Reviews in International Journals

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Review of English for Writing Research Papers

It may well be that a nine page contents section provokes thoughts of despair, and rightly so in some books, but not so for this book. The contents section in actual fact serves to allow the reader to accurately dip in and out of this book and have a particular question regarding writing research papers answered in a concise and straight forward fashion. The 308 pages are divided into 20 parts and each part is then further divided into sub chapters, each of which is titled with a question or simple statement, e.g., How should I structure my introduction or What tenses should I use? Most chapters, therefore, are short and to the point and effectively deal with an extremely fine aspect of writing, thus allowing the reader to cherry pick at will.

Every conceivable aspect of writing is covered in detail, including my own favourite chapter 20:14 Dealing with rejections!! Nothing is omitted and everything is dealth with in a very easy to read and succinct format. I think due to the very nature of this book, there are no images or diagrams, and a splash of colour has clearly never been within striking distance of this book, but this is irrelevant given the subject matter.

This would be a useful book for those starting out on the research trail and for those struggling to get their work published. However, I suspect most of us would benefit from the odd chapter here and there and at less thatn £25, it’s very good value.

Ian Pierce, ICS News

Review of English for Presentations at International Conferences

Long before I became a medical writer, I spent my PhD period doing immunological research. Although more than 20 years ago, I still remember my first international conference. Not only did I succeed in getting my abstract accepted, but I even got an oral presentation slot during one of the parallel sessions. If that wasn’t nerve wracking enough, I discovered that my session was in an auditorium for a couple of hundred people. During my talk, my slides were magnified so much that my most important slide, containing a busy table with all my results in the default Times Roman font, was truly illegible. I still shudder when I think back. But I made it through the presentation without lasting damage and went on to become a professional medical writer, who also creates and delivers presentations for a wide variety of audiences.

Luckily, with Adrian Wallwork’s book English for presentations at International Conferences you can skip the laborious path I followed. Wallwork has written a helpful guide for those who struggle with presenting scientific results in person. The book is mainly intended for scientific speakers for whom English is not their primary language, but is also useful for native English speakers who have never presented before or who want to improve their presentation skills. In addition, I’d like to add that the book is also useful for experienced presenters.

Scientific presentations often suffer from the ‘Death-by- Powerpoint’ syndrome, characterised by slide after slide filled with formal and long texts, bulleted lists, graphics and tables that are lifted directly from a manuscript, delivered in a monotonous drone by the presenter, who, more often than not, reads the slides with his or her back to the audience and has more to say, especially about all the details of his or her work, than fits in the allotted time. The result is a boring presentation that leaves you feeling sleepy, especially around lunch time, instead of excited and entertained. Wallwork’s book offers an effective treatment for this syndrome.

The book is written as a resource guide and contains short chapters divided into three parts. The first part covers the preparation for a presentation, the second the development of the slides themselves and the third the delivery of the presentation. The chapter titles are to the point and it’s quite easy to find a relevant chapter with the table of contents as a guide. Throughout the book, Wallwork offers useful and practical advice. His chapters are filled with examples of original and revised texts. Importantly, he stresses the need to think, prepare and practice thoroughly what you want to say in your presentation, before you even open your presentation software.

Wallwork is a proponent of clear and succinct messaging. Every chapter starts with an explanation as to why the point he makes is important. About what to put on a slide, he says: “Your aim should be for the audience to quickly assimilate the information on your slides and then focus on you.” and about the title: “The title of your presentation is like an advertisement—you want as many people as possible to [be] interested in it, so it should not be too technical or too generic.”

In the book you’ll find advice on how to effectively use English without getting stuck on difficult words or tortuous constructions, how to create effective and complementary slides, and how you and your slides can combine effectively during your presentation, so that the impact is as memorable as possible. In addition, Wallwork writes about changes in the attention span during a typical presentation, about what works and doesn’t work in a presentation and why, and about alternative methods to capture, retain and regain the attention of your audience.

Some of his tips, however, may not always be as useful as stated in the book. One of the tips for the preparation stage is that you try to find out who your audience is, e.g. in the bar and at social dinners. I don’t think that this is very practical for large international conferences with hundreds, maybe thousands of participants and many parallel sessions, when your contribution is an oral poster presentation of 7 minutes. But if you’re going to present at a smaller more focused meeting, this would indeed be useful information to have. Also, not everyone may have the confidence or courage to use his more unorthodox tips about how to begin a presentation, something that he also acknowledges himself. While it surely could be attention- grabbing, starting off with a personal story or by asking the audience to do something, this may not always have the intended effect.

