- Authorline (AL): What was your motivation for writing your book?
- John Kohl (JK): I've studied foreign languages (German, French, Russian, and Spanish) and have taught English to nonnative speakers. As a result, I have a lot of empathy and understanding for people who are reading in what, for them, is a foreign or second language. I understand how much of a difference the style and vocabulary in a document can make to a nonnative speaker's ability to comprehend the material.
I'm also very sensitive to the types of ambiguities that leave translators scratching their heads. Translation is more efficient and more accurate when the English source texts are written clearly and simply.
Some other authors on the topic of writing for international audiences have simply admonished authors to "write clearly." That advice does absolutely no good! You have to give authors specific guidelines that help them recognize ambiguities and other unnecessary impediments to the translation process. And, you have to give them enough of an explanation and enough examples that they can actually understand and apply those guidelines. That's what I've tried to do in this book.
- (AL): Who are you targeting with your book?
- (JK): Mostly professional writers and editors and their managers. Localization (translation) companies will also be interested in this book. Many of them will probably want to give copies to their customers. It is in their best interest to educate their customers about how much those customers can do to make their texts more suitable for translation.
I hope that the book will also be used as a text in some college courses in technical communication and related fields. Even though the book does not contain exercises, the subject matter is certainly something that all communicators and communicators-in-training should be aware of.
- (AL): What features of the book are you especially pleased with?
- (JK): I'm happy that I was able to cover the topic as thoroughly as I did. I learned a lot while I was writing the book. Mid-way through the writing process, the SAS Publications Division licensed some language-engineering software that enabled me to easily collect examples of any language pattern that I was interested in. The ability to easily collect and analyze examples led me to put a lot of additional research into the book rather than just elaborating on the material that I started with. I was able to be much more specific in my guidelines and examples than I could have been a few years ago.
- (AL): How will your book benefit SAS users?
- (JK): Once SAS has finished implementing the software that will help our writers and editors follow the Global English guidelines, some SAS users-especially those for whom English is a second language-might notice that SAS documentation is somewhat clearer and easier to understand. Of course, most people don't notice that something is written clearly and simply-they notice only things that are unclear or too complex. But I'll be happy if SAS users are simply better able to take advantage of the full functionality of SAS software, without having to consult their colleagues or SAS Tech Support for help.
- (AL): What did you learn while writing this book that would be important for other authors to know?
- (JK): With regard to the review process, the German phrase Stürm und Drang ("storm and stress") comes to mind! I revised the book much more than I thought I would need to. As an editor and a former writing instructor, I consider myself a pretty good writer. But I had one technical reviewer in particular who is also an exceptionally good writer and who could have written a book like this himself. Consequently, he had a lot of ideas about writing style and about how he would have written the book.
Many times, my initial reaction to his feedback was negative, but then after backing away and thinking about it, I'd realize he was right. Still, there were times when I simply did not agree with him or could not do what he suggested for other reasons. Anyway, it was an agonizing process to go through, but his feedback-and that of my other reviewers-greatly improved the book.
- (AL): How did you decide to publish with SAS?
- (JK): Since I work in the same building as the SAS Press staff, it seemed like the logical thing to do! I've edited books for SAS Press myself, so I knew that the SAS Press staff are great to work with. Also, my copy editor, whose office is right across the hall from mine, is the best of the best. She went far beyond the typical role of a copy editor, providing excellent feedback on the content and even on the layout. According to what my friends in academia have told me, I would not have gotten that degree of collaboration from an "outside" publisher.
- (AL): Your book will be going to the printer in just a few weeks. How does it feel to be in the home stretch of such a long project?
- (JK): After three years of essentially working 55-60 hours a week (between my SAS job and working on the book), life is starting to seem normal again. It's especially nice to be able to sleep a little later in the morning.
- (AL): What advice would you give to potential authors?
- (JK): Follow the Global English guidelines, of course-or at least the ones that have the highest priority values. (I realize that it would be quite difficult for anyone to follow all of the guidelines without using the type of language-engineering software that the SAS Publications Division is implementing.)
- (AL): How were you able to balance your time between your career and writing this book?
- (JK): I worked on the book at home from 6:30-9:30 a.m. on weekdays, then headed for my "day job" at SAS. I usually took an afternoon break to go to the gym, because I simply can't sit at a computer for 12 hours a day. That made for long days, but it really wasn't so bad. I did not devote much attention to the book on weekends. After those long work weeks, I found that I simply had to get away from it.
- (AL): When you aren't writing or consulting, how do you like to spend your free time?
- (JK): I refer to my hobbies as "the three Gs": gardening, German, and genealogy. I am looking forward to spending more time working in my garden this year. I also need to immerse myself in German again as much as possible, to try to regain my fluency to some degree. I had to put both of those interests on the back burner while I was working on my book.
I don't know when I'll find time for genealogy again, but some day I'll go back to Germany to learn more about my Kohl ancestors and other families who emigrated from my ancestral village to northwest Ohio in the mid-1850s. I'm fascinated by the idea that they left everything they knew behind in search of a better life. That took a lot of courage, and an enormous amount of hard work. By comparison, writing my book was a piece of cake!