How to deal with bad copy?
Thread poster: ViktoriaG

ViktoriaG  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 03:59
English to French
+ ...
Apr 17, 2005

As you all may have noticed, we as translators come across bad copies time after time. When we are in touch with the person who wrote the copy, it is fairly easy to work it out. But what about jobs we get through agencies? What happens when the source document traveled through a chain of people before reaching the translator, without any way for the translator to ask questions about the meaning of ideas in the document?

I would be glad to get your insight on this topic.

Thank you.

[Subject edited by staff or moderator 2005-04-17 16:47]


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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 01:59
English to Spanish
+ ...
Bad to Better Apr 17, 2005

One good thing about bad copy is that it gives you the opportunity to actually make your translation better than the original. That is one consolation in a situation that is otherwise not so positive.

It is my opinion that we cannot do a thoroughly professional job without communication with the client. That is the problem in dealing with agencies, they will not let you have it. If the translation suffers the client will know which agency supplied it, but they will not know who the translator was so it will not reflect unfavorably on you.

So I guess just try to make the best of it while you attempt to gain more direct clients.


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ViktoriaG  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 03:59
English to French
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
What if an agency criticizes the translation? Apr 17, 2005

Good point there, Henry. It does give translators the occasion to display their ability at making a so-so text better, thereby earning a good reputation.

But what if you wanted to make a bad sentence better while you are not sure if you should go ahead and do it? By this I mean that sometimes, as translators, we are not sure what idea the sentence is meant to convey. This is especially true with marketing oriented texts. Maybe the word that I find inappropriate and that I am about to delete IS an important word - maybe even a buzzword - within the text. There is no reliable way to find out...

And what happens if the agency or client finds the translation bad, without realizing that it is so because the source was bad? How do you go about explaining this to them, without seeming to put the blame on somebody else?

This is a dilemma that keeps haunting me time after time...


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Alison Schwitzgebel
France
Local time: 09:59
Member (2002)
German to English
+ ...
GIGO Apr 17, 2005

GIGO - or garbage in garbage out....

If you get sent bad copy to translate, then the customer can't expect you to turn a sow's ear into a silk purse.

The key is communication. Sometimes the writer of the original may not be aware of how poorly it is written, and sometimes texts are written with the intention of being a bit nebulous. Of course with a direct client you can clear things up directly, but with an agency you need to ask the project manager to clear up whatever uncertainties you may be facing.

Without that element of communication, you'll almost certainly end up with a GIGO translation!

FWIW

Alison


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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 01:59
English to Spanish
+ ...
GIGO is Right Apr 17, 2005

If you are dealing with agencies then the only solution is for the agency to be professional enough to help you in handling the situations you mention. However, that is something you cannot control except by knowing the agencies and only working for those that will support you.

With direct clients I let them know that I can often make some improvements in the texts they give me to translate. Since many of these texts are generated by the clients themselves and reflect directly on the client's organization and results, they are glad to give me license to do so. Also, when I find material errors in texts I always consult and provide immediate feedback so that both the original and the translation can be corrected. This is a product of good communication and knowing the client's operations and needs.

When errors, inconsistencies and ambiguities are involved in dealing with already existing documents (needed, but not generated by the client), then you often have to resort to translator's notes explaining the problem.

Quality is meeting or exceeding the requirements of the client, and communication is the key. If you have little or no communication then you cannot guarantee quality because you do not know the requirements.

If you tell people the above they may or may not change, but at least you have made it clear where you stand. Then you decide whether to work for them or not. No one said life was easy.


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Deborah Shannon  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 09:59
Member (2002)
German to English
Documenting difficulties as they arise Apr 18, 2005

Henry Hinds wrote:

When errors, inconsistencies and ambiguities are involved in dealing with already existing documents (needed, but not generated by the client), then you often have to resort to translator's notes explaining the problem.

Quality is meeting or exceeding the requirements of the client, and communication is the key.


I agree with everything that Henry and Alison have said, and I would just add that even direct clients can be difficult to reach at the exact moment when clarification is required, so I see documenting difficulties as an integral part of the translation process. I routinely submit notes explaining why particular choices were made and seeking approval for my interpretation of particular passages.

The client feels fully consulted, and can either approve those choices or enter into a dialogue on how to resolve the problems differently. The underlying message is that I'm not a mindreader but will do my best to make intelligent decisions based on my understanding of the client's best interests, and am willing to consult on outstanding difficulties at any time.

Of course it's better to iron out problems at an earlier stage if at all possible, which I guess is what Henry is alluding to when he says that notes are "a last resort". But if at the end of the process there are unresolved questions, this is a good way of making sure the client has all the information they need to arrive at a fair evaluation of your work.


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