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Purpose of Editing

>Editing, or review, of translation by a second linguist is an industry-standard process that is of utmost importance to quality. In this post, I’d like to explain how my views on this process changed over the years. When I started as an English to Russian translator after graduating from Ivanovo University, I made some progress fairly quickly and was assigned to editing other translators’ work. With the limited knowledge I had at that point, I was able to make only those corrections that were absolutely necessary. But as I accumulated experience, I developed my own internal standards and began to judge all translations by those standards. I wanted each translation the way I saw it, which frequently resulted in heavy editing. Sometimes, I did improve the original translations, but occasionally I focused on minor things too much and missed critical errors. Finally, I came to realize that this style of editing is inefficient and reverted to my original “make necessary corrections only” approach. Here is why:

They say that tastes differ. This is especially true with languages. You can make 5, 10, or even 15 people do the same translation, and the chances that you will get at least two similar translations will be extremely low. For example, a phrase that I consider colloquial someone else can label bookish. When an editor rushes to “improve” translation, they are likely to end up rewriting it completely. They want to have it the way they would translate it from scratch. The end result is, in essence, a different translation, not an edited translation. The editor is back to where they started: this new translation requires editing by someone else.

Preferential changes account for a substantial portion of all editors’ corrections, to say the least. But do they contribute anything to translation? To answer this question, we need to dig deeper by asking a more basic question: what is translation? I think that in the final analysis, it’s an attempt to convey the meaning expressed with one language by using the words of another language. The only possible goal is to help one person understand the other. When I think of translation in these simple terms, what strikes me is that often, as an editor, I was losing sight of this goal completely. Metaphorically speaking, meaning is the core and wording is the wrapping around this core. Whatever the editor does to improve the “wrapping” doesn’t necessarily contribute to the meaning. Although undoubtedly important, style and terminology are far less critical compared to the meaning of the text. Even if you write poorly, e.g. call a laptop a “mobile computer,” the meaning is still there. Unnecessarily high attention to the “wrapping” means you are too much distracted from the “core” and moves you away from the ultimate goal of translation.

The more changes an editor makes, the higher is the risk of adding new errors. Many translators and translation agencies know this and even warn their clients against making corrections on their own. While a translator acts on the knowledge accumulated during the days or weeks of working on a project, an editor, being allowed a much shorter time frame, has to act on assumptions. Less time spent on decision-making means higher risk of poor linguistic decisions. For example, when a translation in the beginning of the text doesn’t make sense to an editor, they feel an urge to rewrite it immediately. A careful editor, however, suppresses the urge and simply marks the translation as questionable. Later, they either return to it or dismiss it, if they find an explanation in the following sections. An important goal for an editor is not to harm, i.e. to avoid changes that are detrimental to quality.

The two practical recommendations based on the above observations are:

1. Make only those changes that are absolutely necessary and you are 100% sure about.

2. Discuss all questions and changes with the translator or at least provide a summary of such questions and changes for them to review. Here is a good example.

By following these simple principles, the time I used to waste on multiple preferential changes I now spend on activities that have a much more positive effect on quality: making sure that the translation gets the meaning across correctly and adding value to the translation.

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About the Author

Roman Mironov
Roman Mironov
CEO & Founder

As the founder of Velior, Roman has had the privilege of being able to turn his passion for languages into a business. He has over 15 years of experience in the translation industry. Roman has helped dozens of clients increase sales by making their products appealing for speakers of other languages.