How far to go in order to please a client?
Thread poster: Karin Walker (X)

Karin Walker (X)  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:15
German to English
+ ...
Nov 25, 2001

I am in a bit of a dilemma, and would like some qualified advice.

About 2 months ago I accepted a job (around 20,000 words) from an acquaintance of mine. The job was somewhat extra-expertise but he still wanted to give it to me, saying that he trusted me to research the subject sufficiently to do a good job. As I would normally reject anything I know nothing about out of hand, I decided to view it as a challenge and accept. I researched the topic very thoroughly, enjoyed what I was learning and delivered, on time, what I thought was a good job.

We had arranged for successive delivery (the text was in three parts) which I complied with, but it turned out that he had had no time to read the texts one by one, only afterwards once everything was delivered.

He came back to me saying that he wasn\'t happy with a few things and that he would send back an annotated version for me to look at. Not wanting to create a fuss, I decided to wait until I saw what type of changes he\'d made.

Well, I must say I was disappointed! While he had made some valid points about long sentences and a couple of inaccuracies that were down to my lack of prior knowledge of the subject, he had replaced some words with synonyms and bemoaned my use of the passive voice (he doesn\'t like passives and dangling prepositions, nor does he like split infinitives). He asked me to revise all three texts again and remove these offending items. About 95 percent of changes did NOT relate to the subject matter, only to style or grammar.

Now I have gone through the texts, changing things where I thought he had a point but leaving the stuff I didn\'t agree with. I have spent an extra 4-5 hours doing this and as far as I know I am not being paid for my time.

This is a man who has worked with translators before and I know these other translators were always \"cheap\" - i.e. people who someone knew, \"my daughter\'s friend who studies English\", \"my neighbour who spent a year in the US\", that sort of thing. I think I am the first qualified person to do work for him and I certainly charged him a normal line price. I put a lot of work into this job in return.

To cut a longn story short, I have not complained about the extra work this time. But I always believed that if no \"style\" was agreed beforehand, then a translator is free to use whatever style he or she thinks is appropriate to the text. Also, I think there is a limit on how prescriptive a client can be. Can I be told not to use passives or split infinitives AFTERWARDS, simply because the client happens not to like them?

Should I have charged him for my time? As far as I am concerned, I did the job and should be paid for it (the bill is now 2 weeks overdue). Going back to a translator for subsequent improvement is, IMHO, only warranted if the text is actually so bad that a once-over from the client won\'t make it readable. I had two people read my texts and they thought it was fine.

I\'d like your opinions on this. How far do you go to make a client happy without being paid for it?


Carole Muller
Local time: 22:15
English to French
+ ...
Go as far as YOU find in accordance with your values/principles Nov 25, 2001

Hi Karin

The same happened to me some time ago with a very large client. I believe your situation has less to do with the fact that the person is your friend/your need to research the subject/his past experience with\"cheap\" translators\" and more to do with the fact that some people simply when they order a translation are so insecure that they want to find themselves in the target text. Meaning they cannot take it if the style is different from theirs. Of course if the target text does not read well, the translator has a problem.

However I can tell you of this similar case I encountered. I made a very large translation for a very large client. They had planned without scheduling time for the translation and needed to print the text for a conference that had already been set and announced. They pressured me and wasked me to work overtime (nights and weekends) and since this was a very large client and I had many other translations going on for them I accepted. I received a text full os mistakes, but the mistakes started only app. into chapter 2 and there were about 10 of them. The text also had graphics that were reduced in format (they were reprints of photocopies) so much that you could not read the words at all. Then the client left on Christmas holiday, the organisation was closed until January and the translation was due on the first opening day of January.

I contacted the head of the PR dept who was available and said to me: they should have left us/you with a contact number, do your best, I trust your intuition to sort out all the misunderstandings. So I did. I delivered what I regarded as truly an accomplishment given the shere stupidity of what was written in the source text and how it was expressed.

The head of the PR dept (a journalist) received the translation adn was pleased with it. The translation was then passed on to the person in the organisation who was responsible for the report and conference(not for writing it, it was an external team of authors but probably revised by this person). The invoice was sent. I heard nothing.

When the invoice was due after 4 weeks and no response, I asked the intermediary (an agency but the client and I had to deal directly as according to the agency\'s concept for working) to intervene. (The invoice was sent to the client by the agency). The agency moved only after 6 weeks. Then the reply was -from the person who was responsible for the report-not from the head of the PR dpt. that she did not want to pay for the translation. She could not find it acceptable, it was full of mistakes and grammatical errors.

