Should revisers/proofreaders be more tactful when giving feedback?
Thread poster: Tess MacDougall

Tess MacDougall
United Kingdom
New user
May 11

Hi, I am an MA student studying translation and I'm interested to know what your thoughts are on the way revisers give feedback to translators during the revision process. For a reviser, I think it is really challenging to make comments on someone else's translation about where they have gone wrong without sounding rude or causing offense. Sometimes the wording or the language used by revisers when making comments can make the translator feel attacked or like they're being criticized, which can knock their confidence and sometimes make them feel undervalued. This may not be the intention of the reviser as they're just doing their job, but do you think there is a way that they could word their feedback and suggestions so that it is less personal and accusatory for the translator when they read it? For a university project I am hoping to create a guide for revisers on how they can be more tactful in their comments; therefore, I am interested to know your thoughts on this subject and whether you think it is a problem within the translation industry? Also, if anyone has an examples of comments from revisers/proofreaders that were unnecessarily harsh or made you feel undervalued, I would be grateful to hear some of them as it would help me to find ways that they could be rewritten to be more constructive. If you do not feel comfortable disclosing such information, please feel free to email me with examples at tmacdougall11@hotmail.com - any help would be much appreciated!

 

Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 01:22
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
Criticism should always be justified, and being tactful is the most effective way to give it May 13

This forum is full of posts by people with hurt feelings, justified or not, because, as you say, it is hard to give criticism and point out errors without giving offence. I have also felt I was a turning into a monster proofreader at times!

However, as a translator, you have to admit that you are not perfect, and not take offence where it is not intended! (I have certainly had to learn that too…) It is far better to have the reviser pick up errors, so that you can correct them and rephrase the passage, than to have a furious client making complaints.

Sometimes it is most diplomatic if the reviser does not actually comment at all. Simply insert a suggested improvement and delete the error.
Apart from that, one of the people who corrected my early work used to take the trouble to point out some GOOD passages as well. It is just as important to know when you are doing fine, and should keep it up, as to know where you are making mistakes. And feeling appreciated makes it far easier to accept criticism where it is deserved.

There are times when an explanation is necessary, and in that case the reviser should avoid remarks such as 'Stupid mistake - I see this far too often' and so on. They are not helpful.
Explain the thinking behind a change in the text, with grammatical rules -- or references in the case of English, where we all have our favourite gurus! Then the translator can learn from the comment, and make use of it in future.
Or in the case of terminology, give explanations of why the translator's term is wrong, whatever. Show respect for the translator's efforts.

As a reviser, I try in principle never to use exclamation marks, but add a smiley if appropriate.

The translator can then consider the comments calmly and decide whether to accept or reject them. It is never pleasant to be criticised, but there is an enormous difference between arrogantly taking offence, and seeing that the other person was right, and accepting good advice!

If, as a reviser I can see that a text really has obviously been translated by someone who hasn't a clue (which is rare), I stop trying to correct it and send a note to the project manager instead. Then we can decide on a plan B to save complaints and frustration.


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Kay-Viktor Stegemann
Germany
Local time: 01:22
Member (2016)
English to German
Normally, revision does not include feedback anyway May 13

The revision or proofreading steps for my clients normally only serve to create a perfect target document, but not to deliver feedback for the original translator. However, one of my agencies has a "quality inspection" step that includes explaining every single changed segment, but even here, this is mostly about categorizing the changes into "preferential changes", "wrong translation", "fluency", "terminology" issues and some other categories. This should encourage the reviewer to be as objective as possible here. The reviewer also has the option to write comments, but I only do this if a change really needs further explanation, which happens only very rarely.

The review process has nothing to do with being "tactful" or not. Its main purpose is to ensure perfect quality for the end customer. In most cases, the translator will not even see the changes, and neither translator nor reviewer will have much time to spare for discussing changes. The review process might also feed statistics and translators might be scored by these statistics, but this will normally not break down to single changes and comments.

A reviewer does not need to be "tactful", just impartial.

