What's your take on style guides received from clients?
Thread poster: Ewa Erdmann

Ewa Erdmann  Identity Verified

English to Polish
+ ...
Aug 25, 2012

After having some experience with receiving poor translation style guides from clients, I decided to write a blog post on this issue.
Feel free to have a look at it and comment either here or below the post itself.

Here's the link: http://transliteria.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/translation-style-guides-guides-to.html


 

Jessica Noyes  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 05:06
Spanish to English
+ ...
Nice work! Aug 26, 2012

Having just finished a three-page editing job based on a 26-page style guide, I appreciate your comments. I would add to your list the idea of making it very easy to locate particular information within the guide, with a good table of contents and clear headings.

 

Jennifer Forbes  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:06
Member (2006)
French to English
+ ...
Thanks, Ewa Aug 26, 2012

Thanks for the article, Ewa. I agree with you that "style guides" are often too long, too general and seldom helpful.
Indeed, some seem to have been written by someone whose native language is not the language of the style guide and recommend the use of expressions, syntax, etc. which I consider wrong, or grating at best.
As for glossaries, how often do they provide the preferred translation of really tricky terms? Almost never. And they're often crammed with ghastly but modish businessese.
Sigh,
Jenny


 

neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 11:06
Spanish to English
+ ...
Usually disdain, disbelief or irritation Aug 26, 2012

I've yet to see one that I approved of or was happy to use.

 

Alexandra Schneeuhr  Identity Verified
Cyprus
Local time: 12:06
Member (2012)
English to Russian
+ ...
And you get none of these when they are truly needed )) Aug 26, 2012

Great article, Ewa! I enjoyed reading it and agree with most of the points you raised.

I do agree it may be ridiculous to have to go through 20+ pages of instructions in order to complete a couple-of-pages assignment. The direct opposite of this is when you struggle to get any indications from the customer on the preferred styling/wording, and get none or very vague one. I remember translating a movie script from English into Russian, with lots of violence, street language and f-words to it. I had to send 2 or 3 emails to the customer asking what is the best way he prefers me to deal with it, as translated literally some expressions would sound way harsher in Russian than in the source language )) I offered several alternatives, each based on the proposed target audience and and all I heard back was: "Whatever. Do it any way you trust appropriate"
... so, in some cases, ANY style guide is welcome, I guess ))


 

Kay Denney  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 11:06
Member (Apr 2018)
French to English
Alexandra Aug 26, 2012

Alexandra Schneeuhr wrote:

Great article, Ewa! I enjoyed reading it and agree with most of the points you raised.

I do agree it may be ridiculous to have to go through 20+ pages of instructions in order to complete a couple-of-pages assignment. The direct opposite of this is when you struggle to get any indications from the customer on the preferred styling/wording, and get none or very vague one. I remember translating a movie script from English into Russian, with lots of violence, street language and f-words to it. I had to send 2 or 3 emails to the customer asking what is the best way he prefers me to deal with it, as translated literally some expressions would sound way harsher in Russian than in the source language )) I offered several alternatives, each based on the proposed target audience and and all I heard back was: "Whatever. "Do it any way you trust appropriate"
... so, in some cases, ANY style guide is welcome, I guess ))


In my previous life as a PM, I did sometimes say something along the lines of "Do it any way you trust appropriate"


...but only to the best of translatorsicon_wink.gif Enjoy your client's confidence!


 

Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 11:06
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
Love-hate relationships with style guides Aug 26, 2012

Ewa Erdmann wrote:
After having some experience with receiving poor translation style guides from clients, I decided to write a blog post on this issue.


I have so much to say about style guides, but it is a lazy Sunday afternoon, so I'll keep it short. When I get a style guide from a client, and the style guide is longer than 2 pages, I first ask myself whether the project is long or short (i.e. many words and lots of money or few words and little money). If long, then I read the style guide and summarise it for myself (and for other translators in the project, who are invariably very grateful) by removing all the obvious stuff from it. If short, then I tell the client "sorry, but I don't read style guides of longer than 2 pages". Several clients for whom I said this asked me to do the translation anyway.

Most style guides contain too much junk.

In my language combination, we have official spelling rules, so any style guide with a section on spelling issues should highlight only the aspects for which the style guide differs from the official rules, and should not try to be a comprehensive summary of the official rules. Sadly (and this is the flip-side) many [new or very old] translators don't know all the spelling rules and simply spell the way they remember it from school.

Another type of useless style guide is one that seems to apply more to the source text than to translations. Such guides mention things that the translator has no control over, but which the author of the source text should keep in mind. I remember a style guide for a large educational project that had detailed instructions on dealing with headings and lists, but the actual translation was done in a CAT tool, so the translators were powerless to implement those rules -- the rules were meant for the authors and editors of the source text.

