Has anyone ever done "back-editing"?
Thread poster: Peter Shortall

Peter Shortall  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:59
Member
French to English
+ ...
Sep 27, 2007

If this is the wrong forum, I trust someone will move this - I really wasn't sure where to put it.

A few weeks ago I received an e-mail from someone whose agency I think I wrote to about a year ago and had never heard back from (the name looked vaguely familiar). He said he needed someone to do some "back-editing" of translations in one of the languages I work from, and that he had been impressed with my CV. The agency had a very good Blue Board record.

I'd heard of (and done) back-translating before, but not back-editing so I asked what it was. He said he was expecting large volumes of medical texts translated from English *into* one of my source languages (English is my only target language) and that these would require back-editing. "Based on your excellent qualifications, we would like you to complete this test", he added flatteringly. Attached were a source text, a translation and a set of instructions. I was to check the translation for errors and fill in two columns alongside the text. In the first I was to write a brief summary of each error, and in the second I was to enter an "error code". There was also an improbably elaborate (or so it seemed) list of about a dozen classes of error including additions, omissions, wrong punctuation, agreement errors, inconsistent use of terminology etc., each with its own code and ranked according to how serious it was deemed to be.

Then I looked at the translation and the source text. They contained complex medical terminology relating to devices I'd never heard of in English, let alone the other language. I was able to spot a number of simple mistakes in the translation but in many cases I had no idea whether the words used were correct since I didn't even recognise the source terms. Not only that, but despite the embarrassment of error classes, I was at a loss as to how to categorise some of the mistakes, such as misspellings. By this stage I was concerned because:

(a) Having read my CV, he ought to have realised I had had no medical training - and at no point had he asked me if I had any relevant experience.

(b) I'd never heard of "back-editing". Why did they want a native speaker of English to analyse mistakes in - but not actually edit - translations into another language? Why not just get someone capable to edit it straight away? And why have errors classified?

(c) I was told that this Linguistic QA was necessary because their agency was ISO-certified, and therefore certain standards had to be met. I hadn't even heard of these translation standards. The agency's website explains that they are a quality system designed for high-risk translation application, and lists an impressive array of ISO codes/standards which they claim to be endorsed to. There is also a press release trumpeting the fact that they are the first to have been awarded a particular ISO risk management system registration certificate by a particular US product safety body (privately-owned, according to Wikipedia), and that this certification has been formally recognised by the US FDA, EU, Japan and Australia. If the translations are high-risk, why get someone wholly inappropriate (me) to "back-edit" them?

I have since done more research on this agency and found that they seem to be linked with another one which is on the Blue Board (another press release on the first company's website says they are a member of the second agency's family of companies). The latter agency has a very large number of ratings, the majority of which are good, though there are also many poor ones citing non-payment or late payment, and this heightens my suspicions.

Needless to say, I told them I can't do this kind of work but I'm really curious now. Has anyone else heard of, or done, "back-editing" of this kind? It might be standard practice in the medical translation field for all I know, but I'd never come across it and on the face of it, to me it seems a rather bizarre undertaking. What's the point of it? And what are these ISO standards relating to high-risk translations? If they do indeed exist (and I can find no evidence that they do), surely they must state that medical texts must be dealt with by people experienced in the field?


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Margreet Logmans  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 04:59
English to Dutch
+ ...
As curious and clueless as you are Sep 27, 2007

Hi Peter,

I've never heard of back-editing before and frankly, I fail to see the point of it.

About ISO-certification: one of ProZ's members, Wouter van de Berg, owns an agency. He writes on their website that they are still working out ways to get certified - ISO 9001. So I guess that is the relevant standard. www.vertaalbureau.nl

I couldn't find useful information in English, but here's a link to Wikipedia in French (I noticed this is one of your working languages): http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/ISO_9001

It doesn't seem to be directly aimed at translation services though, it's rather general in nature.

Meanwhile, I'm still just as curious and clueless as you are. This is very strange.

Best,
Margreet


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Laura Gentili  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 04:59
Member (2003)
English to Italian
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My opinion Sep 27, 2007

I think what they need is legitimate but... they should ask someone with an expertise in medicine.
I have been asked to do this kind of checking a few times. It has never been called "back-editing" but "medical review".
Of course it makes more sense to ask someone who translates in the target language and who has an expertise in medicine.
You have to list the mistakes and suggested changes, divide them into subjective and objective changes, and give an explanation for every single mistake/inaccurancy/incorrect rendering you found in the translation.

I think they asked the wrong person for whatever reason, but obviously you could not carry out this job.

