The paramount importance of revision Part I

To revise means “to look again”, but revision is so much more.

It’s not just a matter of proofreading for the purpose of correcting grammar, punctuation, or spelling errors.

The principle of self-revision is very clear: checking our work to make sure it’s good—a good cook never serves a meal without having tasted it first!

By analogy, a writer or a copywriter should never consider a text finished, and a professional translator should never consider a translation finished, without having checked it.

Revision can be done by the writer/editor/the translator himself or, ideally, there will be a third person checking someone else’s writing/translation.

Revision shares many characteristics with both writing and translation, since it is also a crucial part of writing, much like mise en place in cooking.

It may be a secondary process, but it is essential.

Of course, the revision process also has its own specificities, methods, and rules.

Proofreading relies on observation, perception, and global awareness of the written text.

Depending on the needs, it’s a matter of looking at the text as a whole and checking the quality, determining if the message is conveyed correctly, and looking closely to see if there are aspects that can be changed to make the text stronger.

Challenges of self-revision

The feeling of ownership

Of course, we always intend to write without mistakes and to convey the message as clearly, concisely, and compellingly as possible.

Nevertheless, revision is still a fundamental part of writing, regardless of the author’s talents and/or experience.

Let me also remind you that revision teaches us to write better!

Revision should begin with critical reading: when we proofread, we are taking a second look at our ideas, reflecting on what we have written, trying to identify any writing difficulties, etc.

In fact, this is the best way to learn and improve or fine tune both our writing skills and our analytical ability.

Self-revision in translation is an integral part of the process: a professional translator does not hand in work without at least rereading it once from start to finish, performing some form of verification, even if skipping some detail.

However, self-revision presents more challenges and limits than reviewing the work of others, since the entire process includes only one person, thus limited to their unique knowledge and skills.

Although motivation may be stronger when we review our own work, seldom is self-revision as effective having a third-party reviewer.

When reviewing our own translation, we find it difficult to change perspective, we are influenced by familiarity with the text, by a sense of ownership of the text produced, and by our own expectations, which makes it more difficult to detect errors and maintain objectivity.

Also, many professionals do not devote enough time to proofreading what they write—either because they are tired, or because the time allocated to the project isn’t enough for a more thorough revision, or because they are over-confident… This is where an external reviewer comes into the translation process.

Revision in translation

The responsibility to review the work of others

The main difference between reviewing someone else’s work and self-reviewing lies in the number of people involved in the process: one author or translator and one reviewer; or one author and one translator plus one reviewer.

In translation, the reviewer’s function is to ensure linguistic accuracy by correcting interpretation, translation, grammar, spelling and terminology errors, punctuation use, and the so-called “typos” (typing errors).

But it doesn’t end there!

Revision by someone other than the translator is a central part of the translation process.

When translating, we often miss minor mistakes that are not picked up by automatic correction tools, even when we proofread our work—only the close and “fresh” eye of another will detect these more elusive errors!

Working as a reviewer means being open to the perspectives and the solutions of others, without trying to impose our own ideas on someone who has produced an acceptable piece of work; and recognizing the validity of approaches to translation that are different from our own.

When reviewing, it’s crucial to assume that the translator has more knowledge about the source text than the reviewer—even if the reviewer has read it beforehand, the translator has worked on it harder and longer, and has researched and checked their work at the end.

Working in close contact with the translator to clarify any issues contributes strategically to the end-result.

Changes made by a reviewer to a translated text must be objectively justifiable, supported by a reliable argument; and if necessary or beneficial, some corrections should be discussed with the translator.

It’s also important to distinguish necessary changes from mere suggestions by adding notes for the translator or the customer. It’s important to remember that unwanted or unnecessary changes will always cost time and money.

Quality in translation

Translation is an accurate and acceptable interpretation of a source text into the intended target audience’s language.

We can infer that reviewing should ensure the quality of the translation.

In fact, quality control is also a very important process.

How do you measure the quality of a translation?

Is a good translation one that faithfully portrays what was said in the source text? One that suits its purpose? One that satisfies the customer? Or one that is accurate, and correct?

In fact, it’s a combination of all these factors.

For example, customer satisfaction alone cannot be the only measure of translation quality.

We must consider that customers, just like anyone else, may have different degrees of specific knowledge. Besides, going back to culinary references, not all of us love the same dish, no matter how well it’s made!

We can summarize that quality is associated with the customer’s needs, but accuracy, correctness, and adequacy are fundamental.

Want to know more about the scope of the proofreader’s work?
Read the second part of our post here: The paramount importance of revision—Part II.

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