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The publication that changed my life

After ten years, I have come to the end of my time as editor of IATEFL’s annual Conference Selections publication. Doing this work has changed my life.

On a snowy morning in February 2009, I received a message that would add a new dimension to my work as an EAP teacher at a Canadian university, and that would eventually lead to a new direction in my career. I was offered the role of editor of Conference Selections, IATEFL’s annual collection of reports of papers presented at the Conference (for details of what this job involves, read my blog post on the IATEFL website). My first issue would be from the Harrogate Conference in 2010. Ten years later, my final issue, Liverpool 2019, is now available. I can honestly say that my life has changed because of my work on Conference Selections. Here’s how.

It made me get proper training in editing and proofreading

I took on the role of editor of Conference Selections with some background in editing and materials writing, but with no formal training. I decided that if I was going to be an editor, I’d better take some courses in it. I did my training in 2009 at Ryerson University in Toronto, which provides top-notch training in all aspects of editing and proofreading. Even with my background in teaching academic English and writing grammar materials for publication, I learned a lot. I now consider myself a good editor, and I owe a lot of that to my early training.

It taught me to make editorial decisions and to trust myself

Conference Selections is a refereed publication, but the editor is ultimately responsible for what is published. I learned to trust my own judgment, especially when reviewer feedback was mixed. I also learned when to tinker with someone’s writing and when to leave well alone. IATEFL is an international organisation, and many of my writers did not have English as their first language. I needed to respect their voices while still maintaining the integrity of the publication. We couldn’t have egregious grammar or spelling errors, but it couldn’t all sound like me, either. I learned to walk this fine line, and I am happy to say that in ten years, I never once had an author say to me, ‘I hated what you did with my article.’ On the contrary, writers have been delighted to see their papers (or a slightly improved version thereof) in print.

It taught me how to work with writers

Wearing another hat, I’m a textbook author; I understand being protective of something you’ve written, something you think is brilliant. I learned to write rejection emails – something I hated doing – and I learned to use tact when answering questions from disappointed writers who emailed me to ask why their paper was not published. I think anyone who puts their work out there for the scrutiny of their peers deserves respect, and I wish I could have published everything!

It gave me the opportunity to work with an organisation I believe in

IATEFL has been my professional home for a long time. In my teaching days, I learned a lot about EAP from attending IATEFL Conferences. Now that I no longer teach (apart from the odd course here and there), I go to IATEFL Conferences for other reasons. Even now, when so much information is available online for free, organisations like IATEFL are of vital importance in both providing CPD opportunities and creating networks and communities. There is no substitute for being active in a professional organisation; those of us who make a contribution to such organisations get back so much more in return.

It helped me to make loads of connections

My name is ‘out there’ in the ELT world, and this is largely because of my work with Conference Selections. Case in point: I’ve recently come back from Cuba, where I did a British Council training project; the initial contact person for this contract turned out to be someone whose work I have published in Conference Selections and who has seen me speak at IATEFL.

It showed me how much I love editing

This is the biggest change in my life. I used to be an EAP teacher and curriculum coordinator at a Canadian university. I went freelance at the end of 2012, and I haven’t looked back. I now divide my time between (a) EAP materials development and (b) academic editing/proofreading. My recent editing/proofreading projects have included journal articles, dissertations and conference papers by speakers of Arabic, Vietnamese and Bahasa Indonesia. In working on papers like these, I use the skills I honed on Conference Selections, and I love it!

So, what’s next?

For the last couple of years, I have also been editing IATEFL’s bimonthly magazine, Voices. This, too, has been enormously satisfying. I believe magazines like Voices have a role to play in raising awareness of issues in ELT around the globe in an accessible format. I hope to continue working on Voices for a while.

I’m also continuing to work on various EAP materials writing and curriculum design projects, and with individual researchers on editing and proofreading articles, theses, dissertations and other academic documents – in other subjects as well as ELT.

It’s been a good ten years, and I’ll miss it. I admit to being close to tears when I wrote my final editor’s introduction – but it’s time to move on. At the next Conference, I am handing over Conference Selections to Deborah Bullock, who is a brilliant editor and who will do a fantastic job; I can’t wait to see what direction she takes it in. I will always be grateful to IATEFL for giving me this opportunity – it really has been a life-changer.


Tania Pattison is an editor and proofreader specialising in English language teaching, education and related subjects. When not editing, she is an EAP textbook writer, curriculum designer and occasional university/college teacher.


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