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Proofreading vs. translation editing/retranslation: sharpening the distinction
Thread poster: Robert Forstag
Robert Forstag  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 06:02
Member (2003)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Oct 7, 2006

Over the past few months, the topic of how the "proofreading" is used within the translation profession generally, and on the jobs board specifically, has cropped up a number of times.

To cut to the chase, "proofreading" seems to be widely used as a euphemism for "comprehensive translation review" and "heavy editing".

It is easy to see the reason for this misuse of the term, for it allows outsourcers to offer a rate of 1 to 3 cents a word for a "proofreading" job that in fact might involve more work than a straightforward translation.

I myself have found this distinction abused in two instances of jobs posted on this site. (In one case, I discovered the misrepresentation only after having accepted the job. In the other instance, I asked to review the source and target texts first, whereupon I discovered that the job involved much more than the advertised "proofreading".)

If outsourcers want want to offer modest fees for such difficult work, they have every right to do so. However proz.com ought not to be a party to such misrepresentation.

I therefore propose that the posting system be modified so that any outsourcer attempting to post a job containing the word "proofreading" or "revision" receive a reminder regarding correct use of terms and the need to accurately represent what the offered work really involves.

Freelancers who become aware of misrepresentation of jobs ought to be able to report this to site staff, who can then take appropriate action.

As a means of making the above distinctions, I would propose as a starting point the following definitions, which can undoubtedly be improved upon:

Proofreading:
Review and correction of a well-written text containing few if any blatant errors of grammar or syntax; the general purpose of proofreading is to catch typographical errors and other mistakes that have inadvertantly crept into the text.

The above definition applies to any text, whether it has been translated or not. In the case of the proofreading of a translated text, there should be no need for a line-by-line comparison of source and target text. The source text can be made available for the proofreader as a reference but a line-by-line comparison to ensure fidelity to the original text ought not to be necessary.

Translation review:
Comprehensive line-by-line comparison of a professional and polished translation with its corresponding source text to ensure fidelity to the original on the one hand, and stylistic coherence and grammatical correctness within the target language on the other.

Comprehensive translation editing:

Line-by-line comparison of a translation *that is acknowledged as being defective* with its corresponding source text to ensure fidelity to the original on the one hand, and stylistic coherence and grammatical correctness within the target language on the other.

Requiring posters to be honest about the work they are offering will help freelancers make informed decisions about accepting offers. Perhaps more importantly, it is hoped that such a requirement will lead outsourcers to reflect on what led to the need for extensive repair of a faulty translation in the first place, and how they might avoid this predicament in the future.

Bob


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Elisabete Cunha  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 11:02
English to Portuguese
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I see what you mean... and I agree Oct 7, 2006

Hi, Robert!

I see what you mean. It has also happened to me, sometimes I receive texts for proofreading that I have to almost translate it over again, because of several error mistakes, complete lack of punctuation and as for the editing/formatting, it rarely exists.

And the price is so low, most of the times, 0,02/0,03 USD, that it doesn't pay for all the effort.

I agree with the distinction you propose between different types of "proofreading".

Although, I must say that there are lots of exceptions! And I do love proofreading, because it's a very demanding task, sometimes more demanding than the translation itself.


Elisabete


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Inga Jakobi  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 12:02
Member (2006)
Chinese to German
+ ...
How should the outsourcer judge the translation? Oct 7, 2006

Hi,
I also see and understand what you are talking about and although I haven't had any proofreading jobs so far, I think that such a distinction would make sense. But on the other hand, I wonder how an outsourcer should be able to estimate the amount of work the proofreader might have with a job, if they do not know the language the text was translated to. In fact, there are probably a lot of cases where a proofreader is hired just because the outsourcer can't check the translation himself.

Inga


[Bearbeitet am 2006-10-07 17:45]


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xxxMalik Beytek
Local time: 14:02
I would define (a) proofreading, (b) translation review, (c) editing Oct 7, 2006

I would define proofreading as you, Robert Forstag, have defined.

