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Top Secrets of Effective Proofreading

(photo CC BY-SA 2.0 quinnanya)

These days, there is a lot of fuss and debate around Post-Editing (and Machine Translation) that made me reflect upon effective editing and proofreading as a key part of my work.

Are there revision and proofreading parameters that can be applied to check the completeness and correctness of a translation, as well as compliance with the client’s specifications?

Let’s start trying to define editing, revision and proofreading. Revision means checking the quality and completeness of a translation through a sort of bilingual editing, e.g. it is a comparison of the source (original) text and the target text (translation). Editing refers more to style. After “polishing”, the translation should read as if it were written originally in the target language and should be suitable for its audience. Proofreading means to re-read the translation and correct any grammatical, spelling and punctuation errors.

I started my career in the translation industry more than 20 years ago revising and proofreading translations made by expert professionals. Over the years, I applied and developed various methods to check and edit translated texts, as Quality Manager at LSPs, as well as a freelancer checking my own work.

In my opinion, the best method is to use a check-list and stick to it. You can group similar controls and go through the text three or four times.

Stage 1 – Client’s specifications  – What is the translation for?

Before comparing the original with the translation, do not forget to check the client’s requests and agreed specifications! They may refer to terminology or formatting, but also on the parts to be translated. Ask the client in advance (Check this out: 7 tips for clients to get a translation that works).

Stage 2 – Quality controls

  1. Interpretation
    Does the translation accurately reflect the message of the author? At a second reading, does it make sense or there is any nonsense or contradiction?
  2. Completeness and correctness
    Any paragraphs missing? Headings or footers? Is text complete?
    Are numbers, dates and names correct (and consistent)? Remember that any language has its own rules for numbers and dates (5.2% in English is 5,2% in Italian). Based on my experience, it is better to do a separate check for numbers and dates in order not be distracted by the meaning and skip “mechanical” errors. When proofreading, I often spot mistakes in names, or sometimes the same name is written in two different ways. And it could be annoying if you mistype the client’s name!
    When working in team, I found it helpful to read aloud the original text to another professional who checked for completeness in the translation. If you work alone, you may use a text-to-speech application (Microsoft Word has a Reading function for many languages, and there are also other free text-to-speech applications).
  3. Terminology and Consistency
    Check if terminology fits with industry standards and complies with a specific glossary provided by the client, if any. Consult industry sites or databases. Terminology should be uniform and coherent in the entire translation.
  4. Language and Style
    Does the text read well? Does it flow? Are there any awkward hard-to-read sentences?
    Importantly, does language fit with end-users or destination market? Is the style suited to the “genre” and comply with the original?
  5. Grammar and Spellcheck
    Look for grammar mistakes and do not forget to check spelling! You may change font in Comic Sans, as suggested here.
  6. Presentation, Layout, Formatting
    Check spacing, indentation, margins, bolding, underlining, fonts, page numbering, headers, and footnotes. Do not overlook punctuation (remember that punctuation rules varies from language to language!)

Stage 3 – Take a break

I do not like very urgent jobs for various reasons, not only because I need to re-plan my day, but also because I do not have the time to take a break from translation and re-read it with a fresh mind. Do not underestimate the effectiveness of taking a break. After a rest, you focus more easily and spot errors more quickly.

Stage 4 – Read it out loud

This is a great way to check if a sentence sounds right in the target language. When translating, phrases may resemble the structure of the source rather than the target language. This is hard to spot, unless you read it out loud. Moreover, if you have to read a sentence twice to understand it, or you cannot understand the translation without consulting the source, a correction is definitely necessary. In the end, the translation should be accurate, but also readable.

Last but not least… run spellcheck again at the end. You may be surprised to know that spelling mistakes are among the most common errors. The translator does not make a good impression.

In your opinion, what are the most common mistakes for a translator or editor? Do you have any suggestions to improve the proofreading and revision process? When you proofread someone else’s work, how do you deal with “preferential” changes?

Join me at my upcoming Webinar on “How to become an effective proofreader” for more tips!


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