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Do you feel insulted by style guides?
Thread poster: Tom in London

Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 21:20
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Sep 26, 2013

Here I am: author of a number of published books and innumerable magazine articles, being advised by a person presumably much younger than myself how to write with an appropriate style, how to spell, etc. I'm always offended when clients send me these "style guides" because not only do they often include bad advice, but they make me feel I can't be trusted to understand the style that's required for that job, or to be able to write in it.

Your thoughts?


 

Kirsten Bodart  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 22:20
Dutch to English
+ ...
They often don't understand Sep 26, 2013

either that style guides are not universal in all languages, or they just want you to consciously misspell words.
We usually try to wangle it gently. I don't know whether the client then changes it anyway or whether they don't even notice (which is worse?).


 

Teresa Borges
Portugal
Local time: 21:20
Member (2007)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
It depends on the style guide... Sep 26, 2013

In 30 years I received 2 style guides from my clients (EU Interinstitutional Style Guide + a Portuguese Newspaper Style Guide) and they were extremely well written, very useful and full of good advice... Lucky me!

[Edited at 2013-09-26 10:24 GMT]


 

Mark
Local time: 22:20
Italian to English
What I really don’t understand… Sep 26, 2013

…is why clients don’t simply ask for adherence to a reputable, recognised style guide, perhaps with particular instructions where appropriate. Why all this reinventing of the wheel, and generally making it square?

 

Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 22:20
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
Not insulted, no Sep 26, 2013

Tom in London wrote:
Author of a number of published books and innumerable magazine articles, being advised by a person presumably much younger than myself how to write with an appropriate style, how to spell, etc.


I don't take style guides as a personal insult, but I do find them annoying, particularly if the style guides contain reams and reams of advice on things that are *obvious*. Or, the style guide was written by someone who did not know what the project is about, and then contains information about language aspects that will never occur in the translation, ever. For me, the ideal style guide is one that tells me only how the client's preferred style is different from standard style.

I understand that it is necessary to let subsequent translators know what is the currently applied style, but such guides should not focus on things that every good translator will do anyway. You won't turn a poor translator into an excellent one just by giving him a good style guide.

I also find that the style guides written by multilingual corporations often deal with issues that are not a problem in my language, or fails to deal with issues that are problems in my language but not in the client's own language.

Another pet peeve is when a style guide is clearly meant as a guide for authors of the source text, as if the translator should be responsible for fixing anything that the source text author did not comply with.

I've had cases in which I was the first translator (but a style guide already existed) in a large project, and when I told the client to add certain decisions I had made to the style guide, I was told that only the aspects of style that are mentioned in the style guide need to be consistent, everything else is "elegant variation".

Yet another silly thing I find in style guides is when they mention a list of preferred or prescribed external style guides or dictionaries, and even worse... penalise you if you fail to implement something that contradicts something that is in one of those dictionaries.

The putts is when you get a 200 word translation job but the style guide is 100 pages long.


[Edited at 2013-09-26 10:58 GMT]

[Edited at 2013-09-26 10:59 GMT]


 

Giovanna Alessandra Meloni  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 22:20
Member (2012)
Spanish to Italian
+ ...
No, not insulted Sep 26, 2013

I imagine there are useful and weel written style guides, but I think the most are not so good.
And if they are not good, they are useless.

I agree with Mark when he says he doesn't understand

Mark Dobson wrote:

… why clients don’t simply ask for adherence to a reputable, recognised style guide, perhaps with particular instructions where appropriate. Why all this reinventing of the wheel, and generally making it square?


 

Simon Chiassai  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 22:20
English to French
+ ...
different styles of style guides? Sep 26, 2013

Samuel Murray wrote:

You won't turn a poor translator into an excellent one just by giving him a good style guide.


No, but you can hold him accountable if the client complains by denying him the over-used excuse : "this is a stylistic choice".

Also, there are style guides and style guides. Style guides that tell me how to use punctuation and layout are quite useless but I haven't encountered many (yet). Those that talk about the audience of the translation, the desired flow or style (yes style, as opposed to grammar and rules that should not need to be in a style guide), those are interesting.


 

neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 22:20
Spanish to English
+ ...
Pride comes before a fall Sep 26, 2013

I must admit that I would probably feel a somewhat slighted if asked to follow a style guide, especially if I disagreed with any of its suggestions or felt it had been put together by an upstart, although it never or very rarely occurs.

