IPEd Conference 2021: Editing on the Edges

Pam Peters

Pam Peters Macquarie University Emeritus Professor in Linguistics. With the Australian Manual of Style.

Pam Peters is an Emeritus Professor of Macquarie University and a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities in 2012.  She is a Distinguished Editor of the Institute of Professional Editors, and an Honorary Life Member.

At Macquarie University she founded the Graduate Program in Editing and Publishing in 1989, which continues with the Graduate Certificate in Editing and Electronic Publishing. She contributed to the fourth and fifth editions of the Australian Government Style Manual, and six chapters to its longstanding sixth edition (2002). Since 2018 she has led the Macquarie University side of the partnership with Biotext in developing the online Australian Manual of Style (AMOS), and managing research projects in readability.

Her linguistic research embraces Australian and international English, especially variation in English usage, based on corpus evidence and sociolinguistic surveys. Her major publications include the Cambridge Australian English Style Guide (1995), its sequel Cambridge Guide to Australian English Usage (2007), and the Cambridge Guide to English Usage (2004), focusing on British and American English. Since 2015 she has been  co-director with Professor Kate Burridge (Monash University) of the international  research project on Varieties of English in the Indo-Pacific (VEIP). An anthology of VEIP research, titled Exploring the Ecology of World Englishes will be published by Edinburgh University Press in mid-2021. 

Pam Peters was Director of the Dictionary Research Centre at Macquarie University (2001–7), and on the Editorial Committee of the Macquarie Dictionary for its second, third and fourth editions (1991, 1997, 2005). She published the Cambridge Dictionary of English Grammar in 2013.

Editing for first- and second-language readers of English

This research study was motivated by a question of inclusive publishing and editing: how can editors ensure the accessibility of crucial health information for first- and second-language readers? Both readerships need to be able to understand the health messages of the Australian government.

The editor’s first challenge is to assess the readability of the content for the public at large, for which they can make use of the standard readability measures. But the grades given are based on norms for monolingual students rather than second-language learners of English.

We compared the standard readability scores for samples of health information with those of Coh-Metrix, a tool designed to capture the known barriers to comprehension for second-language readers, and it was clear that the difficulty for them was underestimated by the standard measures.  Issues such as unfamiliar vocabulary and inconsistent sentence patterns passed under the radar — yet they can be identified and rectified by editors. 

Further issues for second-language readers emerged in a supplementary study of first- and second-language readers on an Australian immunisation website. Using eye-tracking we traced the reading patterns of first- and second-language educated adults, to find marked differences  between the two cohorts in their efficiency in reading and finding relevant information. Second-language participants took significantly more time over the information-seeking tasks, and were less successful in retrieving the correct information.

These findings highlight for web editors the importance of managing the flow of information for second-language readers, in clearly delineated structures with meaningful headings and wayfinding devices.

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Online, 28 to 30 June 2021
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