Nevertheless, I do recommend this book for anyone who is seeking to gain confidence as a scientific speaker or who wants to improve his or her presentation skills. Although the ‘Death-by-Powerpoint’ syndrome still is ever-present around us, this book could be the right antidote for those who are willing to battle the syndrome. The book is one part of a series of books designed to help non-native English speakers to communicate in English.

Review by Linda M. Liem, The Journal for European Medical Writers

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Review of English for Presentations at International Conferences

This slim book is aimed at presenters with English as their second language (ESL), and specifically at scientific researchers—an unfortunate choice, as this book has far broader appeal. It provides a great introduction for anyone who must learn the art of presentations and a refresher for experienced presenters. Designed as a reference book, it leads you through the steps in preparing a presentation and helps you quickly find topics using the table of contents, which also cleverly serves as a checklist. Although Wallwork makes an early claim to ignore the issues of designing and creating visual aspects of the slides, he provides ample information on integrating visuals with written and spoken text. Though the rules are simplistic, and you will break many of them as your skills grow, they are an excellent guide for beginning speakers and will not detract from a professional’s presentations.

A refreshing change is the book’s focus on audience. Wallwork explains the characteristics that determine how audiences listen and understand. He reminds us that too many speakers spend more time designing their slides than practicing their presentation and the value of conducting informal colleague reviews before giving the formal conference presentation. Wallwork clearly distinguishes between papers and the presentations based on them, and explains how to identify and clarify the key messages before we start creating the slides. He offers the intriguing insight that crafting a 2-minute “elevator speech” ensures that you focus on the real messages.

English for Presentations at International Conferences is full of useful tips, including a section on overcoming nervousness. It includes copious examples, like “before and after” comparisons that help make the principles concrete. Much of Wallwork’s advice applies equally well to writing, and doubly so if you are communicating with an ESL audience. Yet the heart of this book lies in its many presentation-specific gems, such as speaking in your own voice. For ESL presenters, Wallwork mentions online resources such as annotated BBC news transcripts that display the words and let you hear how they are pronounced. For anyone, the collection of speeches at TED.com reveals the tricks of the world’s best presenters.

Starting presentations with bulleted lists of your key concepts helps the audience learn your pronunciation as you describe what they are seeing on the screen. Although Wallwork discourages the use of “builds” (adding one bullet at a time to the screen), he correctly notes this technique’s superiority to filling a slide with text in a single step: It primes the audience to understand what you are about to say and accommodates the fact that most ESL audiences are better at reading than listening to English. I have found this technique remarkably effective in my own presentations to diverse audiences.

English for Presentations at International Conferences is not without problems, such as Wallwork’s mixed message about humor. Though he notes that visuals can “inject humor” (p. 83), he subsequently advocates caution (p. 101). Unfortunately, few people are natural comics, and the risk of cultural gaffes is particularly high with international audiences. In my experience, only mild self-deprecation successfully spans cultures, and no presenter should attempt humor without a profound understanding of their audience.

These quibbles notwithstanding, I can unreservedly recommend this book for ESL presenters, English presenters with ESL audiences, and anyone who needs to learn or polish their presentation skills. The best thing I can say about English for Presentations at International Conferences is that it kindled my desire to try many of these tricks in my presentations.

Review by Geoff Hart, Journal of the Society for Technical Communication

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Review of English for Presentations at International Conferences

While this is the first book on the subject of writing and giving presentations that has been specifically written for non-native speakers of English, it will also be very useful for anyone who is a native English speaker too. It is written both for those who have never presented before in English and are very nervous at the prospect and those with experience who simply want tips on how to improve their international conference or meeting presentation skills. It teaches you how to overcome your nerves, guides you on how to prepare your slides in English and how to prepare the English text you are actually going to speak, as well as dealing with aspects such as pronunciation and intonation and presentation etiquette. It explains how to go through your speech and replace words with either vowel combinations or consonants that are difficult for you to pronounce with easier words. For example, if ‘worldwide’ is difficult for you to pronounce clearly, replace it with “globally” if you find that easier! The section on how to handle question & answer sessions will be invaluable for non-native speakers of English who have to present an abstract for the first time at an international conference. I can highly recommend this book which is also reasonably priced.

Hashim Hashim, ICS News

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