Forget to Do This, and You Might as Well Not Do Editing at All

Editing is an essential part of the translation process, just as in any other process involving copywriting. It may take many different forms—from a marketing manager quickly scanning the translation to a professional team of editors scrupulously revising it.

Regardless of the form, there’s one thing to keep in mind at all times: making changes without having the original translator approve them is not a good idea.

This article explains how you can improve the editing part of your translation process by implementing this best practice.

Who makes changes

Before discussing the actual process of communicating feedback to translators after editing, let’s take a look at the two types of editors who may edit translations:

  • Translation agency’s editor. If editing is an integral part of the translation process at an agency (and it should be), each translation is revised by a second linguist (the translator being the first).
  • Client’s editor, typically an in-house employee. Almost any translation benefits from such editing, because an editor who has hands-on experience with the product or service can add value by making translations more specific and accurate.

When I refer to “you” in this article, I mean the person or organization that edited, or arranged the editing of, the translation—the translation agency or the end client.

Four reasons to have the edits checked by the translator

Quality

Editors are subject to human error just like translators, so even though they generally add value, they can also create problems ranging from typos to critical mistranslations.

For instance, when an editor makes changes to part of a sentence, it may become incongruent with the rest of this piece of text. The editor normally fixes the remaining part as well, but when he makes a lot of such edits, the chances are he’ll miss something.

Another example is an error made in the original that the translator recognized and corrected in the translation, but the editor didn’t realize this and assumed it was actually an error in the translation. This happens even if the editor has a better understanding of the subject area in general, because a typical editor doesn’t read and understand the text as thoroughly as the translator.

These examples are illustrated below using two English to Russian translations:

Error type Original Translation Edit
Incongruent part of a sentence He and his coach dissected those relapses to figure out what triggered the old ways. Вместе с наставником они анализировали эти рецидивы, чтобы определить, чем было вызвано срабатывание старых привычек. Вместе с наставником они анализировали эти рецидивы в поиске причин, которыми было вызван возврат к старым привычкам. (While changing one word, the editor forgot to change an adjacent word accordingly.)
False positive Rehire process Процесс выхода на пенсию (The translator assumed “rehire” should be “retire,” and was in fact correct in his assumption.) Процесс повторного найма (The editor erroneously decided that the translator had misread the original.)

Because the editor may gradually become blind to his own errors as he goes through the translation, putting his edits before a second pair of eyes is important.

Learning

A savvy translator uses feedback as a tool for professional development. She remembers the errors and doesn’t repeat them. Feedback that comes complete with the editor’s comments is especially instructive.

Maintaining the sense of ownership

Although the client ultimately owns the translation in legal terms, the translator owns it as well—as a creative product. Making changes silently, i.e, without any translator’s involvement, defeats the sense of ownership that she has about this translation, resulting in lower commitment in future work.

Building relationships

Communicating and discussing changes contributes to stronger relationships between translators and clients. By showing that we’re all pursuing the shared goal of achieving high quality, such feedback builds the spirit of collaboration.

Moreover, because most translators get little or no feedback from clients, they crave it. Satisfying this craving can make your translator appreciate your business even more.

Who should review changes

Just as it makes sense to have the original translator check the translation after DTP, it’s best to engage the original translator for reviewing the editor’s changes. She’s in the best position to check these changes, because she understands this translation very well and can spot even subtle issues.

However, time constraints can be a roadblock to this approach. Not all translators will be available to review feedback immediately.

If your schedule is too tight to wait for the translator’s response, you need to turn to your next best option. This could be another translator or at least a person who has a knack for this kind of work, for example someone in your company who’s passionate about copywriting.

Dealing with defensiveness upfront

Before you share such feedback, it’s important to set the right tone by explaining what’s expected of the translator:

Ask for input

You’re communicating the changes not to criticize him, but to solicit his input on the changes and make sure the editor did not introduce errors.

Unless you make it crystal clear that being honest is safe, the translator is likely to go into the defensive mode, either because of the “not invented here” mentality or the fear that agreeing to the changes will mean acknowledging that the original work was flawed.

Since the goal of this whole process is to add value rather than fight over who’s a better translator, misunderstandings can defeat the purpose.

So make sure to tell the translator that his performance evaluation won’t depend on whether he accepts the changes or not.

Prevent unnecessary arguments

If you’re confident about the quality of the changes made by the editor, instruct the translator to accept all changes except any obvious errors. This instruction will prevent the translator from contesting the “gray areas”—that is, preferential changes.

Saying so is especially important when the editor knows the subject area better. (However, if this is the case, I’d have asked the editor to do the translation in the first place!)

Feedback format

Two formats for communicating feedback are:

Format Pros Cons
Send comments and let the translator make the edits The translator retains the sense of ownership.

