Default response to inconsistent source documents
Thread poster: Jessica Noyes

Jessica Noyes  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 21:30
Spanish to English
+ ...
Feb 21, 2012

When the job involves formatting the document to look like the original, how would you handle a document with inconsistent formatting, abbreviations, and such? I wonder whether to replicate the inconsistencies, pick my preferred way and stick with it, or pick the most-used style in the source document. I think this often happens when the source document has been written by more than one person.
I recently had a document where the writer sometimes used n-dashes and sometimes used bullets in the same context. Another one sometimes featured the word "Number" and sometimes didn't, as in "Article No. 1 of Act No. 14 and Article 6 of Act 20." Either is correct, but a decision must be made. Other common inconsistencies are uses of abbreviations, all caps, bolding and the like.
I am not asking whether to correct an instance of incorrect capitalization or punctuation in the source, but rather what to do when they alternate between formats, either of which is correct?
How would you handle this situation, assuming the job was due at 9 a.m. and the client was unavailable?
Thanks in advance!


Phil Hand  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:30
Chinese to English
Use best judgment Feb 21, 2012

I don't think there's a single answer to this. You'd have to look at the document as a whole, and ask yourself, does the client want this to be a single, unified document? If it seems to you that they do, then I would unify using whatever style works best in the target language - inconsistency in the source is my licence to be creative, and I wouldn't feel constrained by any stylistic choices in the original.
But sometimes a client might want to distinguish between the inputs of different people, and in that case, formatting choices could be helpful.
If you don't have access to the client, I would make a judgment on how the document is likely to be used and determine my translation strategy on that basis.
(Go skopos theory!)


Mick De Meyer  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:30
English to Dutch
+ ...
pick your preferred way and stick with it Feb 21, 2012

"pick my preferred way and stick with it"

That's what I do. Even if the source contains inconsistencies, your customer expects a decent, streamlined text from you (as does your text's target audience).


Kaiya J. Diannen  Identity Verified
Member (2008)
German to English
Sorry, but it depends Feb 22, 2012

Jessica Noyes wrote:
When the job involves formatting the document to look like the original...

It will depend on your client's precise instructions/requests, the audience (if you know this), the intended purpose of the document (if you know this), what you are getting compensated for, etc.

That said, usually if the client has instructed me to "reproduce formatting" - that is what I do, mistakes and all. The only exceptions would be 1) if the client has asked me to "tidy up" the document, or 2) if it is clear that the formatting issues are inadvertent and simple to fix, such as infrequently misaligned tabs.

Technically, it is not our job to "improve" a document - what if part of the purpose of having the document translated was specifically to point out inconsistencies in the text or format? What if the document is being "sent back and forth" between two parties for revisions (I have seen this happen several times)? In such case, the parties need to see clearly what *needs* to be changed in the next version.

I was recently involved in a project where someone down the line at the end client criticized inconsistencies like these in the translation - but because the inconsistencies that were in the source text itself had been "reproduced", we were able to show that the person making the complaints was reviewing an entirely different source text than the one we had originally been given! If we had actually "improved" the text, our argument would not have been as strong.

If there are numerous inconsistencies and formatting issues in a document and I have to deliver without being able to contact my client, in most cases I will reproduce the inconsistencies and provide a note to the client explaining the issues with the source text and, if appropriate, stating their location for follow-up by parties who have the authority to make the decision.


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Default response to inconsistent source documents

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