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How do you deal with the tricky relation between deadlines and quality in translations?
Thread poster: Rogerio de Moraes

Rogerio de Moraes  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:45
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Feb 9, 2014

Hy Everyone!

My name's Rogério and I'm a translator (EN-PT BR) and a proofreader. I would like to talk about something that has annoyed me - the tricky relation between deadlines and quality in translations

On the on hand we (translators) know that we must deliver a quality translation (for that I mean linguistic variables taken into account – semantics, pragmatics, syntax, cultural aspects and last but not least the context in which the text is inserted in).

On the other hand some agencies set too short deadlines, but even so they demand high-level translations. Whereas some named "easy" jobs can be really time-consuming; jobs that require lots of further research (sometimes much more than a regular research that all of us should do) on specific topics set as "Standard" instead of "Pro".

Agencies know (and I think everybody should know it as well) they cannot expect the highest quality for the lowest price in a translation within the time limit when the time limit is set for "yesterday" (I mean "unreasonable deadlines").

It's a little "methapohrical", I know it, but did I make myself understood?

Hope to hear from you.



Katalin Horváth McClure  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 19:45
Member (2002)
English to Hungarian
+ ...
How do I deal with it? Feb 9, 2014

High quality, fast and cheap - those are 3 requirements. You can have two, but not all three. I discuss the details of the job with the client, ask to see the actual materials or at least a representative sample, then negotiate the terms. If their requests are unreasonable than I refuse the job.


Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:45
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
My approach Feb 9, 2014

Given that I give a great value to my ability to sleep well at night -- if my 13-year old dog so pleases --, when I feel I cannot produce the maximum possible quality, I prefer not to take the job.


Kay Denney  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:45
Member (Apr 2018)
French to English
Quality Feb 9, 2014

For me quality wins out over the deadline any time. No way will I take on a job if I don't have time to produce a draft, go and do something else (preferably involving pillow mattress quilt and sheets) then come back and polish up and check every last detail.

My clients only get the one choice: quality. Not all that quick, not cheap and certainly not nasty.

Take it or leave it!


Local time: 00:45
German to English
Agree 100% Feb 9, 2014

Texte Style wrote:

For me quality wins out over the deadline any time. No way will I take on a job if I don't have time to produce a draft, go and do something else (preferably involving pillow mattress quilt and sheets) then come back and polish up and check every last detail.

My clients only get the one choice: quality. Not all that quick, not cheap and certainly not nasty.

Take it or leave it!

Never deliver a translation you know is not your best work. It is YOUR reputation that will suffer!

If they want you to rush, tell them to find someone else.


Alex Lago  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:45
Member (2009)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Fast does not equal rushed Feb 9, 2014

Working fast and working in a rush are two different things, you should never accept a translation if you are going to be rushed, but nowadays you have to get used to working fast.

As far as I'm concerned that means giving myself time to: 1) do the translation; 2) have sufficient time for me to "clear my mind" concerning this translation; 3) reread an edit the translation.


Maxi Schwarz
Local time: 18:45
German to English
+ ...
It's contained in the translator's quote Feb 9, 2014

The one who knows how much time is needed for a quality translation is the translator. The standard answer to someone requesting a translation includes:
- whether you can do it
- how much you will charge
- how long it will take you
- any questions you need to ask before starting

Some customers seem to think it is up to them to set the deadline, but of course it is the professional who has to make that assessment. End clients can tell us if they have special time-related situations. Agencies generally ask: "Can you do this translation? By when can you have it done? What is your fee?" Based on that, they give a quote to their client. I am always surprised when new agencies contact me and have already quoted their end client a fee and timetable and expect me to match it.


neilmac  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:45
Spanish to English
+ ...
Swings and roundabouts Feb 10, 2014

Try to explain the reality, i.e. din it into your clients that the faster they want the job done, the less likely it is to be as polished as they would like it to be in an ideal world.


Elina Sellgren  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:45
Member (2013)
Finnish to English
+ ...
You can always say no Feb 10, 2014

You do not have to accept any job where you think quality might be compromised due to too tight deadlines. Even if a client really pesters me when I say that something isn't possible (it might just be but I'm not willing to sacrifice my mental health for it and it shouldn't really matter what the real reason is), I keep repeating that I cannot deliver the quality that I want with the deadline they need it for. Very often the client comes back with an extension suddenly being possible, and if not, well, it's not my problem that they did not ask me sooner if they really wanted my services (or did not bother asking me first before saying yes to the end client). This works for queries about weekend jobs as well - if I insist that I won't work during the weekend, sometimes the client comes back and says that they can extend the deadline until next week.

Direct clients are much more understanding in this respect I think. They usually ask when I would be able to deliver, not whether I could deliver by x. If my schedule doesn't work for them, they can always ask somewhere else.

Rushing is never worth it, you'll just feel bad afterwards even if you manage to deliver quality and you will show that you're willing to do it for that particular client and they'll keep asking the same thing in the future. And good clients will understand your refusal and respect you for it.

