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Transferring Presentations to Publication: A New Challenge

by Carie Lambert. Carie Lambert has won the 2010 Diane Feldman Technical Editing SIG Graduate Scholarship

Frequently, when authors present at a conference, they organize their ideas, draft their notes, submit an abstract, and then present from the notes at the conference. After which, they may write a full paper and publish an article using information from a presentation and attendees’ feedback. However, my role as an editor has recently added a new element to my tasks: to take another professional’s presentation and adapt the presentation into a format for publication in a journal. This is a new task for me as an editor but one that I believe is very valuable, particularly for professionals who present well but do not have the time or the skill to organize or write a document into a format acceptable for a journal article.

Many of my physician clients struggle to fulfill their clinical and teaching responsibilities and complete their research; therefore, they are eager to hire an experienced editor who can assist with preparing their data for publication. I believe being able to transpose a presentation transcript to a publishable manuscript is a skill that will help my clients and thus add to my consulting business.

The Background of the Project

In October 2009, an internist from the school of medicine at Northwestern University contacted me with a new project. We had worked together before: I had edited a textbook with him and also helped transpose conference papers into a full issue of the American Journal of Gastroenterology.

For this new project, the physician proposed a new type of editing project. As the president of a medical research organization, he had organized a conference during which approximately 15 speakers—including a senator, several government representatives, the directors of two nonprofit organizations, and a recent oncology patient—participated in panels and talked about the current state of medical research in the United States. The speakers did not submit any written documents before or after their presentations. However, the organization had recorded the entire conference (with the presenters’ knowledge, of course) and then paid to obtain a transcript of the conference proceedings.

My client had an idea: Why not have a technical editor transfer the transcript from a script of the conference panel presentations to manuscripts that could be published in the journal for the medical research organization.

Challenges of the Process

I was fascinated because a project like this would create a new editing challenge for me. Instead of working with written documents from the authors, I would be working with transcripts of their presentations: i.e., oral documents . I would need to work through the documents as I would a traditional manuscript:
  • To eliminate grammar issues;
  • To ensure clear and concise style;
  • To edit for accuracy;
  • To note, add, and check references and citations; and
  • To format the document per the journal’s publication style.

In addition, I would need to transpose these documents from oral to written presentation.

I agreed to take on the project, not knowing what all the job would entail, but excited about a new experience. As I worked, I came across other challenges, such as inconsistencies between manuscripts and the complicated visuals that I needed to integrate into the text as narrative. In addition to editing manuscripts as I had in the past, I
  • Determined where the authors needed to cite references,
  • Adapted slides, handouts, and the visual aids in those documents into the text,
  • Transposed the content to reflect a written tone and eliminated conversational elements and verbal “noise.”

The authors cited statistics to support their arguments but rarely said the source of the statistics. Therefore, as I worked through the document, I marked where the speaker needed to cite a resource. For some statistics, I was able to retrieve the document from my institution’s library’s electronic database and Internet search engines. For others, I noted that the author was missing a reference and noted in-text and end-of-text citation locations.

Several of the authors had slides with detailed visual aids to show the audience as the authors spoke. Frequently, the authors would say (as documented in the transcript), “as you can see here” or “see this?” or gave general references to the slides. While I included some of those visual aids as figures in the manuscripts, I also had to introduce them and explain what the author might have inferred or physically indicated.

In the same way, the authors tended to take a more informal tone in their presentations, using slang and allowing verbal noise—e.g., “like,” “uh,” “So,…,” and other distracters—that created a less formal tone in the presentation and that were inappropriate for a well-written journal article.

I also dealt with incomplete information that resulted from the speaker following his or her thought process rather than the structure that the speaker established at the beginning of the presentation. As I worked through these documents, I learned not only about the state of medical research in the nation but also about new strategies that I could use as a technical editor.

Conclusion

As technical communicators, we may anticipate that we will work from print documents to create new documents or we may interview the source of information and transform our notes into the needed document. However, rarely do we work from an oral document for which we did not witness the presentation. The complications that come from a transcript rather than from a previously written document differ, particularly because most people do not speak as formally as they write.

The skill to work from a transcript—to edit and transpose an oral document to a formal written document—is a service that could benefit me professionally as well as benefit my clients, who may not have the time or energy to write and format a manuscript after fulfilling their clinical, teaching, and research responsibilities. As a technical communicator, I can assist them in preparing presentations for publication. I enjoyed the project because I was able to research while I edited and helped a busy client publish information that was very important.

Personal Note

I appreciate the honor of receiving the Diane Feldman Technical Editing scholarship. The scholarship will help me as I complete my coursework and begin my dissertation research. Thank you very much for supporting me in my education and the profession.


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