Sometimes a client produces an updated style guide for when they've made changes to the source text style, and then go to too great a length to try to explain this to the translator, not realising that these things don't apply in the target language. A certain software company's style guide goes on an on about how their new products' translations should have a "modern voice", but 99% of that applies to style issues in English itself.

The ideal style guide should contain two sections, namely a summary for expert translators and a longer version for translators who are very skilled but not familiar with the current subject field.

The ideal style guide also gets updated by translators of each language whenever they (or the editor/reviewer) made a decision about how to deal with an issue that is specific to their language.

Your blog post speaks out against examples of good and bad translations, but if these examples come from actual translations of the current project's previous texts, they can be helpful to explain specific errors that multiple translators tend to make.


 

xxxchristela
Thank you Aug 27, 2012

Interesting article. I do not entirely agree with the sentence "They are written for beginners/amateurs". Their main function is coherence: if you have several translators working on a job, they should do the same things. Of course, everyone knows what "AM" and "PM" mean, but the translators should receive the same instructions about how to translate it: on a 12-hr scale or on a 24-hr scale.
And besides, it can be a reminder for some people who felt asleep.

The most interesting instructions in style guides are those which are frequently omitted - for instance, how do we have to translate "you" for this client: formal you ("vous" in French), or informal you ("tu")?


 

Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 11:06
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
Yes, omissions! Aug 27, 2012

christela wrote:
The most interesting instructions in style guides are those which are frequently omitted - for instance, how do we have to translate "you" for this client: formal you ("vous" in French), or informal you ("tu")?


Yes, this is often omitted and it is one of the first things I look for in a style guide. I guess it is because English doesn't have this problem. Another thing that I often need to know is the treatment of compound nouns (common in my target language), capitalisation of non-proper nouns, and whether to use straight or curly quotes... all of which are very seldomly mentioned in style guides.


 

Giles Watson  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 11:06
Italian to English
Keeping it simple Aug 27, 2012

The simplest way to deal with these matters, at least if your are working into English, is to take one of the major style guides as your default and then specify any exceptions. In some cases, it may not be practical but quite a lot of publishers have remarkably concise in-house style guides because they do precisely this.

As far as telling people how to write goes, these are the current instructions for Italian Wines:

Faithful as far as possible to Gambero philosophy of lively, readable text, accurate technical detail and professional tasting-speak, but avoiding the rhetorical abstraction that sometimes crops up in the Italian-language version of the Guide. Free hand with idioms and metaphor where direct translation is inappropriate.

Most translators seem to find the 1,000-word style sheet (from which this is taken) and the Oxford Style Manual sufficient.

[Edited at 2012-08-27 16:51 GMT]


 

Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 11:06
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
A client's style guide should be just that Aug 28, 2012

The first 'complaint' I ever had was that my translation sounded too much like the client's competitor! But the person on the phone was sympathetic and pointed out specifically what he meant, so it was a good lesson for me. Specific styles are sometimes part of a corporate image, and need to be taken seriously.

I have seen style guides that explain how to refer to refer to the client's own products - when to capitalise, etc. and their preferred formatting.

Do they prefer -ise or -ize in English?
Times have been mentioned, and consistency in general if there are several translators or many documents involved.

The guide should answer that sort of question, but only if it is different in some way from standard usage, or where there are several options, and they have chosen a particular one.
Guides can be useful if they clear up doubts, and may then save on proofreading time.

If clients seriously want a translator to read and absorb 20 pages of rules, then they should pay for extra time in addition to the translation. Plus checking time...

I skim the headings in a style guide - sometimes a lot of it does not even apply to the particular text I am working on anyway.

I always try to check the client's website, and indeed am often asked to, so that I can get my own impression of their tone, register and terminology if possible. I like to know what is expected of me and who the target reader is - it is not always obvious.

But I feel very irritated if someone tells me how to do my job - or insists on peculiar source-language syntax or whatever. If it happens too often, I may not have time when the client comes again!

The personal touch is what distinguishes a real translator from MT, but it needs to be appropriate, or it will still look ridiculous.


 

Ewa Erdmann  Identity Verified

English to Polish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Great comments! Aug 29, 2012

Thank you all for your valuable input. Seems like it's not just me who receives rubbish style guides from time to time.

@Samuel: Great, frank approach to long style guides. It appears that we should 'guide' our clients too (on how to guide us)!

@Christela: yes, good point with the omissions. I never get instructed on whether 'you' should be translated formally into "Pan/Pani" (Mr/Mrs) or informally "Ty" (informal 'you'). Polish prefers the formal one but what if the client wants to make an impression of being approachable?

@Giles: Love the instructions for Italian Wines.

@Christine: Good points there. Charging the client extra for spending our time reading style guides is all too tempting, although the client might not be too happy about it...icon_wink.gif


 


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