Laura


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xxxLia Fail  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 04:59
Spanish to English
+ ...
my first thought Sep 27, 2007

Peter Shortall wrote:

Then I looked at the translation and the source text. They contained complex medical terminology relating to devices I'd never heard of in English, let alone the other language. I was able to spot a number of simple mistakes in the translation but in many cases I had no idea whether the words used were correct since I didn't even recognise the source terms.


Only a native speaker of the language translated INTO and with soem knowledge of the FIELD is really in a position to detect error, surely?


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Peter Shortall  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:59
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French to English
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TOPIC STARTER
Curiouser and curiouser Sep 27, 2007

Margreet Logmans wrote:

I couldn't find useful information in English, but here's a link to Wikipedia in French (I noticed this is one of your working languages): http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/ISO_9001

It doesn't seem to be directly aimed at translation services though, it's rather general in nature.



Thanks for your reply. I did a bit more digging regarding ISO 9001, since it's one of the standards that the agency says it's accredited to. Interestingly, on one webpage I found this:

"ISO 9000 - Fundamentals and Vocabulary: this introduces the user to the concepts behind the management systems and specifies the terminology used.

ISO 9001 – Requirements: this sets out the criteria you will need to meet if you wish to operate in accordance with the standard and gain certification."

I've read a number of publications on the agency's website - all PDF documents written by the same person, so far - and they really look baffling. They go on and on about ISO certification and risk management, and there's barely a sentence which doesn't mention either. Someone has obviously spent an enormous amount of time writing this stuff, but I find a lot of it confusing. They liken translation to software development, noting that both are "non-stochastic" processes in the sense that it is difficult to predict risks. One document says that translation providers, who are elsewhere referred to as "translation resources"(!), must be certified to ISO 9001 and be specialised in medical translation. It doesn't mention back-editors, but wouldn't it make sense for them to be specialised too?

And to top it all off, meanwhile I've been contacted privately by someone who works for them, is familiar with their procedures and says they're one of his favourite clients! I just don't know what to think now...


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Peter Shortall  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:59
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French to English
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Exactly Sep 27, 2007

Lia Fail wrote:

Peter Shortall wrote:

Then I looked at the translation and the source text. They contained complex medical terminology relating to devices I'd never heard of in English, let alone the other language. I was able to spot a number of simple mistakes in the translation but in many cases I had no idea whether the words used were correct since I didn't even recognise the source terms.


Only a native speaker of the language translated INTO and with soem knowledge of the FIELD is really in a position to detect error, surely?


My thoughts exactly, and this is why I find their whole "risk management" concept very strange...


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Tim Drayton  Identity Verified
Cyprus
Local time: 05:59
Turkish to English
+ ...
I used to do it Sep 27, 2007

Hi,
Yes, I used to do "back editing" for a very reputable American agency which specialises in translating user manuals for medical equipment. As you can imagine, the manufacturer of such equipment could be sued for large amounts of money if an error in such a manual lead to the death or serious injury of a patient. For this reason, the editing and proof reading processes need to be a lot more thorough than is the case with any other kind of translation. The way it worked when I was involved in this process was that the text was initially translated from English into the target language by a native speaker of the latter. For all I know, it may even have been proofread by another native of the target language. Then a native speaker of English would back edit the translation. This involved looking for errors, which needed to be classified and graded, and comments about them would be added on a form specifically provided for this purpose. The form would then go back to the original translator, who was required to revise his or her text in line with the back editor's comments, or if the original translator disagreed with any such comments, she or he was required to state why. The editor would then receive feedback about any suggested alterations that had been rejected along with the reason for their rejection, and be invited to comment if she or he felt that the alteration was still required. The text would then be reviewed by the manufacturer's own editors, and anything that was queried at this stage would also come back to the editor, who would be invited to comment on the validity of any points raised by the internal proof reader. At each stage, the back editor was paid for the time that he or she spent on these tasks.
The rationale behind this process is that a native speaker of the source language can spot certain errors that a native speaker of the target language is liable to miss. The feedback submitted by the back editor serves a further purpose in that each error is graded according to its seriousness, and this provides the agency with a quantative measure of the original translator's performance.
I no longer do this kind of work, but the reason for this is that I wish to specialise in legal translation and felt that dealing with medical terminology was stretching me too far. Otherwise, I feel that this is a perfectly legitimate process, and considered the remunertaion I was receiving for this work to be reasonable. As you say, this is really a job for a medical specialist, but how many people with medical degrees are going to be attracted by the kind of the money that translators earn?


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xxxLatin_Hellas
United States
Local time: 04:59
Italian to English
+ ...
Had similar request in the past Sep 27, 2007

I too wondered what back-editing is. I conversed with the person from the company making the offer, the person did mention some of the tasks that you described (filling in fields and so-forth), but I still did not come away with a clear idea of exactly what "back-editing" is, it sounded like revision to me.

