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Quality Translation of Text Documents

This article is by Corinne McKay and originally entitled "9 Tips For Increasing Translation Quality While Decreasing Translation Cost". Her contact details can be found at the end of the article.

In some cases, there's no win-win situation when you're looking to increase product quality while decreasing cost. Translation is the exception; measures that decrease word count and therefore cost often result in a more precise and accessible translation.

Here are some "translator's eye view" tips gleaned from some of my recent projects.

1. CONDENSE AND CLARIFY

Many businesses ignore the value of pre-editing materials for translation, but this step can reduce costs by 25% and more while ensuring a higher-quality final product. How? By reducing sentences such as "The objective of this chapter is to explain the use of macros in word processing software." to "Chapter Objective: Explain word processing macros." It's easy to see how this saves money, cutting 11 words down to 6 for a cost reduction of almost 50%, but it's also important to see how this makes the sentence clearer, easier to translate, and easier for the end user to understand. Consider hiring a translator or specialized translation editor to eliminate redundancies, standardize style, or even vet entire sections that aren't relevant to the target reader.
 
2. BANISH JARGON

Many translators comment that industry-specific jargon is one of the biggest barriers to producing a quality translation. What's more,we use our own jargon so much that we don't even recognize it as such. To a translator, "I'll deliver the target" connotes the transfer of a translated file, while to a hunting goods supplier, it means something very different. A Google search for "industry jargon" reveals 307,000 sites, many of them dedicated to jargon-busting, and full of examples of how jargon leads us astray. When I first encountered the term "belly lift" on an aeronautics jargon site, I thought "yoga posture or plastic surgery procedure?" while the correct definition is the cargo capacity of a passenger airliner. To ensure a quality end product, ask an industry "outsider" to review your documents for problematic jargon.
 
3. SCREEN FOR SPORTS TERMS

Americans in particular have a fondness for using terms and examples from sports, often our "homegrown" sports like football and baseball. However to most of the rest of the world, superlatives like home run, pinch hit, touchdown, Hail Mary pass, or bottom of the ninth fall flat. In addition, making use of sports-centric examples alienates the target audience and slows translators down, resulting in delays and cost overruns. Recently I worked on a computer manual translation where students in an HTML class were asked to create an ordered list of the teams in the American League. This text, destined for Western Europe, required the translation team to localize the exercise by asking students to alphabetize a list of Formula One drivers. Better yet, screen these terms out of your text entirely. 

4. ELIMINATE DUPLICATE TEXT

Many documents include redundant text, which, if not eliminated, results in paying for the same translation twice, or even more. One of my recent projects included translating a workbook, and the workbook's answer key. The client simply noted the word count for each document, not realizing that the entire text of the workbook was repeated in the answer key. When I pointed this out, the client was happy to have saved several hundred dollars. While every text contains some amount of necessary repetition, try to eliminate the unnecessary kind. In cases where budgets are tight, consider referencing duplicate text, i.e. "see instructions on pg. 42" rather than having it re-translated.
 
5. MAKE A MULTILINGUAL GLOSSARY

Most businesses have specific terms that always need to be translated in the same way throughout their literature, for example the name of a certain machine, process, department, etc. While these terms often appear on a company's multilingual website, "standardize the terms with what's on our site" is a tall order when the site runs into hundreds or thousands of pages with terminology scattered throughout. Creating a multilingual glossary of crucial terms avoids this problem; simply e-mail it to all of the translators on the project. This saves the time needed to respond to translator e-mails when terminology is unclear, and results in a standardized final product.
 
6. PROVIDE CONTEXT

Good translation depends on context, since words mean different things in different situations. This is especially important in documents such as a spreadsheet of terms, where no context is available. One of my regular clients is a software company doing market research abroad, with the results coming to the translation team in spreadsheet form. The client always provides the text of the survey questions so that translators know what the context of the responses is. Recently I translated a survey where one of the responses was the word "Linus." My immediate thought was "like the Peanuts character?" However when I referenced the survey text and saw that the question had to do with computer operating systems, I saw that this was a typo of the "Linux" open source operating system. Providing context allows translators to be more precise in their terminology. Consider providing either supporting documents, or a short summary of what the text is used for.
 
7. GO METRIC

Whether used as a unit of measurement to give the dimensions of a product, or as a figure of speech such as "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," realize that America is the odd one out when it comes to metrics. Pre-convert all measurements, speeds, distances, etc. into metric before sending the document to be translated.
 
8. PROVIDE DOCUMENTS IN READ-WRITE FORMAT

Read-only formats such as PDFs are a great way to exchange documents between users of different systems and platforms, but they slow down the translation process and make it hard to standardize the end product. Many end clients want their documents returned with the same layout, look and feel of the originals, thus saving desktop publishing time later on. When documents are read-only, this is impossible, and results in the translator having to describe where the text should go, i.e. "this is the caption below the picture of the jaguar." Embedded and scanned objects that include text fall into this category too; consider typing the text below the object so that it's ready for the translator to work on.
 
9. COLLABORATE

Translation consumers can save time and money by paying attention to the human element of the process along with the technical and linguistic sides. Benefit from your translation team's expertise by asking "What can we do to make this project a success?" rather than just sending off the files and waiting for the result. Every agency and every translator can draw upon a multitude of "do" and "don't" examples from past clients, so take advantage of this advice and use it to your benefit. Encourage translators to ask questions, and discuss how they should be managed in order to get answers back quickly and accurately. One of my clients requests that I type up questions and send them in batches (rather than one at a time) so that the client can just paste in responses. This is fast, easy, and cheap. "Should euros be converted to dollars?" "No," etc. With pre-editing of documents for translation, these types of questions can even be anticipated and answered in an advance instructions sheet for translators.

These tips reflect my experience as a translator and my own opinions, not those of my clients. Feel free to use them in your own work, and let me know if they are helpful!

By Corinne McKay
Freelance Writer and Translator
ATA-Certified for French to English Translation
corinne@translatewrite.com
www.translatewrite.com