However, I have noticed that I do have a certain style for texts for some of my regular clients and when on the odd occasion I have outsourced work to colleagues, I've been disappointed to find that their styles are quite different from my own - I notice this most recently yesterday when asking a colleague for ideas on how best to finish an awkward sentence in a current translation. So, in view of this personal experience, I suppose I should try to be more circumspect the next time someone suggests a style guide or even worse, tries to impose one on me, especially as I might even learn something from it.


 

Orrin Cummins  Identity Verified
Japan
Local time: 05:20
Japanese to English
+ ...
You're missing something Sep 26, 2013

The reason that you feel insulted is because the style guides aren't really written for you. They are mostly aimed at people translating into a non-native language - which of course a whole other argument that doesn't have to be rehashed here, because I think know what I'm talking about.

Case in point: I have done some translation work for a very large Japanese company. Their English style guide is written entirely in Japanese (except for the English example sentences, obviously). Now, why would an English style guide be written in Japanese? Because it is used mostly by Japanese-native translators who translate into English. That's why it contains grammar rules and spelling conventions that would be completely obvious to many secondary-school students in English-speaking countries; the people using it are not native English speakers.

So I don't think it is necessary to feel slighted about it. One might however feel some uneasiness at the sheer number of people translating into languages that they aren't native in, but as I said that's another (albeit related) matter.


 

Mark
Local time: 22:20
Italian to English
Stylistic "choices". Sep 26, 2013

Simon Chiassai wrote:

Style guides that tell me how to use punctuation and layout are quite useless but I haven't encountered many (yet).
Good for you; I’ve reviewed plenty of translations which would have benefited from such banality. It’s funny how everyone bewails falling standards in written English but everyone assumes that a native speaker can write well.

[Edited at 2013-09-26 12:36 GMT]


 

Marie-Helene Dubois  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 22:20
Member (2011)
Spanish to English
+ ...
there should be a style guide for style guides Sep 26, 2013

Admittedly there are some things that are really useful to know about a company's house style. Perhaps they prefer "EUR" to "€" to denote a Euro. Perhaps they have special requirements as to how times are written (AM/PM - 24-hour clock - etc.). Perhaps they like to use "investment firm" rather than "investment company", or perhaps they opt to use "Z" in words like "realize".

The type of style guide that says all these things can be useful to a freelance translator to ensure consistency throughout the same client's documents, since often by the very nature of our work, things can get fractured (one minute translating a cookery book on cake pops and the next a safety manual for a construction site). This type of style guide also denotes a client that places great importance on written communication and I can appreciate this type of client because I feel the same.

However, the kind of style guide that reminds you that there is a difference between UK and US date formats, or that reminds you to do a spell-check before handing in your work (which some agencies are guilty of) are either insulting or denote the kind of people this company usually hires and/or the expectations they have of these people.

I tend to try and steer clear of the latter companies in the same way as I would steer clear of restaurants that provide pictures of their food (just in case they get patrons who can only understand pictures and grunt and point).

Perhaps we should all club together and write a style guide for style guides and hand this out to the clients guilty of the latter type (that is of course a joke).


 

Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 22:20
English to Polish
+ ...
Depends Sep 26, 2013

Depends, Tom. Perhaps insulting is not the best word here, but certainly only of the most personally vexing situations to me is when my translation is proofread or revised or reviewed by someone who can't tell (enforcing) personal preference from (fixing) actual errors or imperfections of style.

Additionally, there are many grammatical disputes in which I don't have a strong opinion. I can do it either way, I just don't care, so it's logical to allow the client to decide if the client cares (or just wants to stick to the same choice in all materials). In those instances a style guide can really be of some assistance, especially if it eliminates the need to ask any questions. Should I then catch the client's staff going back on their own style guide in correcting my texts, by the way, I'd have a bloody red field day with them.

Next, I hate being QA'ed for stylistic or other consistency with previous translations, let alone having the quality of my translations graded on the basis of such like criteria. Here, just like Samuel wrote, a style guide laying out the choices those guys have already made for the entire project isn't necessarily a bad thing, although I sometimes think they should hire an editor for that instead and leave me alone.

Speaking of which, especially translation agencies really should assign editors to edit translations for compliance with the voluminous records of their long-standing clients' decrees instead of coming down hard on translators asked to read 500 pages before translating 10 (which has actually happened to me). Here, I'm insulted, annoyed, whatever, by their poor process design and management coupled with shoving their stuff on me.

Anyway, style guides are surely better than proofreaders, revisers and reviewers marking you down and correcting you on the basis of their own personal preference rather than solid rules.