I decided to do as you did. So I offered -for free-to reexamine /rewrite any pages for which they did not like the style. I only asked that they point to parts of the text, sentences whatever in the entire 70 pages where they had located problems.

It took them again a month, the lady in question said she had to read each page. Then the text came back: out of 70 pages the only mistake they had udnerlined was a sentence that read: \"The contents are mentioned on....\". The lady insisted it should read :Contents is mentioned on...\" and she continued: this is only one out of many other grammatical errors.

I sent back the \"list of errors\" to the head of the PR depts underlining I was standing by the \"contents are...\". The head of the Pr dept agreed and found the other lady in question ridiculous.

However: the lady in question still refused to pay. She received a formal letter from the agency informing her the translation was quite OK and that the translator was willing otherwise to do a rewriting or correct any other errors for free and that she must honour the bill which was quite high.

The lady in question finally had the invoice sent to their cashier and the agency and I got paid.

BUT: the client (an organisation) sent a formal letter that they never wanted me to work as their translator again because of \"lack of willingness to help\" and that I was forbidden to mention having translated this otherwise interesting and widely distributed work.

The morale of the story: do I miss them? No, I feel clients like that are very dangerous to have. Sooner or later they end up messing up things and they are quite unexpectable. I later learned from the agency they had ahd problems with all their translators, blaming the translator each time.

Therefore I would say: do what you feel like doing as long as it is important to you to keep the relation with the client going. The reason why personally I never do any job for friends or family, because many people -when they act as a client- quite suddenly show another quite unexpected aspect.

If this friend is important to you ask him to rewrite one paragraph \"his style\" and imitate the style. If the friend trusts you, tell him this style is most appropriate because etc....If the friend is an acquaintance and you want to keep a formal contact offer to have the text reviewed/rewritten in copywriting by a native speaker of the target language.

Whatever you choose, do it only because you weighed out staying loyal to your own principles against easing out an uncomfortable situation. It\'s always better to stay diplomatic but a client never forgives you for losing his face-that\'s my dearly paid experience.

Good luck!


Mats Wiman  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:15
Member (2000)
German to Swedish
+ ...

Not further Nov 25, 2001

Dear karin,

I think you\'ve definitely gone as far as one can do, almost too far.

Style changes is up to the buyer really, i.e. you should not be forced to change your style afterwards.

Your task is to translate, not to get under the client\'s linguistic skin, unless he has been able to define the limits, which is very rare.

I\'d send a reminder today and I would not accept any delays or deductions.

Best regards

Mats Wiman


Werner George Patels, M.A., C.Tran.(ATIO) (X)
Local time: 16:15
German to English
+ ...
You don't have to accept "hair-splitting" Nov 25, 2001

Dear Karin,

You certainly did a whole lot more than you should have.

Splitting hairs is a very \"popular\" trick for some clients who try to wiggle their way out of paying you.

Unless you changed the meaning of the source text (eg, wrong use of technical terms, omissions, additions, etc.), they will have to accept your translation - especially if they failed to give you specific instructions from the start.

As far as language is concerned, you will never be able to please everyone: you just cannot \"divine\" someone\'s favourite words or phrases - if they want to see \"their\" style reflected in the text, they will have to write it themselves. Every person\'s writing is as unique as a fingerprint; that goes for writers and translators.

At university, for example, we would employ different styles in our translation exams depending on the marker. One of my professors, for example, just loved short sentences. So, using longish sentences in your translation would have resulted in a bad (or even failing) grade. We just adjusted our styles to each marker. But that was relatively easy to do: we knew these people and their likes and dislikes. With clients that you have never seen or met or spent any considerable time with, this is impossible.


Henry Dotterer
Local time: 16:15
Just a thought Nov 25, 2001

If your acquaintance is going to these lengths to show you his style preferences, rather than just making the changes himself, I wonder if he is hoping to do more work together in the future.

Many of us are particular about style when presenting work as our own. If he is hoping to pass more work to you in the future and continue sending his clients work of a consistent style, it may make sense for you to work with him and adapt.

My advice is to talk all of this over with him. And since your payment is overdue, square that away before going any further.


