Problems with second and third revisions of a translation becoming less accurate
Thread poster: Mark Sanderson

Mark Sanderson  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:47
Chinese to English
Mar 11, 2014

Good evening everybody,

As I am sure is the case with many other translators on here, I often discover that my first draft of any translation is a little bit rough around the edges. When writing my first draft my main priority is focusing on getting across the key points of the source text.

However I have found that problems are occurring when I come to do some revision work and polishing up of my target text. On more than one occasion I have found that I have done so much editing and changing of my target text that I have moved away from the source texts original meaning. Obviously in this industry this is a very bad situation to be in when one wants to write a target text that is as close as possible to the meaning of the source text.

Does anyone have any advice on how I can stop this from happening? I guess that I should keep a closer eye on the source text when I am doing my proofreading and further revisions, however I also want to my target text to be as fluent and smooth as possible.

Many thanks for any suggestions that you may have.


Shirley Lao  Identity Verified
Member (2007)
English to Chinese
+ ...
It depends on the nature and purpose of the source text. Mar 11, 2014

Some texts such as advertising and marketing texts allow more adaptation of the target text while some other texts such as technical and legal texts are required to be more faithful to the source text as far as possible.


Anna Sarah Krämer Fazendeiro
Local time: 17:47
Member (2011)
English to German
+ ...
Get it right the first time Mar 11, 2014

I usually produce a pretty accurate translation immediately. Then my revision usually just focuses on finding a few typos and changing one or another phrase to make it more readable. When I work on a phrase with readability issues, I read the source text again to make sure the new translation reflects the meaning of the source.

Of course it might be challenging to change your whole way of working - but maybe give it a try (for some projects where time is not a problem - as it means to reorganize the time one spends on a project. I usually spend most of the available time for the first round and very little time for the second and third reading).

It doesn't mean I work slower - 3000 words per day are no problem, rather more, working with speech recognition.

Best regards,


Lakoff (X)
good better best Mar 11, 2014

I am not sure if this is a sign of perfectionism.

What is the proportionate time you spent on generating the draft / each revision?

With how many revisions would you come up normally?

It might be worthwhile to have an exchange with third/fourth eye partners using specific examples of translations.

You probably enjoy writing in the target language very much.


Maxi Schwarz
Local time: 10:47
German to English
+ ...
a suggested procedure that may help Mar 11, 2014

I use a two-prong procedure which may help you solve this.

Translation has two sets of criteria that are in conflict with each other. 1, to reflect the original as much as possible (translation component). 2, to sound as natural as possible in the target language stylistically, with good grammar etc. (language component). But when you polish up style, you risk distorting the meaning of the original. So here's what I do:

I know that while I'm doing the translation, I'm still influenced by the source language. So my first proofreading is done reading only only the source text, as if I had never seen it before. I'm in the mindset of a native language unilingual speaker. Usually some things "sound foreign" and I polish that. THEN I take my polished text, and compare it with the source, and check if I have changed meaning. Sometimes I make one or more passes, alternating between these two viewpoints. They counterbalance each other.

It's like one thing pulls you to the right, the other pulls you to the left, so by alternating views, you get pulled back toward the middle.


Phil Hand  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:47
Chinese to English
Reading Mar 11, 2014

It sounds like you're getting rid of the source text during the editing stages, and that's good practice. But I wonder if you're not doing enough reading of the source text initially?

For me, reading and drafting are two quite distinct activities. Normally when drafting I go sentence by sentence (in fact, my CAT tool makes me). This is fine, and helps to get through the grind of churning the sentences out. But it's not real reading. As I'm sure you find, the relationships between sentences in Chinese are distinctive and often quite different to the way English sentences connect. To get a real sense of the meaning of the source, I have to go back and read the source text again, continuously, as a text rather than as a sequence of sentences. And this reading process has to happen before the editing. While you're editing, you're right to stay away from the source; but you have to know exactly what the source says - not what the words say, what the text says - and have that in mind while you're doing your editing.

After editing, as Maxi says, it's also good to check your text against the source. What I would add is: you have to do it on multiple levels. Check that each sentence of the source is conveyed (not necessarily by a corresponding sentence in the target); check that the point of each paragraph is conveyed; and finally check that the whole text feels to a target reader like the source text feels to a source reader.


Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:47
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
Get it right first time II Mar 11, 2014

I find it is always easier to get it right first time than to adjust afterwards.

Depending on what type of text I am working on, I read it through first with pencil and paper, and note down terminology.
I also note anything I need to ask the client about, or anything that is not clear at first glance, and make a rough draft of just that sentence or section.
This does wonders for consistency. I often find explanations to queries further down in the text, and note them too.

Many of my texts are small, and for one-page texts I simply make mental notes.
With big jobs I take a section at a time and skim the rest, or skim a couple of pages and see what happens...

THEN I start translating with the CAT or whatever, and because I don't have to stop and look things up all the time, it flows better and I can concentrate on an idiomatic translation at this stage.

After a break, I read it through without the source and check for typos, style, whatever.

Finally I check against the source, and if by now I am out of time, I do a final spell check and check numbers, names and details like that... and let it go.

It really is worth spending the time at the start making the decisions that need to be made - and I find it actually saves time, so if I have a rushed job I try to take a deep breath and 'make haste slowly'!


Tina Vonhof
Local time: 09:47
Member (2006)
Dutch to English
+ ...
Get it right the first time III Mar 11, 2014

I do like Anna and Christina. I do the job as well as I can the first time. Then I go over it on screen to read it over and pick out spelling errors etc. as I go along. Then, if the document is not too long, I print out both the source text (2-sided print) and the translation and go over them side by side. That is when I pick out anything I have missed or isn't the best representation of the source text. I know it sounds laborious but, especially with certified documents, I want to be double sure.


