Peer review/proofreading versus 'professional' review/proofreading
Thread poster: elm29

Local time: 23:52
Italian to English
+ ...
Aug 6, 2008

Hello everyone,

this topic follows on from a couple of other threads both on this forum and on the translation theory and practice forum concerning relations between translators and proofreaders/reviewers.

To give a little background, my professional experience is as follows: I work almost exclusively for private clients, particularly institutional ones. Many of these institutions (like some smaller, specialized translation agencies) employ professional in-house proofreaders and reviewers to check and correct translations. My experience working with these people has been entirely positive: they have made themselves available to answer queries or discuss terminology (especially useful since they are generally experts in the relevant field as well as competent linguists), provided helpful and constructive feedback (e.g. translations returned with an explanation of all changes made), helped me to improve the quality of my translations - in short, a pleasure to work with both personally and professionally.

My occasional experience with large agencies and their reviewers/proofreaders has been somewhat different. Several agencies that I have worked for use a 'peer' review system whereby translator A does the translation, which is then passed on to translator B for review and comment; if necessary, the translation is then edited/proofread, either by translator B or a third translator C. I know this because I have worked in all 3 capacities.

I can identify several problems with this system.

First, as a previous thread pointed out, translation is a competitive business. In a peer review system, reviewers are inevitably competing with the translators whose texts they check and comment on, since they work in the same language pairs. Whilst I am sure that most translators are thoroughly professional when asked to review or proofread a colleague's translation, I am equally certain that a minority are less so: after all, giving a good review to someone else may mean less work/less well-paid work/less interesting work in the future.

Second, there is the question of 'who reviews the reviewer?'. On a few occasions I have had translations come back to me completely mangled, with the addition of grammatical errors, terminological mistakes, nonsensical sentence structures, etc. Having recently been asked by an agency to review a long legal translation even though both my CV and agency profile clearly state that I am not qualified to do so, I can see how this could happen. I didn't take the job, but if I had been desperate for work, who knows? (Incidentally, when I asked the PM why he had offered me this job the answer was 'our legal translators are busy and the delivery deadline is tomorrow morning'!). As far as poor proofreading is concerned, when I have pointed the problem out to project managers, responses have varied from complete agreement and reinstatement of my original translation to accusations of non-professional behaviour (the latter agency being rapidly added to the list of ex-clients).

So, my questions to fellow translators are: have you had similar experiences with agencies? Dp you think there is a difference between in-house reviewers and proofreaders and peer reviewers/proofreaders in terms of how they treat you and your translations? Have you worked with agencies that employ a different (perhaps more functional) system from peer review? Can you think of ways to improve a peer review system that you would like agencies to implement?

And to agencies/project managers: what system do you work with when reviewing and proofreading translations? If you use a peer review system, how do you go about choosing which translator should review which translation? Do you 'filter out' people who give consistently bad reviews? Do you have a way of 'reviewing' your reviewers?

Thank you in advance for any feedback and apologies for the length of post!


Ivana Friis Wilson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 22:52
Member (2008)
English to Danish
+ ...
Good and bad Aug 6, 2008

In my experience, there are as many good reviewers / proofreaders as there are translators - and as many bad reviewers / proofreaders as there are translators.

In our industry, nitpicking is a virtue. That's a good thing. But many take it to the extreme when they assume the role of proofreader. I have sor far only had a problem once with an eager proofreader - the agency showed me the proof, I responded (defended myself) and in the end the agency presented the end client with my translation and the proofread translation and left it to the end client to choose which one to use. The end client chose the proofread version.

When I proofread, I try to do it the way I would like to have it done: I only correct mistakes and I comment where I disagree. Generally, I do as little as possible - not bacuase I am lazy but because my job is not to retranslate. I also write a comment sheet where I describe the stylistic choices of the translator and give an overall asseament of quality.

Before I became a translator I was a teacher (teenagers) - maybe that has a lot to say in regards of my approach to proofreadingicon_wink.gif


ViktoriaG  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:52
English to French
+ ...
The initial translator should still have the last word Aug 6, 2008

I have an agency client with whom we apply elaborate QA processes, and within these processes, we use the one you are uncomfortable with. However, they have solved this porblem by giving complete freedom to the initial translator and that translator has the last word.

So, the reviewer and proofreader are only really there to remind the initial translator of rules, terminology, etc. They do not comment on the translator's work - they instead make a list of recommendations. The initial translator can then accept or reject each of those recommendations. This forces the initial translator to reconsider his wording, the structures of sentences, etc., but it also gives him/her the occasion to discuss the problem points with colleagues. The final version still comes from the initial translator.

The nice thing about this is that you are given a chance to express your disagreement with the other people on the team. You are not forced into accepting other people's edits if you are sure that they are wrong. But this also may inspire another alternative (I translate a string as A, the reviewer suggests B, and based on the reviewer's comment, I finally come up with C, which usually results in a translation of the highest quality). This also eliminates the zealous competitiveness we often see when doing freelance team work. Since the reviewer and proofreader don't have the final word, the agency doesn't automatically conclude that the translator did a poor job. Ultimately, it is the translator him/herself who determines the mistakes s/he made, which is just as well.

The other thing is that this system shifts much of the liabilities to the translator's side, which means that people have ownership of their work. If, after delivery, the translation is found to be unsatisfactory, it is up to the translator to explain him/herself. You can't blame it on the agency, the reviewer, etc. And you shouldn't since the other team members brought problem points to your attention and you had the occasion to correct them.

I find that this approach improves translations on many occasions - and it eliminates most of the zeal between team members.


Spencer Allman
United Kingdom
Local time: 22:52
Finnish to English
Minimal revision Aug 7, 2008

Revision should be minimal. You should be able to do the job quickly, based on the notion that the original translator is as competent as you are and the golden rule not to change anything unless it is wrong or stylistically unaccpetable (for example, the translator may have inadvertently written something which is tautologous).

Text manglers and revisers in need of a job are to be shunned.




Milton Guo  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:52
English to Chinese
+ ...
Being honest is part of professionalism Sep 29, 2008

Recently I proofread a translation by a translator whom the agency described as very reliable; however, the key word in the source text was mistranslated by him/her, meaning more than 50% of his/her translation is wrong from the very beginning. What's worse, I had to revise every sentence and reported to the agency, which said they were surprised. Then two days later, I again reviewed another translation done by the "same" translator as mentioned by the agency, and the translation was perfect, better than I could do. Only by then did it dawn on me that the translator might have subcontracted the previous assignment to someone else without proofreading it by him/herself! I did not mention this to the agency, instead, I spoke highly of the second translation.

The point is 1) Being honest is better than using tricks to beat your competitors, as no one is deaf or blind in the long run 2) I did not tell the agency what I suspected, it's up to them to make judgement.

The outcome is the agency proposed adjustment to my payment for the first proofreading.


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