Karin Walker (X)  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:15
German to English
+ ...
Thank you for your comments. Nov 26, 2001

Thanks all for your comments, my faith in my point of view has been somewhat restored! It just goes to show how much of a bone of contention style can be! (and yes, the client speaks Aussie English while I am British).

In the meantime, I have delivered my final revision and my client will get back to me later this week when he\'s had time to review the manuscript. I will, however, remain firm that this was my last revision. He did mention that we could negotiate on a fee for my time, which is a step in the right direction (I did not prompt this, so it\'s a good sign).

Mind you, although I don\'t object at all to a second or even third reading of a text (this was destined for publication, after all), I don\'t agree with asking the translator him or herself. I guess it\'s difficult to find fault with one\'s own style, and after 70 pages of translation I fail to see the forest for the trees (sorry, is that German?).

Henry, I think that this will lead to more work, the client has hinted as much and I enjoy the subjects he supplies me with. Already when I delivered we discussed the need to sit down and talk BEFORE any other assignments come up, but I still think there\'s a limit to how many instructions I am willing to follow (i.e. no passives - that\'s surely going too far!).

As for working with friends/acquaintances, this guy has the uncanny ability to keep social and worklife completely separate, to the extent that he\'s almost a different person when we talk business. I don\'t anticipate any problems there, but I can see how it can happen!

Thank you all for your responses.


Nikki Scott-Despaigne  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:15
French to English
Clients questioning the quality of your work Nov 26, 2001

This happens from time to time.

Sometimes a clients questions your work because he\'s the sort of person who would find fault with anything.

Sometimes it\'s because there are mistakes. (Some clients can spot mistakes, which does not mean they are able to do any better.)

Sometimes it\'s because he has thought of one of the zillion other ways the same thing can be said.

But usually, somewhere along the line, it\'s a communication problem.

One of my favourite clients (regular, varied work for an enthusiastic bunch of professional critical yachtsmen) who also pay within 15 days (!), sent me back one of my pieces saying it was \"incoherent\" and could I redo the whole thing.

I flipped completely. Incoherent? That\'s serious! It was just a short piece (600 words?) there was barely enough space to be coherent. I was worried. I coudl not raise the guy so panicked all the more. In the end I asked someone else to do the job \"cold\" without having seen my \"incoherent\" version.

Ouf! The other translator came back with something pretty similar, identical in some places.

Of course, my first version was coherent. I had two typos in it (\"form\" instead of \"from\") for example and so he\'d started to look at the whole thing with an overly critical eye. In fact, when I finally got him out of a meeting to talk it over on the \'phone, it turned out that his English was not that hot at all, eg : \"It ought to be \"participat TO\", Nikki. You have put \"participate IN\".

He had three other beauties of that sort up his sleeve.

I rest my case.

Moral of this story? Talk to your client. In fact, I ended up explaining that whilst typos are not acceptable, neither was it acceptable for him to sya my text was incoherent when it was anything but. We laughed, got things straight. And I stil work with them!


Ralf Lemster  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:15
English to German
+ ...
Tough call... Nov 27, 2001

Hi Karin,

This is a difficult one - particularly that the merits of each and every case are different.

From my personal perspective, the readiness to re-edit without additional charges is directly correlated to the current, and in particular to the expected importance of the customer concerned for my business (NB based on my own judgement, *not* any promises of follow-on business!).

Thankfully, I haven\'t had many cases where this issue really arose, but I would draw the line where there is no indication of a misunderstanding (i.e. where the goal posts have been moved...).

I realise this will not make your decision much easier, but perhaps all those bits and pieces will be of some help. Good luck!


To report site rules violations or get help, contact a site moderator:

You can also contact site staff by submitting a support request »

How far to go in order to please a client?

Advanced search

CafeTran Espresso
You've never met a CAT tool this clever!

Translate faster & easier, using a sophisticated CAT tool built by a translator / developer. Accept jobs from clients who use SDL Trados, MemoQ, Wordfast & major CAT tools. Download and start using CafeTran Espresso -- for free

More info »
SDL Trados Studio 2019 Freelance
The leading translation software used by over 250,000 translators.

SDL Trados Studio 2019 has evolved to bring translators a brand new experience. Designed with user experience at its core, Studio 2019 transforms how new users get up and running and helps experienced users make the most of the powerful features.

More info »

  • All of
  • Term search
  • Jobs
  • Forums
  • Multiple search