Editing, proofreading and reviewing might appear similar on the surface.

Certainly, if you work in a non-translation field, it sure sounds that way. Picture the scene…

You’ve just been sent a document by a colleague. They ask you to quickly proofread it. Perhaps instead they’ll ask you to review it and let them know what you think? Or give it a swift edit, as they haven’t got the time?

In any case, no matter the exact words they use, they’ll generally mean the same thing:

  • Read the document through. Make sure there are no obvious errors. Check that everything makes sense.
  • When it comes to translation though, editing, proofreading, and reviewing a document are very different things indeed.
  • This means that when you order translation services, it’s important that you understand exactly what you’re getting.

Everyone knows that a translator is the sort of expert which is most intimately involved in the translation process. So why would you need more than one?

It’s not just a case of many hands making light work. It’s the same reason you’d have a different person in any profession – this person might be called a supervisor or quality assurance assessor in some industries – check the frontline team’s work.

Because with more than one expert looking a translation job over – and sometimes even three or four – you’re going to find it easier to:

  • Catch errors of all kinds
  • Pool knowledge regarding various specialist fields and subfields
  • Get a second opinion on especially challenging aspects, such as terms which may not have a direct equivalent in the target language
  • Achieve the highest quality and most precise final result

So why do some companies offer everything from one linguist?

In short, because it’s cheaper and faster. It’s not, however, the way to get the most accurate or professionally-worded translation.

Even the very best translators are human. Occasionally, they make mistakes. A linguist working solo can be prone to repeating the same tiny translation error. Or they may simply have one of those days when things don’t quite click and his or her usual elegant style slips for a moment.

That’s where multiple linguists with multiple knowledge bases and experience levels come in. The industry shorthand is TEP. It stands for Translation, Editing, Proofreading (sometimes followed by a final Quality Assurance phase added by translation companies who strive for excellence).

These tasks should be completed by three or more separate individuals. In the translation industry, they’re clearly defined by a certain very important standard…

What is EN 15038?

EN 15038 is a quality standard developed to ensure that a translation company delivers a consistently high quality of service.

For the purposes of this article, the exact details aren’t important. But, it is important to understand that the roles of translator, editor, proofreader, and reviewer are technically defined within it.

What does an editor do?

Editing is usually the first step in the process of checking a translation is accurate. The person in charge of the process is usually called an ‘editor’, though they’re technically known as a ‘reviser’ according to the EN 15038 standard.

As an editor, you’d receive a copy of the translated document fresh from the desk of the initial translator. You’ll be a linguist who’s a native speaker of the target language with a strong understanding of the source language and the subject matter field.

By comparing the original and translated documents, you’ll be able to judge for yourself the accuracy and clarity of the new text.

Editors will be looking to:

  • Clear up mistranslations
  • Repair linguistic errors
  • Fix inconsistency in vocabulary or phrasing
  • Find any other technical translation problems
  • Improve the quality and readability of the final translation
  • Remove ambiguous phrases
  • Cut out potential sources of confusion
  • Make the writing flow more easily

This means that, as well as a great deal of experience in both the languages that are in play, an editor should have a deep understanding of the subject matter of the source text.

For instance, at Asian Absolute, we’ll usually make sure any editor conducting revision work is qualified to at least Masters Degree-level in the subject in question.

What does a proofreader do?

The next stage in the process is proofreading. The easiest way to think of this is as a second level of editing without the distraction of referring to the original document.

As a proofreader, much like the original editor, you’ll be fluent in both the source and target languages – and very knowledgeable in the subject which forms the basis of the source document.
A proofreader will:

  1. Hunt for typos and grammar errors – even with two previous sets of eyes looking over the document there may be a slim chance of a typo. The final check is the responsibility of the highly experienced proofreader.
  2. Confirm readability and localisation – at this stage, the translated text should be just as readable as the source text. It should also be written using the correct terms for the region in question (a common example of this in Singapore would be Standard Singapore English rather than British or American English). Checking the translated text without referring to the original version helps to eliminate unnatural phrasing and over-literal translation.
  3. Check the format – this will most likely by the last thing a proofreader will do before final checking.
  4. Compare results with the brief – the final step is to confirm that the target document has been produced according to the requirements in the original brief.

If any changes are needed, it’ll be down to the proofreader to discuss their findings with the translator and editor who’ve already been involved in the process.

Remember that the proofreader isn’t checking against the original version. Perhaps there was a good reason that one of these linguists changed the format? Or that they translated that phrase in this specific way?

This final discussion phase, if necessary, ensures that the end document is as clear, precise and accurate as possible.

What does a quality assurance specialist do?

By this stage, with three pairs of eyes already having seen the document, it might be tempting to think that the quality assurance phase should be over. The Quality Assurance (QA) specialist though, still has their work to do.

As a QA, you’ll receive a theoretically perfect piece of text. But there are still checks to be made. You’ll need to check:

  • That the formatting mirrors the source file or is as per the client’s special instructions
  • The translation is complete, with no omissions
  • Numerical data (number, dates, measurement units, etc.)
  • There is no character corruption
  • There is no text truncation
  • Spelling (electronically)
  • Against any other client-specific formatting guidelines
  • That file sanitisation has been completed, removing all hidden text and other content which should not be included in the published version

Getting the highest precision in your translation

For the largest and most sensitive projects – those which need to be one hundred percent accurate – Back-Translation and Reconciliation phases may be added. In Singapore, this is often good practice for projects intended to be reviewed by the Ministry of Manpower.

  • Back translation – involves translating the translated document back into the original language.
  • Reconciliation – means comparing that against the original document so any deviations can be spotted and addressed.

Choosing the level of TEP which is right for you

If your translation is for reference purposes only, perhaps you could hire a translator and trust them to quality check their own work.

For more precise translations though, you’ll need at least a second experienced translator to be the editor – and possibly a third and fourth to be proofreader and QA.

If you’re going to be submitting something for official purposes or for a wholly different market, perhaps back translation and reconciliation might be called for too.

Depending on the level of accuracy you need your project to achieve, you can conclude the translation process during any phase you like.

Do you need to know which phase that is?

Leave a comment below or contact us to find out more about editing, proofreading and reviewing in translation.