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Should I charge more for turning bad writing into good writing?
Thread poster: Tom in London

Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 15:55
Member (2008)
Italian to English
May 24, 2012

All too often I'm sent badly written texts by people who can't write and who are very poor at expressing themselves clearly or elegantly.

Were I to translate their work faithfully, my English-language version would also be badly written, but then I would be accused of having done a poor translation, so I always end up completely rewriting the text (remaining faithful to it of course) so that it reads well in English and flows better.

But I resent having to turn bad text in one language into good text in the other. Should I be charging extra for this? Do other translators also have similar experiences?

The worst culprits are academics.

[Edited at 2012-05-24 07:42 GMT]


 

polyglot45
English to French
+ ...
not charging extra but... May 24, 2012

... your basic rates should reflect the fact that you are prepared to go the extra mile.

In my (long working) life I have spent a lot of time making silk purses out of sows' ears and my services don't come cheap. My customers (all direct) are well aware of the type of service to which they are entitled and therefore are happy to pay up.

It's all a question of how you market yourself and why I never have any truck with agencies.


 

christela (X)
No May 24, 2012

Your fee should cover that. Translation is always render a good text. If you feel that you are regularly underpaid for this, then raise your overall prices, and exceptionally give a discount if the text is very clear, understandable and easy to translate, or if it is straightforward translation.
The fact that you are asking this question means that you are in the upper category of translators - those who are able to rework their style. Not everybody can do that. Then charge accordingly.

[Edited at 2012-05-24 08:04 GMT]


 

Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 16:55
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
My two cents May 24, 2012

Tom in London wrote:
Were I to translate their work faithfully, my English-language version would also be badly written, but then I would be accused of having done a poor translation, so I always end up completely rewriting the text (remaining faithful to it of course) so that it reads well in English and flows better.

Indeed I do that all the time since many of my end customers are not native speakers of English and sometimes write in the oddest of ways. I have never charged for this and feel it is my duty as a translator to straighten the text so that it works in Spanish.

Just my opinion!


 

Melissa Dedina  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:55
Czech to English
+ ...
improving the quality of the writing May 24, 2012

I do this all the time and don't charge separately for it, though the quality of the original text might play a role in rate negotiations on that particular project.

I used to wonder if I was really being "true" to the original by subtly smoothing it out and bringing it up to a professional standard I could sign my name to, but then I decided that good English and elegant writing are part of the job. After all, to be truly "faithful" to a poor source, would I insert equivalent misspellings to reflect the errors in the original?

I try to return a well-written product no matter how poor the language of the original, though I confess it is easier to smooth over bad writing than bad logic (content). Sometimes you can't improve it much without actually making it say something else.

[Edited at 2012-05-24 09:32 GMT]


 

Karen W  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 16:55
Italian to English
my tuppence May 24, 2012

The worst culprits are academics.


Hello Tom
I work with academics all the time. I don’t know if their style of writing can be called bad, but just different. Italian style is completely different to English style, in general it is much more airy fairy whereas English tends to be much more to the point. I find translating academic writing an immense challenge, and all the more satisfying once I’ve managed to convert their slightly ungraspable ideas into something understandable and readable in English. I don’t think in this case we can charge more just because we consider it badly written – I think we should be asking higher rates because so much work goes into converting one type of language into another (i.e. not translating for tuppence).


 

Paula Hernández
United Kingdom
Local time: 15:55
English to Spanish
+ ...
My thoughts May 24, 2012

I always thought that translation is not about transferring words or sentences but ideas, otherwise it wouldn't be necessary to understand a text in order to translate it. Therefore, when I translate I read the text, understand the idea and write this idea in Spanish, always maintaining the register and thinking of the target reader, I believe this is the job of a translator.
So when you have a badly written text, you have two options:

- Try to spend a little longer understanding it,
- tell the client you are not willing to translate something that is unreadable.

Of course, the second option might make you lose a client, but it also might make the client aware of your line of work.

Paula


 

apk12  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 16:55
English to German
+ ...
Clarify with client upfront May 24, 2012

I try to clarify such issues upfront with the client.

For example, imagine you get a sales letter for translation, the end client is a company operating in two countries. The source is incredibly badly written, cannot be used for that purpose in source, actually.

I such a case you do have to clarify whether this is a QM translation (the branch office in country A wants to get an idea of what is going on in country B, in which case you do have to deliver a translation clarifiying the issues, I solve such cases with translations sticking to the source but coming with a number of notes, in some cases footnotes instead of simple notes) or whether the client wants a result ready for use, in which second case you have to translate plus rewrite the material.

In case the rewriting is deeper, there may be very good reasons to charge a different price for that.




[Edited at 2012-05-24 09:33 GMT]


 

Rob Lunn  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 16:55
Spanish to English
+ ...
Quote accordingly May 24, 2012

I normally quote according to how much I think the job is going to cost me, which includes factoring in how difficult a text looks to translate, for whatever reason.