I would define translation review as reviewing to identify lack of fidelity to original, period.

I would define, then, editing as assuring, as the topic poster has wrote, "... stylistic coherence and grammatical correctness within the target language...".

In all cases, the text on which work is to be done would be a reasonably accurate translation requiring at most reasonable amount of editing, i.e., it should be one that can be edited.

Else, i.e., if it is not reasonably accurate or basically *uneditable*, then the translation job should be done all over by a different translator.


In other words, I think I am saying that there should be no such thing as "comprehensive translation review". I once did something like that; and that was the first and the last time I did that. In doing that, you work simultaneously with three documents (i) original, (ii) translated text, and (iii) your re-write. It is a mazoshictic (spell?) exercise. You don't need item (ii) - it is easier -- therefore less expensive -- to do translation all over.


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Astrid Elke Witte  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 12:02
Member (2002)
German to English
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I like your definitions Oct 7, 2006

Hi Bob,

I like your categories and definitions. It is a pity they are not "official" anywhere yet.

I learnt in the very early stages of my freelance career not to accept proofreading jobs, after I had done a few and managed to earn about EUR 5.00 per hour by having agreed to a low per-word rate.

I must say, this phenomenon mystified me at first, because a person needs to have greater experience to do proofreading than to do a translation. By that token, it should be better paid. Then at last I understood that it was agencies' way of correcting an awful translation, usually done by a non-native speaker, as cheaply as possible. Once I fully understood this I declined all further offers of "proofreading" work. I also understood, at that point, why this work requiring higher qualifications and experience, is given to translators just beginning their freelance career. After the first six months, they will only translate, not "proofread" any more.

I suspect it would take many years of pressure and official legislation, by authorised bodies, to change this bad habit of agencies.

Astrid


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lexical  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 12:02
Portuguese to English
enforce your own rules Oct 7, 2006

You are all talking a lot of good sense. I agree with Bob's definitions, though I think they may be too detailed to work in all cases.

Pirily is right: there are agencies that don't have command of the source language and so can't properly judge which of Bob's categories a translator's work falls in. The only time I got 'caught' in this trap was to agree to "proofread" the work of two translators who were being tested out by the agency. In the end, I spent more time "proofreading" their work than I would have done retranslating it from scratch. The agency was reputable and certainly not trying to get the job done cheaply. I insisted on a "reworking" fee and eventually got it.

I now insist on:

1. Seeing the source and target files before accepting the job.

2. Having enough time to review them.

3. Negotiating a fee that genuinely covers the amount of work involved.


I think the answer lies not in having outsourcers classify their proofreading jobs, but in us insisting on a proper return for the work involved. If we all did that, the message would get through.

And that is not even to raise the issue of why a reviser (who should by definition know more about the language and subject than the translator) should be paid less.


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Inga Jakobi  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 12:02
Member (2006)
Chinese to German
+ ...
I agree with lexical Oct 8, 2006

It would probably be best to first ask to have a look at the documents and then accept the job. If it is a real bad translation one may already realize it by only reading the translation or at least by reading through the first page of source text and translation. As you can't force people only to work as translators when they are really educated and skilled (at least in Germany everybody can call himself translator), I doubt that there is a way to force agencies to classify the work. But still I also appreciate the categories proposed above.

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William Wu
United Kingdom
Local time: 11:02
English to Chinese
+ ...
most of them are wasting our time Oct 8, 2006

I like proof reading if it has good translation.

Unfortunately, I received a proof reading from a agency, and I accept it without checking, as I haven't any plan this weekend.

When I found the mistake of spelling from the first sentence, it is too late.

All brothers and sisters, charge them as much as you can if you do not know the translator...or they are wasting our time...or take it as reading pupil's novel


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xxxMalik Beytek
Local time: 14:02
Translator should decide, but... Oct 8, 2006

lexical wrote:

1. Seeing the source and target files before accepting the job.
2. Having enough time to review them.


That's the idea, of course.