Mark Sanderson  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:47
Chinese to English
Thank you for all of the great replies. Mar 23, 2014

Hello and sorry for the late reply.

Thank you for all of the great responses to my original post. You have all given me some great guiding points.

I think that the biggest lesson that I have learnt is to spend more time reading the source text in order to better understand the meaning. Also, I should work harder to get my target text right the first time around.

Wishing everyone a prosperous continuation of all of their endeavours.


Neil Coffey  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 16:47
French to English
+ ...
Revision without being too close to the source text Mar 23, 2014

Mark Sanderson wrote:
Does anyone have any advice on how I can stop this from happening? I guess that I should keep a closer eye on the source text when I am doing my proofreading and further revisions

I would really try to arrange things so that your final read-through doesn't pay too much attention to the source text, but where you consider how your text feels in its own right. By that stage, you should be able to take it for granted that your translation essentially matches the source text, and shouldn't need major revision.

So as others have said, that may mean trying to "get things righter" during the first draft. If you find yourself having multiple "drafting" stages before the final read-through, maybe try to separate the purposes of these different drafting stages, so that the second drafting stage is ONLY to check that the translation reflects the original, so that you can then have a last read-through where you are strictly checking for fluency.

One thing you may want to ask yourself is if you are trying to make your translation "too close" in the first place, though?


Kay Denney  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:47
Member (Apr 2018)
French to English
What do you mean by "less accurate"? Mar 23, 2014

I too am in favour of getting it right first time.

In my first draft, I translate everything. I do my best to couch it in good English but I don't wait for the exact right word to come. It's really more of a read-through. I can't actually just read a text through, it's too frustrating when the phrases I need are tumbling into my brain, I need to put it all down.

Then in my first review I still refer back to the source, improving, spell checking etc. I look up all the stuff I skipped over in my "read-through", I do all the research. I twist each source sentence and wring every last shade of meaning out of it, turn it inside out and upside down, give a good shake and squeeze, and thus make sure everything is there with nothing added.

In the second review I put the source away and concentrate only on the English. Whatever I do to my prose, I make sure that I don't change the meaning at all. By this point the only dictionary I'm using is the thesaurus. I might still completely rewrite a sentence, but I'll be comparing the new one to the first draft and not to the source text (my first draft is often close enough to the source for me to guess what it was in French).

At the same time, wondering exactly what you mean by "less accurate". It may be harder to tell which terms convey which shades of meaning if you're going further than word-for-word. I'm a great believer in "cut the cr@p" and "if you can't get it right make it better" so my target text often *looks* wildly different to the source. Occasionally clients who are used to more literal translations will take issue over the fact that I may have zapped a particular term that they really love to use in French, and I have to explain that it's not a word that would strike any chords with native English speakers, that my job is to sell their product to the English-speaking world and I use my knowledge of that culture to appeal to the English-speaker mindset. Often a screenshot of a Linguee page where the only occurrences of a particular English word seem to crop up in . fr websites, then a Google page with occurrences of the word I chose cropping up in websites will do the trick.


Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:47
English to Polish
+ ...
Practice Mar 23, 2014

Practice should help you find the balance, especially if you think consciously about it.


Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:47
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
It just happens, and Mar 24, 2014

Mark Sanderson wrote:
On more than one occasion I have found that I have done so much editing and changing of my target text that I have moved away from the source texts original meaning.

It sounds to me like you're doing your editing round independent of the source text, and I'm assuming you'd then check the final text against the source text one last time again.

The phenomenon that you describe (i.e. that your translation gets less faithful as it gets more beautiful) is a known problem in translation, hence the saying that translation is like a mistress, who is more faithful if he/she has less beauty, and will be less faithful if he/she has more beauty (though I suspect the situation with actual mistresses are less clear-cut than that in real life).

Does anyone have any advice on how I can stop this from happening?

It depends on what CAT tool you're using, but if your CAT tool has the ablity to produce (or allow) tracked changes in the target text, you can use those tracks in the final round to easily identify passages that have changed and compare them then against the source text.

Ultimately I think it depends on the type of text you're translating. Some text types allow for the target text to be removed further from the source text. Particularly text that is going to be consumed by the general public in large quantities can sometimes safely be translated fuzzily, because reading enjoyment tends to be of higher importance in such situations than fidelity to the original author's fullest message.

With more techical text I tend to favour faithfulness over beauty. In such texts I try to find suitable fixed translations for frequently occurring phrases in the source text, so that I can safely use the same translation for that phrase every time, knowing that the translation may be a little bit stilted, but it is quite accurate and does not require much or any further editing.


nrichy (X)
Local time: 17:47
French to Dutch
+ ...
Set goals Mar 24, 2014

With some experience you should be able to get it right the first time, as indicated above, for about, say, 95%.

The first revision should be bilingual and have a clearly defined goal: every piece of information in the source text should be represented in the target text. Very faithfully if it is a technical or legal text, as Samuel says, but for a marketing text you can replace an idea with another, change samples, etc. Print the text out if necessary and carefully check with a red pen if everything is there and if the meaning corresponds to the source text.

I also do a second revision, this one is unilingual. The goal is: is this text coherent. I read every sentence slowly, read it out loud and sometimes change word order. At this stage I still catch some logical or grammatical errors (typically, the subject in singular and the verb in plural), words translated in two ways, brackets missing, etc.

For long texts (more than 1000-2000 words) I start with one page, try to get it right, and only then proceed with the rest of the text.


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