I agree with Karen too: Sometimes there's a fine line between a badly written text and well-written one that's difficult to translate, or to understand for that matter, especially when academics are involved. Although I imagine that you're just talking about plain old bad-writing.

[Edited at 2012-05-24 09:42 GMT]


 

David Wright  Identity Verified
Austria
Local time: 16:55
German to English
+ ...
Does it really take more time? May 24, 2012

I tend to find that I produce good english (I hope) irrespective of whether the original is poor quality in one way or another (not sure what you are referring to - just bad style or stuff you can't actually understand, or full of grammatical errors?) As long as I can understand the text I don't think I spend more time translating a good text than a bad text; what does take more time is a text that is written in complex grammatical structures, but that doesn't necessarily mean it is badly written.

 

Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 15:55
Member (2008)
Italian to English
TOPIC STARTER
just bad writing May 24, 2012

Karen W wrote:

The worst culprits are academics.


Hello Tom
I work with academics all the time. I don’t know if their style of writing can be called bad, but just different. Italian style is completely different to English style, in general it is much more airy fairy..

Yes, I know, Karen. I'm not talking about complex ideas expressed in complex language (I can deal with that) - just plan bad writing by a "second level" of academics who would dearly like to be in the top echelon but don't have any ideas and just can't++&^%£$ write !!

What I really resent is helping such people to make "una bella figura" when they deliver or publish their paper in English, when the Italian original was pure ****. It's thanks to me that they make progress with their careers but I get no credit for it. On one occasion I translated a whole book and the author then said that the English was better than his Italian - so he wrote the whole book again and I had to translate it again.

But apart from those depressing people, fortunately I also have "una affezionata clientela" of good academics who have interesting ideas. Translating for such people is a pleasure and a stimulus.



[Edited at 2012-05-24 11:51 GMT]


 

Charlie Bavington (X)  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:55
French to English
Have this too May 24, 2012

Rob Lunn wrote:

I agree with Karen too: Sometimes there's a fine line between a badly written text and well-written one that's difficult to translate, or to understand for that matter,


that old "is it me or them?" feelingicon_smile.gif


 

Robert Forstag  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 10:55
Member (2003)
Spanish to English
+ ...
A surcharge is warranted May 24, 2012

I'd say more than half the translations I do involve significantly defective writing, and I typically don't charge extra to "edit" these into better English. But it does seem to me that applying a surcharge would be warranted in particularly egregious cases.

I think that, to justify the surcharge, you would need to take a bit extra time to review the document that is sent to you (I assume here that you review all documents prior to accepting projects) and cite a couple of specific examples of the defective writing. You could then offer to translate "as is" (for your regular fee) or "as it should be" (for an extra fee). The examples you provide should demonstrate a striking difference between the two translated versions, and thus help make your case for providing the upgraded service).

And be sure to build in the extra time you took to review and provide the examples!

I think that this is fair. A reasonable working assumption for a translator is that the source text meet a certain minimum standard of quality. If it falls below this standard, then production of a translation of said text into another language requires extra time, and this justifies an extra charge.

In essence, you would then be charging to provide the rigorous editing to which the original text was never subjected.

Postscript:
And, of course, if you feel uncomfortable not producing an improved version, then simply make this clear.

[Edited at 2012-05-24 15:31 GMT]


 

Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 16:55
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
Charge for writing well, no matter what May 24, 2012

Some of the most challenging texts I have ever translated have been really well written in the source language.

Getting all the nuances, writing similarly balanced sentences, capturing the style and doing justice to quality writing in the source can be quite as difficult as making a decent text out of a poor one. It is more enjoyable perhaps, but takes just as much time.

My personal motto is 'Translating the meaning, not just the words', and to be fair to the good agencies, I have made a point of writing good English if at all possible. Some agencies and end clients do appreciate it. They actually ask for 'the same translator as last time' on occasions.

I think it is absolutely necessary in these days. If clients are content with cr*p in, cr*p out, then it is faster and cheaper to use MT.

In general, translators are not overpaid, so if you can make clients appreciate that quality costs more, then you are doing us all a favour by setting your rates up.


 

Cetacea  Identity Verified
Switzerland
Local time: 16:55
English to German
+ ...
No May 24, 2012

Tom in London wrote:
But I resent having to turn bad text in one language into good text in the other.


Why? As others have already pointed out in this forum, that's part of a translator's job. Actually, I rather enjoy producing translations that are (even) better than the original. Besides, some people have something to say, but may not necessarily be good writers. I prefer those texts to well-written blabla any day.

If I feel that some point might be misunderstood in the original because of the awkward way it's been expressed, I alert the client. And that doesn't cost extra, either.

But then, my rates are pretty high to start with. Especially compared to some offered on ProZ...


 
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