From ScienceWriters: PIO guide gets a Japanese translation

By Dennis Meredith

Thanks to the hard work of two talented Japanese PIOs, the scientists’ guide Working with Public Information Officers has been translated into Japanese and is available online (WorkingWithPIOs.com). Besides being enormously gratifying to have my work translated, the process taught me a lot about the challenges of spreading the word internationally about the value and importance of PIOs, and how scientists can best work with them.

Working with Public Information Officers cover

Working with Public Information Officers cover

Working with Public Information Officers is a 48-page supplement to my book Explaining Research (ExplainingResearch.com). The text was part of the original manuscript, but publisher Oxford University Press declared the book too long and asked that it be trimmed by 10,000 words. Not wanting to perform surgery on individual chapters, I decided to pull out the entire section on working with PIOs and self-publish it as a booklet and online.

Translating the booklet came about through serendipity and an ambassador, who happened to be Lynne Friedmann. Shortly after Explaining Research was published, in 2010, Lynne was invited to Japan to give a communications workshop. Her translator was Saeko Okada, who is senior press officer at Japan’s KEK, the High Energy Accelerator Research Organization. A few months later, Ambassador Friedmann introduced Saeko and me at the Boston AAAS meeting. I offered Saeko a copy of Working with Public Information Officers, and I’m pleased to say she found it helpful.

In fact, she was determined to translate it for Japanese scientists and PIOs, and that’s where a bit of luck helped. I held the right to this chunk of orphan text from Explaining Research and could give permission straight away to Saeko to translate the booklet.

Saeko then recruited another talented PIO and translator, Yutaka Iijima, currently international affairs and contract officer on the North Campus of Kyoto University.

With Yutaka as translator and Saeko as editor, they completed the project earlier this year, and I immediately posted it on the booklet’s website.

I hope scientists and PIOs in Japan find the book helpful. I certainly found the translation process enlightening. For one thing, it takes a sophisticated understanding not only of both languages, but of sometimes arcane lingo. So, American writers who envision their work being translated need to be aware of their penchant for patois when they create prose.

I learned this in spades (a good example of slang), when Saeko and colleague Masataka Watanabe invited me to Japan in March to give a talk and workshop at the University of Tsukuba. I’m sure my vernacular sometimes baffled them, as they translated my slides.

For example, one slide advocated that scientists give a “grabber beginning” to media interviews. Japanese translation: “grasp the first.” Another slide listed that one purpose of a news releases was to “alert colleagues, collaborators.” In Japanese, it became “beware of colleagues.” And my listing of another release purpose as a “media alert” became “beware of media.” I hope the Japanese scientists didn’t think I was warning them against colleagues and media.

I’ll be more careful of my slang when writing in the future, but in any case, the efforts to help our international colleagues are well worth it.

An excised book chapter — that became a booklet to enable and courage productive collaborations between scientists and their PIOs — finds a new, international reach with this Japanese translation.

Dennis Meredith is a communication consultant and science fiction writer who lives in the North Carolina mountains.

October 9, 2014

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