Responsibility Is Key to Good Translation Editing



If you are on a lookout for a good translation editor, the single most important quality to look for is responsibility. An editor can be very knowledgeable and experienced—a genius, if you like—but this is nothing without responsibility. A less skilled but more motivated editor will run circles around an unmotivated genius.

100% responsibility

Editors must take 100% responsibility for the translation they are revising.

Sadly, this is easier said than done. It is common for editors to fall victim to assumptions like, “This is not my job; the translator must have known what she was doing anyway.” Suppose an editor notices something in a translation that he is not sure about, perhaps a word translated very differently than its dictionary definition. He marks the place and makes a note with a question to the translator. A few paragraphs later, he does it again, and then again. Having made three notes already, the editor finds yet another case where he is in doubt. What does an irresponsible editor do in this situation? Often he ignores it, because by this point, he is starting to lose concentration and motivation (and even patience perhaps). The common assumptions leading to this , often made subconsciously, are, “This is unlikely to be another mistake by the law of probability,” or “The translator is too good to make this kind of error,” or “This is the translator’s job; I cannot correct everything.” The point is that editing other people’s translations requires 100% responsibility. You cannot ignore a single potential error. This level of responsibility is hard to find in an individual, yet it is critical for an editor.

Even if you have a good translator, it does not necessarily mean he will also make a good editor. The level of responsibility is different. Some translators have come to believe that they are not fully responsible for their job and what they produce does not have to be the final product. They expect someone else to check their translation, whether it is the client’s editor or the translation agency. This is why you may pay dearly, but end up with a less-than-perfect translation. This is what happened to us last year, when we outsourced a translation project in full to another agency. The price was quite high; the job was supposed to include both translation and editing, and according to the marketing message of the agency, it would be perfect. But the translation did not meet our standards. Although it did not look so bad on the surface, digging deeper was depressing. Here is an example

Guide and specially adapted drill bit included.

Прилагается руководство по эксплуатации и специально подобранные сверла.

The word “guide” as in “guide device” was translated as “user manual.” If the editor misses such obvious mistranslations, then either there has been no editor at all or the editor fell victim to one of the above-mentioned assumptions.

Responsibility to keep on going when the going gets tough

Editing relies heavily on automated quality assurance. Programs such as Verifika make it easier to find technical errors and, by making it possible to check terminology, provide a different, more focused view of translation. The flip side of the QA coin is that is time-consuming and “boring” for most folks, as one of our good freelance partners told me when he tried doing QA using the check list that we run each translation against.

This is hard work indeed. Not everyone, perhaps 95% of translators, is prepared to do it. It is only the high-level responsibility that makes it possible to do this kind of work consistently day after day, project after project.

Responsibility towards all stakeholders

Because it is so tempting to correct translation according to one’s own preferences, editors must keep their egos on a tight leash. Otherwise, they end up tearing down translators’ work. Once he starts making preferential edits, it is difficult for the editor to stop, and he goes into the “what the heck, let’s correct them all” mode. The translation becomes a red and green mess of edits, which is of no benefit to any of the stakeholders. The translator gets angry because of unfair damage to his reputation. The translation agency has to order another editing round, since, by the sheer number of edits, the heavily edited translation is unlikely to be a final product—it needs another pair of eyes again. And the editor himself feels frustrated and underpaid, wishing he had done the translation himself.

It is a rare editor who recognizes his responsibility not to succumb to this kind of disruptive editing. And this makes responsibility an even more important quality for an editor.

In conclusion

Responsibility is key to successful editing of any translation. If you find an editor who takes 100% responsibility for the translation, while also recognizing his or her responsibility towards everyone involved in the translation process, hold on to that person, because he or she is a great asset.

If you liked this article, then check out this one about essential qualities of an editor.


  • Paul says:

    Опасливое отношение многих редакторов к исправлению смысловых и терминологических ошибок имеет объективные причины. Практика такова, что многие штатные/постоянные редактора имеют только лингвистическое образование и соответствующий опыт работы. Поэтому, сталкиваясь со сложным техническим текстом, который переводил специалист с соответствующей квалификацией (хотя бы и лишь заявленной), редактор зачастую ограничивается косметическими правками в отношении орфографии/грамматики/стиля. Случается и так, что внесенные таким редактором правки ухудшают смысловую ценность перевода.

    И с такой ситуацией сложно что-то сделать. Ведь редакторов объективно меньше чем переводчиков, то есть их область специализации в любом случае шире, а зачастую они являются вообще универсалами.

    Таким образом, я бы добавил к портрету идеального редактора чрезвычайно быструю обучаемость в новых предметных областях.

    Прошу прощения, что на русском – ограничен по времени.

    • Thank you for your comment, Paul. I could not agree more. Another reason along the same lines is that most translators who specialize in a specific subject area are usually unwilling to edit someone else’s work, because they know too well how hard it is to do a good job translating in this area. As a result, they do not trust that other people can translate well.
      Sincerely yours,

      Russian translation:

      Спасибо за комментарий, Павел. Это бесспорно. Я бы еще добавил то, что большинство переводчиков с узкой специализацией знают, насколько сложно сделать хороший перевод в их области, и поэтому не желают браться за редактирование, заранее предвидя слабый перевод.
      С уважением,

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