Needless to say I refused the offer without even talking about rates.

The conclusion is that apparently there are companies that do such a thing as "back-editing", but it also appears to be relatively rare, at least among translators, and difficult to explain exactly what it is. Again, sounds like revision to me, under any other name.

[Edited at 2007-09-27 15:19]


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Nicole Martin
Local time: 22:59
German to English
Translation Quality Metric Sep 27, 2007

The exercise they had you do sounds similar to the SAE J2450 Translation Quality Metric used in the automotive industry. Errors in a translation are classifed in different categories and given a numeric score based on the "seriousness" of the error category (i.e. a wrong term would be more serious than a missing comma or a harmless typo that doesn't change meaning). This can be used to a compute a final score indicating the overall quality of the translation. This link has a brief overview of the metric

http://www.sae.org/standardsdev/j2450p1.htm

Bottom line though, I agree: you need to know the field or it's all useless. If you don't understand the topic or the terminology, some of the most serious errors could easily go undetected. I think you did the right thing turning down that kind of work - all it would do is lead to more stress for you!


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xxxLatin_Hellas
United States
Local time: 04:59
Italian to English
+ ...
Question for Tim Sep 27, 2007

Tim,


My post appeared after yours (we seem to have written them at the same time), and actually you explained quite well what back-editing is. Thank you.

Can you please indicate, even in comparative terms, the kinds the rates you received for this kind of work, even in comparison to a "regular" translation?

Was it worth for you it in terms of the time value of money?

Thanks again.


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MariusV  Identity Verified
Lithuania
Local time: 05:59
English to Lithuanian
+ ...
I wish we could read the thoughts of others... Sep 28, 2007

Source text:

"Based on your excellent qualifications, we would like you to complete this test"

Translation:

"Despite the fact that your specialization does not suit our project, let's play with you and see what happens"*

*What the agency representative probably thought 5 minutes ago before sending you the proposal:

"Damn, we confirmed the project to the client and the major translators we have on our database with relevant qualifications/specializations refused to take it [they simply refused for those irrelevant formalities chose to work for others who do not complicate simple things].

And now we have a PROBLEM to hire someone. Errr... Different specialization. But damn it, let it be. Let's give him some text to see if he can do it more or less. Not a problem if there will be something to be corrected. The most imporant now is to have the target text at any cost. If needed, we will correct it by ourselves + we will have a good reason to refure to pay. To be more sound, we will suddenly "realize" that his qualifications are not relevant. To get him more interested, I will tell him that we have a huge upcomming project, and to please him, let's tell him that his CV is SO impressive.

And let's keep the fingers crossed hoping he will take this job because. We can get rid of him later and post "potential jobs" trying to fish new translators (this is why we have been silent for a year or so)"...

P.S. I am always cautious about people with an exhibition of a dozen certificates framed and put onto their office wall.








[Edited at 2007-09-28 01:23]


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Tim Drayton  Identity Verified
Cyprus
Local time: 05:59
Turkish to English
+ ...
In short, yes Sep 28, 2007

bale002 wrote:

Tim,


My post appeared after yours (we seem to have written them at the same time), and actually you explained quite well what back-editing is. Thank you.

Can you please indicate, even in comparative terms, the kinds the rates you received for this kind of work, even in comparison to a "regular" translation?

Was it worth for you it in terms of the time value of money?

Thanks again.

The process that I described obviously only refers to the way I worked for this particular agency on very specific projects, and may not have general validity.
I can say that the amount I was earning roughly corresponded to what I could make from spending a similar amount of time working on translations.


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Peter Shortall  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:59
Member
French to English
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TOPIC STARTER
Thanks to everyone Oct 14, 2007

Many thanks to everyone for their replies, which were very interesting. To Tim - it sounds like we might be talking about the same agency. Besides the medical terminology issue, there was one other thing that made me very suspicious about this agency: their website, and the whole "risk management" thing that they keep harping on about. The site features a large number of articles which I suspect are there to dazzle potential clients with their pseudo-scientific approach to "high-risk translation", but I've come to the conclusion that there's no substance to what they say. They go on and on (and on) about these ISO standards and the fact that their innovative procedures relating to risk management ensure that they are met, but without actually going into much detail about the translation/editing process itself. Where details are given, they seem to conflict with their actual practices (i.e. translators must be "certified to ISO 9001 and specialised in medical translation" - I am neither). Whether or not there's a logical rationale behind the back-editing idea - and it may well be that there is - I wouldn't trust a company which spouts that kind of drivel and then does something completely different in practice, even if I felt up to the work on offer. So no regrets

Thanks again for your replies!

[Edited at 2007-10-14 20:20]


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