Language Translations: Proofing vs. Editing

Recently, I was asked to explain the difference between what “proofing” of a translated document (normally done at no charge) is and “editing” of the same document. Charges for an edit can run up to 60% of the cost of the initial translation. The following is a basic definition and policies that different language service providers follow; some firms may say something different.

Proofing is the side by side, page by page comparison of the translated document to the original source language document. The person doing the proofing is looking to make sure the punctuation’s match, what was bold is bold, what was italic is italic, measurements are converted, heading looks correct, pictures are inserted and placed correctly, captions appear to be the same, etc. Thus a “proofer” does nothing more than a visual comparison of the document to make corrections. In reality, this is “formatting verification”, not editing.

Editing is the translated document being read by another translator, a native speaker of the target language with the original English version. This is done to correct simple spelling mistakes, punctuation changes, and correct gender terms and industrial terms of the target language, in addition to the items covered under Proofing.

Review Process that a client should follow is actually rather simple. A side by side, page by page, comparison of the original English version of the document and the translated version by a native speaker of the target language. If a client’s reviewer does not read the English version at the same time they read the translated version, they have no idea if the translation is correct or incorrect. It is only guesswork on the part of the reviewer.

Editing with most language translation firms is an option on the quote and can be dropped; thus not performed by them either. This is for a simple reason: a client’s material does not have a high-risk level to fingers, limbs, medical, etc. Most language translation firms do not charge for the first round of corrections. No one likes a lot of corrections. The correction process can take up time and resources, cut into profit margins, increase the client’s usage of resources, and thus increase their internal cost too.

At times, having an edit done is cost beneficial to the client due to the sensitivity of the document. It is imperative to remember that just because the first round of corrections is free, doesn’t mean you don’t have skin in the game. Trying to get your internal or international people together with their business schedules could take weeks. Thus, a simple 20-page catalog with sales benefits of $100K monthly winds up being two months behind schedule. This unforeseen delay just cost your company $200K in lost revenues, when paying $1,000 for the edit would be cost and possibly career beneficial.

Final note: For editing your material use “native speakers” of the target language to review the material. Make sure this person is fluent in their own language and was at the very least a B student in it as well. For the most part, fluent speakers are just that, fluent speakers. Even if you think they have a great command of their second or third language and many do, have them sit in front of you and translate one page of material. Time them, then do the math to see if they can produce 4,000 words of translated material a day? Keep in mind the average word count in North American English is 400 words per page! This page is 587 words including this sentence.

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