Translating scientific writing

Well, I’ve learned an important lesson about my students: it’s not enough to walk them through the book, pointing out what’s going to be important; I need, instead, to break down how they should be thinking about and approaching an assignment and give them the techniques that will help them succeed on it.

I suppose that sounds obvious, but it was a big lesson for me, which I learned while grading their “translate this article on aspirin into a Reader’s Digest mini-article” assignment. So many of them treated it as a straight translation or summary, and so failed to consider their audience. The audience wants to know: what are the new guidelines, and what makes them better than the old ones? who should be taking aspirin? what are the effects if you take aspirin? etc. But my students just summarized the information. Some of them did it well, and their grades reflect that. Most, though, are getting Cs, and all of them are getting an opportunity to rewrite.

Clearly it wasn’t enough to say, “you should consider your audience” and point them to the Reader’s Digest reader profile in the book. Nor to say that a criterion for grading would be “Appropriateness for audience (word choice, level of detail, etc.).”

So, we will be reviewing these papers on Friday, and I’ll be giving them a handout with questions that the audience wants answers to, with space for them to provide the details. I now see that I should’ve done this upfront. Is it too much to expect that they would’ve gone through this process on their own? Apparently it is.

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