[Edited at 2019-05-13 11:40 GMT]


Dina EL IDRISSI
Teresa Borges
 

Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 01:22
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
I would argue that the translator should always see the results of revision May 13

For one thing, revisers are not perfect either, and when I see revisions of my work, I do not automatically accept all the changes.
Sometimes the reviser has added a comment and is not sure that her suggestion is actually an improvement!

For another thing, if the agency and a reviser change anything in the translation without the translator's consent, the translator can refuse all responsibility for complaints.

There are occasions when the things that are changed are not actual errors, but simply end-client preferences for the sake of house style, consistency with other material, and so on. If these are explained to the translator, then the translator can bear them in mind the next time, and improve consistency generally.

I have got to know end clients and their preferences over the years, and keeping to the client's style is an important aspect of quality. Most things can be said in different ways, but there is often one preference that fits best in a given context.

Sometimes, when a change has been made in my work, I reject the reviser's suggestion, but can see that my own first attempt was less than optimal, so I come up with a third possibility.
_____________________________________

The reviser is able to do something that the translator cannot: when revising, I always read the translation first, before I look at the source, and underline anything that looks or sounds odd or out of context. Then I read the source, and check the two against each other, checking extra carefully at the points I marked. Sometimes I can see that the source is odd too, but at other times there is a simple misunderstanding.

I live where my source language is spoken, and that is an enormous advantage with a 'small' language and English as the target. I catch misunderstandings of homonyms and idiomatic expressions, and it is quite important to let the translator know in a polite way!

These are the small quirks and variations that machines will never crack - they do not fit into statistics and logarithms, but they are perfectly logical to humans! And this is what we need to concentrate on in human translation.


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Tess MacDougall
United Kingdom
New user
TOPIC STARTER
Incorrect use of the term "feedback" - sorry! May 13

Thank you both for your replies, Kay-Viktor and Christine. I believe I have used the term "feedback" incorrectly in my original post, for which I apologise! I am aware that it is very rare for a translator to get any type of feedback from either the reviser or the client as the focus in the commercial world is to improve the end translation and not the translator themselves. What I was actually referring to is when revisers make comments once they have corrected something in the target text, which again I know might not happen very often due to tight deadlines! I have seen comments in the past e.g. "this is wrong"; "no spellcheck done!!!!"; "bad translation" etc which I believe are not constructive and I just wanted to know if people working within the industry felt this was a problem (or not)? I admit I have never worked for a translation agency or done any freelance work, so I am not familiar with how the revision process works in the real world! For this reason, it is really interesting for me to read your comments and gain a better insight into how the industry really works. Thanks again for taking the time to reply.

[Edited at 2019-05-13 12:20 GMT]


 

Kay-Viktor Stegemann
Germany
Local time: 01:22
Member (2016)
English to German
Reviewer-translator communication May 13

Okay, I think we can all agree that a comment like "This is wrong" helps no one. (On the other hand, "No spell check done" can be an appropriate comment when you leave out the exclamation marks :D ). If you write comments, they should contain objective information about identified errors or the reasons for changes.

Comments like you mentioned them can be a sign that the reviewer ran out of patience. And this happens, of course. Translators and reviewers are working with short deadlines and are paid by the word (mostly), so time is money. When the reviewer gets the impression that the translator was not up to the task, for example not on a native level or not familiar with the field, the reviewer might have to put in more work than expected and might be upset about that (or even upset by low professional/translation quality).

For bigger projects that might take several months, some agencies I work with create special chat groups in Skype or Slack, where all translators/reviewers can communicate and exchange questions and answers or talk about terminology (sometimes even the end client's representatives take part). This can often be more helpful than exchanging messages via comments in reviews.


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Anton Konashenok  Identity Verified
Czech Republic
Local time: 01:22
English to Russian
+ ...
I do give feedback when I feel compelled May 13

Sometimes a translation is generally decent but contains several errors of the same kind, betraying a specific gap in translator's knowledge. If there is a general rule applicable to these errors, I usually explain it and ask the project manager to forward my explanations it to the translator. In other situations I may write something like "Please never translate X as Y, because Y actually means Z rather than X", or "...because Y is not an acceptable term in this field". Personally, I don't consider it accusatory, and would certainly welcome such a feedback to my own translation if I made such a mistake, but some people react along the lines of "How dares he make such a sweeping statement after I worked so hard on this text!" Well, what can I say, in the world of responsible adults we are rewarded for the useful result of our work, not for how hard we worked.

