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Sunday, December 21, 2008

To Edit or not to Edit

All knowledgeable translation buyers and most translators agree that editing by someone other than the translator is essential to ensure the quality of a translation. However, most translators are reluctant, and some outright refuse, to accept editing jobs.

Should a translator agree to edit a colleague's work and, if so, under what conditions?

Some translation buyers will have a translation done by the cheapest available translator, or even by free machine translation, and then expect a competent human translator to clean up the resulting mess. If the client can find a human translator for such an editing job, it usually turns out to need a complete re-write, taking more time and effort than doing the translation from scratch. Needless to say that I, for one, refuse to accept such "editing" jobs or quote a price to reflect the aggravation and the time I expect to need, including for providing a report about the original translation if requested.

On the other extreme is a competent translation, which is given out for editing to fix a few typos, minor omissions, and, if possible, to improve the overall style of the text. I like such jobs because they give me insight into a colleague's thought process and often teach me creative solutions to difficult translation problems I wouldn't have thought of myself. Editing a competent translator's work is a pleasure and can be an educational experience.

Because of such extremes, I never accept to edit an unknown translator's work before seeing the original source-language text and its translation in order to locate it on the continuum between those extremes. When editing the work of one of the regular translators of our company, I already know what type of mistakes that particular translator tends to make (and we all make mistakes) and revise his or her work accordingly.

It's a good practice for the editor to discuss specific problems with the translator. For this reason, when our company has both translation and editing done by outside contractors, we encourage them to discuss specific problems between themselves, just as we discuss them with our translator when we do the editing in-house. Communication between translator and editor results in a better translation and in a higher level of satisfaction of translator and editor, who both feel that they have contributed to the excellence of the final product.