I really don't understand agencies who think that since they have 1 translator in a language pair in their database, they can automatically accept jobs no matter what the budget and deadline, without asking the translator first. It's very bad business sense.


Local time: 02:45
Romanian to English
+ ...
you can turn down a client but not your boss Feb 10, 2014

Well, this is a problem that bothers me too, a bit. It's easy to turn down clients if they demand too much from the translator, but what happens when we're not dealing with clients but with our bosses and unfortunately you can't turn down your employer. How can I cope then with high quality yet very fast translations or with the ''yesterday time limit''? Yes, in theory I can change the employer but no, in practice, there is no option for me (as most of the employers are alike) so every time I got the translation task it's like a horse race against time with my adrenaline running high. It has become a modus vivendi.


French to English
+ ...
Do you want it now or do you want it good? Feb 10, 2014

When faced with a deadline that I think will negatively impact quality, I always say to my clients "I think I can get it to you by (insert soonest humanely possible date here given current work load, if any), but I am concerned about the quality of a translation completed within such a short timeframe and instead propose that you try to wait until (insert realistic date for high quality translation here)."

I generally produce a rough draft as quickly as possible, then spend about 2-3 times as much time ironing out or researching various details. At any time, the client can get a current draft, including my notes of dozens or hundreds of issues requiring more research or further refinement.

Given these conditions, I have never, ever, had a client insist on yesterday-delivery when they will get lower quality at the same price. On a few occasions, however, I have had to send drafts, etc., to demonstrate why the process is taking time, at which point they always resign themselves to whatever "ASAP" means according to my quality-oriented timeline.

I do sometimes have hard deadlines, and sometimes must ask for the author to input additional time to work together to iron out all challenges and also meet the deadline.

I always make sure to inform clients when things are taking longer than expected. As long as they know where I'm at, they don't seem to mind tooo much. Again, I always approach this as a situation where they can get delivery at any time but I would rather take more time to make it better. Always getting a rough draft done quickly seems to set people at ease that things are really rolling.

I do have a couple clients who could do the translation very well without outside help, but who are very busy. On very few occasions, very expensive people have had to take on the additional work themselves rather than wait until I could do it.

Hope that gives you some ideas on how you may wish to approach these tradeoffs.


Madeleine Chevassus  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:45
Member (2010)
English to French
I had the flu Feb 10, 2014

I had recently to translate a large ppt file, planned for 1,5 day (4500 words). This was limit, but normally feasable.

Unfortunately I got a very big flu just after beginning (not before).

I translated anyway (my tactic is to focus on quality since the very beginning, in the cat tool).

At the end I got much dtp to do to make it fit with Power Point frames.

The agency told me I could deliver during the night rather than at 8 pm.
I could not reach the deadline (physically unable to work that very day after 9:30 pm), but I delivered then something correct, but not perfect.

Of course I might get a medical certificate, but it was too late to refuse the job!

The translation was not bad but deserved some more "detail" work.

I made the last corrections a few days later, but the translation was probably already delivered to the client.

What would you have done in such a case?


[Edited at 2014-02-10 09:19 GMT]


Barbara Korinna Szederkenyi  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:45
Member (2011)
Italian to Hungarian
+ ...
tell them honestly or ask for help Feb 10, 2014

The one thing I could do (and I do it if it is necessary) in a similar situation is to tell them honestly I do not finish the work till agreed date but I should give an other date. It is better to deliver a correct work but later. If translation must to be till a date, I should ask for help from an other translator: so the client will never know about hectic. But I would not give them a completed translation with (eventual) mistakes or law quality.


Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:45
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
A trusted backup? Feb 10, 2014

Madeleine Chevassus wrote:
What would you have done in such a case?

I think it is always good to actively look for and thouroughly test another person who is fully trustworthy as a backup in case you have an emergency (family emergency, health, accident).

This person should be trustworthy not only in terms of ability to translate your usual stuff to perfection, but also in terms of ethics, so that you don't have business issues. I have a person working with me in the office permanently, but if I did not, I would probably look for such a trustworthy and loyal backup.


JoBee  Identity Verified
Local time: 08:45
Japanese to English
Today I said no to one of my main agencies Feb 10, 2014

I have an agency that pushes me pretty often to meet their deadlines, and lately has even been asking me to do complimentary formatting/numbering/final layout checks (at their regular translation rate with no compensation for the extra work).

I made it clear that the deadline this time wasn't going to work and asked for a slight extension. About 90 minutes later I still hadn't received a reply, so I called up the agency.

"Oh, we've already given that assignment to someone else."

Is this acceptable for agencies to do? (For reference, this is a Japanese company.) I was offered an assignment and expressed interest, but as soon as I stated my own terms, the request was just taken back, with no particular notification given to me. (This is a company I've worked long into the night to accommodate, multiple times.)

I feel like this kind of system encourages translators to blindly accept jobs without carefully looking through them and giving an honest assessment of what will allow them to put out the best quality.

Having just started freelancing, the whole event got me down pretty badly--I don't have that many agencies and hate wondering whether that next job will come in--but I know all of you are right. Being bullied into taking on too much work will only result in bad final products.

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