Lost in Translation

When I tell stories to my friends, they tend to be long. This is because I want to include every detail, specifying exactly how things happened and were said. (Some friends have dubbed this style the “Katie Yaeger story.” No joke.)

Sometimes, this influences my writing.

And by sometimes, I mean a lot.

I’ve been struggling with translating academic jargon into plain English all semester — and it’s a recurring issue, as I’ve covered more meetings than I can count off the top of my head.

I’ve always excelled at memorizing exact information for tests. For example, back when I actually took math and had to memorize formulas? No problem.

But if I had to actually explain why those formulas worked and what they meant? I might be at a loss for words for a bit.

I think this has translated into trouble explaining some academic concepts. Having covered higher education for months, I feel like I know every term in the book. I have to keep in mind, however, that readers don’t have this somewhat abstract concept and understanding that I have of a topic.

Take today, for instance. I’ve been hearing about strategic plans all semester and could probably talk about them for a good 10 or 15 minutes, but explaining exactly why they mattered was a bit of a struggle. It wasn’t in my notes as something discussed at the meeting, and it was buried in a lot of technical terms on the website. Coming up with a simple explanation, with the help of my editor, took longer than it probably should have.

I think keeping this blog (in which I use my own voice and occasionally bend grammatical rules for emphasis because, well, this is my blog, and I can do what I want) has helped me find my writing voice again and, thus, a more conversational voice for news writing. I also think being consciously aware of this problem and constantly asking myself if I can explain something in a simpler manner has helped.

But I know I’m still getting there. And honestly, if that’s something I can get out of my undergraduate education — there’s still editing, participatory journalism, internships and a few weeks of reporting to go — then that’s something I’ll gladly take.

Because I love communicating with others, and I want to do it as clearly as I can.

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