Monday, November 23, 2015

Preconference seminar review: Teach Your Text to Strip with Marcia Johnston

Review by Jesse Tomlinson

Marcia Johnston: “Tight, readable, concise. But what does concise mean?”

We’re at ATA56 in the preconference seminar with Marcia and we’re talking about English writing. In lieu of “Ms. Johnston,” I feel comfortable calling her Marcia, not just because the title of our seminar is “Teach Your Text to Strip”, and it isn’t because she’s in a lounge singer’s dress and red feather boa with lovely black gloves snaking up to her armpits. It’s because she’s an accessible, friendly online personality who plays a game called “Tighten This!” involving sentences that need to be stripped down. This game is a neat way to think differently about our words, our words in translation, and just exactly how much every little extra one counts.

We start the seminar by discussing what ‘concise’ means. It doesn’t mean short, because ‘short’ isn’t connected with meaning. If a sentence is short, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s clear, or concise. It doesn’t mean ‘shorter’ because that’s just like a woman’s skirt. Do we really want a skirt as short as possible? No, we want a functional skirt, one perhaps that is minimal, but that is still covering all the places we want it to. So concise is minimal, but that ‘minimal’ still has to be effective.

So what should we strip off then? How can we write more concisely? Marcia gave us an excellent list and I’ll show a little knee here – get rid of:
  • weak ‘be’ verbs
  • the word ‘different’
  • ‘of’ in general
  • not, no
  • just

Marcia was clear in letting us know that you can’t just strip it all off and be happy with a word-less party. ‘That’ is probably useful after a verb; but we can often take it out after a noun.

You can read more on ‘that’ on her blog.

We never want ‘in order to’ at our word burlesque event; her advice is to slash and burn this little threesome at all times. Bottom line: “Don’t cut words that we need for meaning, like ‘the’, ‘that’ or even ‘is’”.

But how to tell when and how to strip? The decision comes from context. Marcia just wants you to sit up and take notice of the words. Many words slide into texts without us thinking about them. “Let the context be your guide.”

I came away from this seminar not only loving the strip tease Marcia performed for us at the end, but loving her message. It’s not about a quick-fix answer like, “Make your texts as short as possible.” When is it ever? But we still inevitably find ourselves looking for that kind of easy answer.

So Marcia played up on what we all want. She gave us a bit of stripping (text and accessories!) but emphasized that it’s more about what you’re taking off than the fact that you’re taking it off.

What is the short answer after all then? We need to use our brains in a way that we might not have been using them so far. We need to look at the words we use every day in our writing, and to consider them in a different way. We need to think about words that before we were taking for granted.

And whatever does stripping and ‘taking it off’ have to do with direct writing, except for snipping some of those extra words? It has to do with skin, the universal language. And I really loved that tie in. Words convey things. So does flesh. But more or less flesh is not necessarily better. What is better is the way you present the flesh, the way you flesh out your text, or the way you dress it up or down.

And now if only I could find a pair of those long black gloves . . . 

Monday, November 16, 2015

Annual Meeting Minutes

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Division Administrator Karen Tkaczyk called the meeting to order at 12:31 p.m. The agenda was presented and accepted.

The Leadership Council was introduced to the audience. Those present were Karen Tkaczyk (administrator), Alicja Yarborough (assistant administrator), Amy Lesiewicz (blog editor), Lebzy González (LinkedIn moderator), and Carola Berger (Facebook group moderator). Other leadership council members who were not present were Stephanie Strobel, Matthew Schlecht (Yahoo list co-moderator), Petra Schweitzer (Yahoo list co-moderator), and Iryna Ashby (webmaster).

Abigail Dahlberg of the nominating committee thanked Lebzy González and Carola Berger for agreeing to run for administrator and assistant administrator, respectively. As no objections or additions had been received, they were elected by acclamation.

Lebzy González thanked outgoing administrator Karen Tkaczyk and outgoing assistant administrator Alicja Yarborough for their contributions to the division.

A goal for the coming year is to increase engagement, so anyone who is interested in getting involved should contact Lebzy or Carola. Lebzy also encouraged attendees to spread the word to other people who might be interested. Specific needs are:
  • Website administration
  • Social media administration

Amy Lesiewicz reported on the blog. If anybody is interested in blogging, Amy is happy to provide instruction and publish articles. Any blog submissions are proofread by Amy and then passed to the ATA editor for review prior to publication. All changes are cleared with the author before publication.

Next year’s ATA conference will be held in San Francisco, so attendees were encouraged to begin thinking about topics for sessions and ideas for distinguished speakers. Amy Lesiewicz mentioned that The Mythbusters are local to the San Francisco area, and Jamie Hyneman has a degree in Russian, so that could be a possibility for a distinguished speaker or field trip. Carola Berger mentioned Professor Uwe Bergmann of Stanford University, who uses x-rays to study old scrolls, as a possibility. She also mentioned that the Bay Area Science Festival will be happening at the same time and might offer possibilities for an outing.

Attendees then introduced themselves, stating their language pairs and areas of specialization.

Lebzy González announced that the Science and Technology Division dinner was full and that those attending should meet at 6:00 pm by the concierge desk. Handouts with division social media links were distributed, and the meeting was adjourned.

Minutes drafted by Nancy Leveson and approved by Lebzy González, Carola Berger, and Amy Lesiewicz.
Issued November 14, 2015