WHY EDIT? SHOULDN’T IT BE PERFECT?

Professional translation is a multi-step process. BY DAGMAR DOLATSCHKO

Why do we need editing and proofreading at all? Shouldn’t all translators be perfect to begin with? What’s an editor and why is proofreading different from editing? And why should I pay anything extra for editing and proofreading? Isn’t that part of the translation process?

To illustrate the first point I’d like to start out with a little story about a lawyer in Germany. The law firm wanted to find out more about how we work and how we ensure quality. So I proceeded to explain the usual process:   a) selection of a professional translator with project-specific expertise; b) clarification of project parameters and expectations; c) quality assurance by a second equally skilled translator who edits … And that’s where my counterpart looked at me incredulously, saying:  “You mean, your translators aren’t good enough to do a perfect job by themselves? You need a second translator to review the work to make sure the first one didn’t mess up?” I was equally surprised. I believe like most professional writers and linguists that we all can benefit from a good edit and proof. Four eyes see more than two. To finish the story – it turned out that this particular lawyer and I had such deeply diverging concepts of what constitutes professional writing and translation that we went our separate ways.

Not all projects may need the same amount of editing and proofreading. For example, a draft translation for internal purposes is in most cases perfectly fine without a full edit. However, anything that is published and presented to a larger audience should be edited and proofread at the end. Graphic design projects may even need to undergo multiple proofing rounds to fix formatting or minor typographical issues such as hyphenation.

Editors must have equal linguistic and subject matter skills as the translator. A proofreader must be a native of the target language with a sharp eye, and it helps to have a good working knowledge of the source language to spot-check and catch translation-related mistakes. A good proofreader will usually further improve on the edited version by applying final touches – sometimes only formatting touches as those listed below.

[break out the two checklist  below in boxes if possible]

Editing checklist (Key criteria to check while editing a source and target text side by side, line by line):

  • Accuracy
  • Completeness
  • Spelling (general spelling as well as spelling of proper nouns)
  • Grammar
  • Punctuation
  • Hyphenation
  • Terminology (accurate; adapted to industry and culture standards; consistent use of terminology and if applicable consistent with glossary or reference material)
  • Style (Consistent and appropriate style and tone; if applicable consistency with style guide)

Proofreading checklist (Ideally, an editor should have checked these items already, but they can sometimes have changed after layout, which is when another proofreading round is required)

  • Dates, numbers, labels, facts
  • Trademarks, copyright notices (check proper positioning and size)
  • Typeface and style
  • Position of text, titles, headers, etc.
  • Position of illustrations
  • Graphics errors or omissions (icons, symbols, images, tables)
  • Formatting (clean and consistent: fonts, paragraphs, line breaks, text in graphics)

Personal Tip: Final visual format check: I personally do this by letting the text go a bit out of focus, by displaying maybe four or more pages at once on a full screen where I cannot read the actual text, but get an overall sense of the format and text flow. For example, if indentations are jagged and not aligned properly, if distances between titles or bullet points vary, if title fonts vary – these are simple things that are easy to fix, but may have a strong subconscious impact on the reader. Visual consistency gives the reader an immediate sense of order and comfort. First impressions count – also in translation – beyond the words.

What else makes a good editor and/or proofreader?

  • Delivering on time
  • Staying within budget
  • Alerting a project manager or client of a bad translation before getting into it too deeply and finding a solution for the situation together (e.g., re-translate, edit with extra time allocated),
  • Avoiding over-editing to accommodate one’s own style
  • Being open to feedback and open and honest communication with the translator
  • Communicating professionally and promptly with all parties involved

Your reputation depends on what you deliver. Not all projects will have the budget for an edit or a full final proof. If that is the case, it is essential that you edit and proof your own work as well as possible, or enlist the help of a colleague to provide that ‘second set of eyes’. As professional linguists we should not skip this last step – as a matter of pride in our profession. DD

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