On the other hand, sometimes the translation is so bad that I have no other option but to ask the PM not to engage this particular translator in the given project/language pair/subject field anymore. Most often this happens when the translator is not a native speaker of the target language or has zero knowledge of the subject. Unfortunately, my two largest clients tend to indulge in hiring such translators way too often, so I was forced to stop revising for them altogether.


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Kay Denney  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 01:22
Member (2018)
French to English
we are rewarded for the useful result of our work, not for how hard we worked May 14

Anton Konashenok wrote:

we are rewarded for the useful result of our work, not for how hard we worked.



I would have liked to have had that on a post-it in my days as a PM!


 

Dan Lucas  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 00:22
Member (2014)
Japanese to English
Context May 14

Tess MacDougall wrote:
I have seen comments in the past e.g. "this is wrong"; "no spellcheck done!!!!"; "bad translation" etc which I believe are not constructive

I avoid reviewing the work of other native speakers of English, but when translating a document, I do often see poor or incorrect English in the parts I am not translating. Typically this will have been translated by somebody who is not a native speaker of English, such as an employee of the client.

I may point out these mistakes in passing, as a favour to the client, but I will often be quite terse e.g. "Incorrect tense" or "Should be in singular; this is an uncountable noun". This is because the mistakes are often just so obvious that I cannot do more without explaining basic English grammar, and I am a translator, not an English teacher.

For more subtle mistakes that are, or appear to be, grammatically correct - I currently have a client who insists on using "materialize" as a transitive verb in places where a good writer of English would use something like "achieve", "accomplish", or "implement" - I will take the time to explain why I believe the English to be a poor choice.

If you are proof-reading a text that has been properly translated and generally well-written, I think you owe it to the other person to explain, indeed, to justify your objection. In particular, proofreaders must avoid correcting a text just because they would have written it differently. That's an issue of preference, not a mistake. Obvious, I know, but still...

Regards,
Dan

[Edited at 2019-05-14 07:41 GMT]


Christine Andersen
 

Julie Barber  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 00:22
Member (2006)
French to English
two-way street May 14

I agree with Christine - that it is essentially a two-way street between the reviser and the translator.

I think that a reviser should avoid exclamation marks or going-overboard with comments. The reviser might also think that the revision is only for the eyes of the agency....and thus be more casual. I think that correction + explaining the better option is better than criticism. I had a revised document returned to me years ago for "discussion" and the reviser's comments sounded like moral outrage over some blips. But it's a proofreader and language nerd's profession to get outraged about grammar etc hee hee....so not to be taken too personally. As translators we need to calmly accept and admit where we might have got it wrong, and learn from it. It's hard to do at times! but necessary. It's too easy to take offence at any written communications.

Sometimes, I have worked on projects where it is very collaborative. The translator might highlight areas of concern and the proofreader responds. This goes back and forth as all are trying to find a solution. I think that this works well when there is a good quality of work on both sides and everybody is doing their part. I had one such project where I was the proofreader on a project and there were MANY acronyms. One translator did not translate the acronyms. Even when provided with a list, the person just didn't want to spend the "extra" time and expected the proofreaders to do it. In this case, I rejected the document out of hand (various times) and returned it to the agency for it to be corrected before being returned to me. So I would say that each party needs to be aware of their own responsibilities.

I recently paid a colleague to review a job for me. The person was very courteous and professional - she inserted notes asking why I had made a particular choice. This approach worked well.

A lot depends perhaps on the arrangement - working collaboratively or only expecting the agency to read the comments. A good approach can to remain as neutral as possible about corrections (always write as if the other person might read it) and keep any put any true criticisms in an email to the agency, with the expectation that it will not be forwarded.

[Edited at 2019-05-14 08:05 GMT]

[Edited at 2019-05-14 08:07 GMT]

[Edited at 2019-05-14 20:26 GMT]


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