I on my part have categorically rejected any post-translation work after having done it once, in which case it added up to doing the translation again.

And I strictly apply 1 and 2 above to regular translation work any way.

Here comes the *but* part:

But the translation office administrators don't like it much. (Hence I'm nearly starving.)



[Edited at 2006-10-08 09:33]


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eva75
English
+ ...
Mmm... Oct 8, 2006

Robert Forstag wrote:
Proofreading:
In the case of the proofreading of a translated text, there should be no need for a line-by-line comparison of source and target text. The source text can be made available for the proofreader as a reference but a line-by-line comparison to ensure fidelity to the original text ought not to be necessary.Bob


I disagree with you that there's no need for a line-by-line comparison. To be really professional, a reviser (prefer the term revision to proofreading here) should check for any omissions and check if the translation makes sense. Even the most seasoned translators can, and do, leave bits out or make contra-sens. However, if stuck for time then one can skip the line by line comparison, provided the translator did an excellent translation all round.

Proofreading is like the very last stage after you have compared with the ST. You print the document out and check for any remaining punctuation and layout errors.

Robert Forstag wrote:
Translation review:
Comprehensive line-by-line comparison of a professional and polished translation with its corresponding source text to ensure fidelity to the original on the one hand, and stylistic coherence and grammatical correctness within the target language on the other.Bob


This is more often called revision.

Robert Forstag wrote:
Comprehensive translation editing:

Line-by-line comparison of a translation *that is acknowledged as being defective* with its corresponding source text to ensure fidelity to the original on the one hand, and stylistic coherence and grammatical correctness within the target language on the other.Bob


Revision/proofreading is normally paid by the hour, and if it isn't on Proz this should be changed asap, thus I see your third distinction as being totally irrelevant.


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Robert Forstag  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 06:02
Member (2003)
Spanish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Response to the replies Oct 8, 2006

I would like to thank Elisabete, Pirily, Malik, Astrid, Lexical and William for responding to my post.

Pirily's and Lexical's charitable suggestion that outsourcers may simply be unable to determine the quality of a translation that they would like "proofread" can for all practical purposes be dismissed out of hand.

Here's why:

In most cases, agencies handling work within a given language pair have people who know those languages. A quick check will therefore usually suffice to determine whether a translation has major problems. If the PM handling the translation/proofreading can't make a determination, then surely one of his or her colleagues can do so.

[As an aside I would note that it is possible for someone with *no* knowledge of a source language to notice if there are major problems in a target language, as long as he or she has a good command of the latter.]

In those cases in which there is genuine uncertainty, the poster can indicate this and then ask for a quote based on the respondent's evaluation of the document (or a portion thereof). This would be perfectly acceptable.

For the above reasons, my own conclusion is that agencies who post retranslation projects masquerading as proofreading jobs know exactly what they are doing. Again, I have no problem with anyone posting a job that involves massive editing, and for offering a modest fee for such work. I *do* have a problem with posters misrepresenting such work as "proofreading", and with proz.com being a party to such misrepresentation.

I am in complete agreement with Lexical's suggestion that documents be received and reviewed prior to accepting work. I follow this procedure with regard to *all* work that I do, not just proofreading jobs. However, it should not be necessary for me to conduct such a review in order to determine that a project has been misrepresented. In addition, if the agency has already labelled the job "proofreading" and budgeted accordingly, it will in all likelihood not be possible to renegotiate a higher fee for the project. Which means that I will have spent time conducting an e-mail exchange, and then downloading, printing, and reviewing the document, to no avail.

I don't particularly like wasting my time, so I would prefer candor and transparency at the initial point of contact--namely, the posting itself.

For the reasons I have explained above, the agency itself is usually well capable of determining what a project involves, and is derelict in its duty when it fails to do so.