The translator makes a mental note about the changes for future projects.

Potentially unacceptable delays, because the translator needs more time compared with the second option (sending the changes for approval).

Since the translator has a choice, she might accept fewer changes than she would have if the changes had already been made. This exacerbates delays, as the editor then has to implement changes that the translator rejected erroneously.

The editor has to double-check the changes made by the translator to make sure nothing was missed and the changes are correct and consistent.

Send the changes and let the translator check them Little delay, since the translator just has to say yes or no instead of having to implement the changes.

The translator is more willing to accept the changes when they are already made, which results in a smoother process.

The editor doesn’t have to double-check the changes made by the translator.

The translator feels that the editor intervened with the translation, to the detriment of the sense of ownership.

The translator only takes notice of the errors, which is not as instructive as when she makes the changes herself.

The translator is more likely to miss errors, because seeing that the translation was already changed, she pays less attention.

Originally, I thought that the first option was better (check out this article about communicating translation feedback from 2011). Now, I recommend the second option, mainly because delays are often unacceptable.

From the technical standpoint, there are various ways to communicate feedback:

Comments in CAT tools (no changes made yet)

The editor uses the comment feature available in Computer-Aided Translation (CAT) tools to add comments or notes to segments.

It’s best for the editor to put the entire suggested translation into the comment together with the comment itself, so that the translator can quickly copy and paste the changed translation. This saves time and makes it easier for the editor to check the changes later.

Here’s an example of a comment made by the editor in the CAT tool OmegaT:

OmegaT suggested change in notes
When the editor finishes revision, he sends the entire project with the comments to the translator. The translator opens the project, goes through the changes, and implements them. Finally, she returns the updated project to the editor.

Sometimes, it’s preferable to send a list of comments rather than the actual project. For example, OmegaT can export comments into an HTML file using an export script.

Another option for the editor is to use the Microsoft Word comment feature.

OmegaT file with comments

Changes (already made)

If the editor chooses to make the changes right away as I recommend, you have two basic options:

If your CAT tool enables tracking changes as SDL Trados Studio does, you can simply send the translated file or the entire project, because the translator can see the changes easily. Ideally, with the editor’s comments.

SDL Trados Studio track changes

The second option is to use a tool such as ChangeTracker to create a nice-looking comparison of changes to send to the translator. The editor can also add comments to this file.

Change Tracker comparison results

Communication methods

Method Pros Cons
Face-to-face or Skype call Easier for the translator to explain his choices.

Effective learning from errors.

The collaboration of two people results in even better ideas for the translation.

Time-consuming.

Ineffective use of time due to inherent face-to-face communication inefficiencies (think corporate meetings).

Difficult to arrange a call.

E-mail Quick.

Easy to use.

Both the translator and the editor can work on the feedback at their own pace without having the other one hanging on waiting, so time is used most efficiently.

More difficult for the translator to explain his choices compared to face-to-face communication.

Less learning from errors.

E-mail + Skype call

(Most changes are communicated and confirmed by e-mail. For any issues that require discussion, the translator and the editor have a brief Skype conversation.)

Easier for the translator to explain his choices.

Effective learning from errors.

The collaboration of two people results in even better ideas for the translation.

Quick.

Easy to use.

Both the translator and the editor can work on the feedback at their own pace without having the other one hanging on waiting, so time is used most effectively.

Takes slightly more time than just using e-mail.

Review process

The main goal for the translator is to add value by checking the editor’s edits and providing input as necessary. This happens in the form of comments that the translator adds to the editor’s changes or comments.

I won’t go into this process in detail here, but instead refer you to an article titled “How to Review Client Edits.”

Another benefit of this process is that by looking at the translation from this slightly new perspective, the translator may also discover nuances that both he and the editor had missed.

Dealing with constraints

You want to avoid making this process too formal

Otherwise, the translator will become defensive, recognizing the risk to his reputation (“Will they trust me with another job if I agree that I made errors in this one?”) and feeling resentful about someone tampering with his work. Create an environment that encourages cooperation rather than bitterness and sarcasm.

Time constraints

Build a relationship with the translator so that he always finds time for checking the changes even if he’s busy with other projects.

Payment

There is normally no reason for the translator to charge for this review, because at least some corrections usually result from errors.

Most translators don’t have a problem checking them free-of-charge, just as a construction contractor would be willing to fix faults that you find in their work.

However, in extreme cases such as most changes being preferential, you can hardly get away without paying.

In conclusion

Although editing is intended to improve quality and editors are highly qualified, they still make errors as all people do, so their work benefits from review by a second pair of eyes.

If arranged correctly, this process adds value both for this translation and any future ones.

If you’re looking for a vendor with a translation process that includes both editing and reviewing the edits, then we might be a good match.

Contact us for a free quote today

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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.