in the safe space of the forums and that you also contribute, as every individual experience casts light on our conscious use of language.

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: poppies by corina ardeleanu on Unsplash, umbrella by Sharon McCutcheon on Pexels.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

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

The 2021 CIEP conference: Conscious and inclusive editing: Understanding conscious language and the editorial role

This year’s CIEP conference was held online, from 12 to 14 September. Attendees from all over the world logged on to learn and socialise with their fellow editors and proofreaders, and a number of delegates kindly volunteered to write up the sessions for us. Suzanne Arnold reviewed Conscious and inclusive editing: Understanding conscious language and the editorial role, presented by Crystal Shelley.

Words can uplift, empower and inspire, says Crystal. But they can also invalidate, marginalise and erase. ‘Language … has the power to perpetuate stigma and stereotypes and to misrepresent.’

Editors have an opportunity to help authors recognise and replace potentially harmful language before it’s published.

What is conscious language?

Conscious language is rooted in compassion, choosing words to reflect our intention.

For example, many wheelchair users dislike the phrase ‘wheelchair-bound’ because it implies the chair is a negative thing, whereas they see it as a tool that helps them go about their daily lives. So if we say that someone is wheelchair-bound, it’s often inaccurate and can be stigmatising.

‘Many conscious language issues are unintentional’: most of us don’t deliberately offend or upset people. The problem is using words or phrases unthinkingly or out of habit – perhaps terms that we were taught as children or hear other people use.

Why care?

This isn’t about the author’s intent, but the impact on readers.

Language conveys our values and beliefs, and so, unintentionally using harmful language can affect reputation. It can also, of course, have real-world consequences, including negative reviews, bad publicity, even cancelled contracts or financial loss.

What can editors look out for?

First, don’t worry if this seems daunting. We all have to start somewhere and learning can be an ongoing process.

To help us watch out for potentially problematic language, Crystal gave the following pointers, with examples.

Ask yourself whether the language is:

  • disrespectful (eg using ‘pow wow’ to describe a meeting at work strips the term of its cultural significance)
  • stigmatising (eg ‘crazy’ – even if it’s not being used to stigmatise those with mental illness or whose behaviour seems ‘different’, it may provoke an unintended emotion in the listener or reader)
  • inaccurate (eg ‘wheelchair-bound’)
  • biased (eg default ‘he’)
  • excluding (eg referring to ‘both’ genders)
  • outdated (eg ‘oriental’, ‘senile’)
  • dehumanising (eg ‘illegal immigrant’ – we may think of phrases such as this as ‘the norm’, but they strip people of their humanity and individuality)
  • presumptuous (eg Columbus ‘discovered’ America – people lived there long before he arrived)
  • judgemental (eg ‘suffers from’)
  • rooted in oppression.

How can editors raise these issues with authors?

Don’t feel afraid that you’re trying to impose your own views or biases on the text. We raise these issues because ‘they may interfere with the author’s ability to get their message across effectively to readers’.

And that’s the key to giving feedback – keep it focused on the reader and potential unintended effects on them. Keep it constructive and professional, offer suggestions for other wording they could use and share links to relevant resources.

Find out more

You can learn more from Crystal’s blog posts. She also sells conscious language toolkits (one for writers and one for editors), which include lists of problematic terms explaining why they could do harm and suggesting alternatives.

The Conscious Style Guide is another good source of information.

In summary

This statement of Crystal’s reminds us why it’s worth making the effort:

‘Most readers won’t notice the absence of harmful language, but they’ll notice its use.’

Suzanne Arnold is an Advanced Professional Member who specialises in copyediting and proofreading non-fiction for adults.

 

 

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

Let’s stop and think to make sure all voices are heard

This year’s CIEP conference was held online, from 2 to 4 November. Attendees from all over the world logged on to learn and socialise with their fellow editors and proofreaders, and a number of delegates kindly volunteered to write up the sessions for us. Miranda K Lloyd reviewed Conscious language: making editorial decisions for inclusion, presented by Sarah Grey.

Delegates at the 2019 SfEP conference.

As a proofreader and editor with a disability, I was excited to attend Sarah Grey’s session, Conscious Language: Making Editorial Decisions for Inclusion.

I already knew a bit about the importance of person-first language and inclusivity in publishing, and I was excited to learn more from an expert.

What did I learn? And what can we do to be more inclusive?

Inclusivity is more than person-first language

In fact, there is some lively debate about whether person-first language helps promote equality.

Words shape our perception of the world, how we see ourselves and how we feel. Editing for conscious language emphasises kindness, empathy, justice, respect, inclusion and accuracy. The way language is used has a huge influence over people and events, especially in politics and public forums.

As editors, we have great power over, and responsibility for, how language is shaped and used.

Consider the last speech you heard on the news. How did it make you feel? How might it be perceived by others? What will the consequences of a piece of writing be? Will it do any harm?

Language is changing faster than ever before

Be aware of these changes and check how a word or phrase is used. I was shocked to find that a common UK word is considered a grievous slur in parts of North America, and many people were deeply hurt when it was recently used in a popular TV series.

Ask the right questions

Who is the author? Who is the audience? Who is mentioned in the text? Is their perspective included? Does the author’s perception of their audience match the audience’s perception of themselves?

Will the audience appreciate a cultural reference or turn of phrase? Will it add to their experience or alienate them? Is an author forgetting a section of their readership? And if so, what can we do to include them?

Be aware of your own lack of knowledge

Ask yourself: ‘Am I the right editor for this job? Do I have the experience and background to appreciate the cultural context, sensitivities, dialect and other characteristics around this text?’

Listen, read and seek out diverse perspectives. Follow different communities and debates on social media – Twitter is great for this – and consider consulting a sensitivity reader.

Check your (and your author’s) sources

If your author is using sensitive or outdated terms, is the reader made aware of this? If you’re working on an academic text, are the citations consistent? Alert your client if they’re citing female authors by first name and male authors by last name.

Academics’ reputations live or die by how often their work is cited. Citing works by authors from underrepresented backgrounds makes their work visible and draws them into the mainstream.

And finally …

If your client ignores your advice on inclusive language, credits you and publishes anyway, you can say, ‘I gave some advice that was not taken’ and move forward, confident you did your job.

Follow Sarah @GreyEditing on Twitter.

Miranda K Lloyd began working as a freelance proofreader and editor in December 2019. She has a disability and is committed to championing inclusivity in publishing, and making equality and diversity central to her business. Miranda is an Intermediate Member of the CIEP. She is currently taking on work and welcomes all enquiries. Contact her @mirandaklloyd on Twitter.

 

 


Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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