The question that remains, given that there is no moderator assigned to this forum, is whether anyone capable of taking action on my suggestion is listening to what is being said here.

Bob


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Robert Forstag  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 06:02
Member (2003)
Spanish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Response to Eva Oct 8, 2006

I can only conclude from reading your reply that you did not read my post carefully. Otherwise, there would not be such an obvious disconnect between what I wrote and what you understood.

To clarify:

1. What I said was that "proofreading" does not (or should not) involve a line-by-line comparison of source and target text. I *did not* say that such line-by-line comparison is not needed. Obviously, this should be standard procedure with *any* translation.

As you say, proofreading should be the very last review of a target text, after the comparison to source text. This was precisely my point.

2. Your claim that line-by-line comparison of ST and TT is called "revision" is demonstrably false, at least judging by agencies posting on the proz.com Jobs Board, and my own experience with other agencies I've worked with. In very many instances, agencies expect this line-by-line comparison to be part of any "proofreading" of a translation.

3. The posted jobs I'm referencing were not offering (and typically do not offer) a *per hour* rate. Therefore the distinctions that I am attempting to make here actually do seem very relevant to many of us.

Your response thus consists of a blatant misreading and two assertions as to "standard practice" that are demonstrably untrue.


Bob

[Edited at 2006-10-08 18:49]


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eva75
English
+ ...
apologies Oct 8, 2006

Robert Forstag wrote:

I can only conclude from reading your reply that you did not read my post carefully. Otherwise, there would not be such an obvious disconnect between what I wrote and what you understood.

To clarify:

1. What I said was that "proofreading" does not (or should not) involve a line-by-line comparison of source and target text. I *did not* say that such line-by-line comparison is not needed. Obviously, this should be standard procedure with *any* translation.

As you say, proofreading should be the very last review of a target text, after the comparison to source text. This was precisely my point.

2. Your claim that line-by-line comparison of ST and TT is called "revision" is demonstrably false, at least judging by agencies posting on the proz.com Jobs Board, and my own experience with other agencies I've worked with. In very many instances, agencies expect this line-by-line comparison to be part of any "proofreading" of a translation.

3. The posted jobs I'm referencing were not offering (and typically do not offer) a *per hour* rate. Therefore the distinctions that I am attempting to make here actually do seem very relevant to many of us.

Your response thus consists of a blatant misreading and two assertions as to "standard practice" that are demonstrably untrue.


Bob

[Edited at 2006-10-08 18:49]


Oops, sorry to have offended you. I'm certainly coming from a very different perspective. I would still tend to disagree with you about the line-by-line comparison of ST and TT not being called "revision". The real professionals out there - and I too have my experience - certainly do not use the term "proofreading" to mean something else.

To be honest, I can't really see agencies, who first have difficulty differentiating between proofreading and revision, being willing to accept your three categories and the different rates applying to these. Best of luck, nonetheless!



[Edited at 2006-10-08 22:06]


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Inga Jakobi  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 12:02
Member (2006)
Chinese to German
+ ...
I didn't mean to "protect" agencies acting like this Oct 8, 2006

Robert Forstag wrote:


Pirily's and Lexical's charitable suggestion that outsourcers may simply be unable to determine the quality of a translation that they would like "proofread" can for all practical purposes be dismissed out of hand.



I only mentioned this because something similar happened to me... Of course most of the agencies should have a possibilty to handle/judge the target language.

Regards


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William Wu
United Kingdom
Local time: 11:02
English to Chinese
+ ...
There's an dilemma Oct 9, 2006

If you have confirmed you would do the proofreading which actually need edit and will cost several hours or days, you have two choice:

the first, quickly scan the blatant mistake, in order to save your time and money, under the risk of your own credits.

the second, you could proof read it line by line and take your responsibility for agency's illiberality.

However I am worried the most is they won't pay you or skimp your hard work since you have n't handed it on time...


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