But, it's extremely important what Samuel said somewhere around the middle of his post: translators shouldn't be expected to comply with whatever the original writers failed to follow while being (supposedly) supposed to. Style guides can be used as tools in a scheme to turn a bad original into a shining gem of a translated text (pretending to be an original, of course, in line with the complexes tenets of modern linguistics) without paying appropriately for that kind of editing job. Or for copywriting.

Tom in London wrote:

Here I am: author of a number of published books and innumerable magazine articles, being advised by a person presumably much younger than myself how to write with an appropriate style, how to spell, etc. I'm always offended when clients send me these "style guides" because not only do they often include bad advice, but they make me feel I can't be trusted to understand the style that's required for that job, or to be able to write in it.

Your thoughts?


One more thing. I don't see them as advice. I see them as the client's instructions or requirements. I may not need advice but still appreciate clarity in job specs. In any case, I'd much rather have my juniors write a style guide for me than attempt to correct me.

[Edited at 2013-09-26 14:40 GMT]


 

Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 04:20
Chinese to English
I have the other problem Sep 26, 2013

Orrin Cummins wrote:

They are mostly aimed at people translating into a non-native language


Chinese companies aren't generally sophisticated enough to have English style guides yet. More often I'm working for a multinational, and I get handed the English copywriting style guide. Now, usually translations are for internal information only, so a style guide aimed at those who write customer outreach materials isn't relevant. Moreover, this style guide will inevitably contain some assertion that the passive is weak, and should be avoided.

Now first of all, this is a stupid thing to say. Second of all, when you're translating from an Asian subject-drop language, the passive can come in awfully handy. I probably need to raise my rates, but I honestly don't feel well remunerated enough to go and ask exactly who was supposed to the be the subject of every third clause, when a well-placed passive will allow me to sidestep the issue quite nicely.

Anyway, I agree with everyone above. Most style guides are vaguely insulting, and a well written style guide should be one line long:

CMS

(or whatever).


 

Mark
Local time: 22:20
Italian to English
Amen. Sep 26, 2013

Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz wrote:

A style guide laying out the choices those guys have already made for the entire project isn't necessarily a bad thing, although I sometimes think they should hire an editor for that instead and leave me alone.

Speaking of which, especially translation agencies really should assign editors to edit translations for compliance with the voluminous records of their long-standing clients' decrees instead of coming down hard on translators asked to read 500 pages before translating 10 (which has actually happened to me). Here, I'm insulted, annoyed, whatever, by their poor process design and management coupled with shoving their stuff on me.

translators shouldn't be expected to comply with whatever the original writers failed to follow while being (supposedly) supposed to.


 

Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 22:20
English to Polish
+ ...
The client's house rules Sep 26, 2013

Marie-Helene Dubois wrote:

Admittedly there are some things that are really useful to know about a company's house style. Perhaps they prefer "EUR" to "€" to denote a Euro. Perhaps they have special requirements as to how times are written (AM/PM - 24-hour clock - etc.). Perhaps they like to use "investment firm" rather than "investment company", or perhaps they opt to use "Z" in words like "realize".

The type of style guide that says all these things can be useful to a freelance translator to ensure consistency throughout the same client's documents, since often by the very nature of our work, things can get fractured (one minute translating a cookery book on cake pops and the next a safety manual for a construction site). This type of style guide also denotes a client that places great importance on written communication and I can appreciate this type of client because I feel the same.


I'll say a horrifying thing now, but I don't care to know about the details of a company's house style in small, occasional jobs, that are handed to me via an agency at the same old budget rates. That's just their problem, or should be (as much as I prefer a style guide mandating 'investment company' instead of 'investment firm' to a QA'er correcting me thus). I'm a freelancer, not an in-house translator. If they put me on retainer, then it makes sense to keep a consistent style throughout my translations and also one consistent with their translations from other languages and their other texts. Otherwise, their style guide and all their other requirements should be the specification of an editing job, payable on a per-hour basis, including all the time I need to spend reading.

Somehow, agencies seem to have developed the mindset that gratifying the client's every desire down to the minutest details of a text is an essential part of any job.

Simon Chiassai wrote:

No, but you can hold him accountable if the client complains by denying him the over-used excuse : "this is a stylistic choice".


Yeah, some translators just can't detect and keep the appropriate register. They'll claim individual style then, just like those who can't figure out complex sentences will claim individual interpretation. Then, some people are just poor writers. In any of theses, it really is a pain to have to respect the 'individual style' of each of them and pay them the full compensation promised with a better product in mind.

[Edited at 2013-09-26 13:41 GMT]


 
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