Revision tips for translators – Part 2, revising someone else’s work


Letter to the Guardian pointing out spelling mistake



Revising another translator’s work is something many translators are asked to do at some stage during their careers. Indeed, many translators offer revision as a professional service alongside translation.

In part 2 of this series I look at the principles of revising someone else’s work, things to look out for before accepting a revision assignment, and also the tricky issue of how to charge for this service.


Before starting the job

  • Make sure it is clear what the client wants you to do. Clients use different terms for the same service. Are you talking revision, proofreading, editing? See part 1 of this series for more information on the various terms you may come across.
  • Always ask to see the source and target texts before accepting the job.
  • If the subject is highly specialised, check whether the translator is a specialist in the field. Can you rely on the technical terminology being correct? If not, this will significantly increase the time it will take you to revise the piece.
  • Do you have a sufficient understanding of the subject area yourself?
  • What is the quality of the original translation? If it is very bad, it may be more cost-effective to re-translate it. Alert the client if this is the case.
  • Read through the instructions the client sent to the original translator so that you know if there were any special requirements to be followed (spelling preferences – GB/US English, ise/ize, in-house style guide, glossary, etc).
  • Check how the client wants you to deliver your revision. With track changes? A clean final version?
  • Also check how the client wants you to handle queries you are unable to resolve yourself.


Charging for revision

If at all possible, aim for an hourly rate. After all, a poor translation will take you a lot more time to revise than a very good one. However, many LSPs (translation agencies) may ask you for a word rate. Here’s how to set a word rate for revision:

As a rule of thumb, we generally reckon on revising 1,000 words an hour. Anything more than that and the translation is very good. Anything less than around 750 words/hour and the translation is poor.

Take your hourly rate and divide by 1,000: this will be your word rate for revision.


Revision principles

In his book Revising and Editing for Translators, Brian Mossop sets out 20 succinct revision principles that cover just about every base. I’ve selected my favourites below.

From Brian Mossop: Revising and Editing for Translators (Translation Practices Explained series), Routledge, 2013, ISBN: 9781909485013

  1. If you find a very large number of mistakes as you begin revising a translation, consider whether the text should be retranslated rather than revised.
  2. If you cannot understand the translation without reading it twice, or without consulting the source text, then a correction is definitely necessary.
  3. Do not ask whether a sentence can be improved but whether it needs to be improved. Make the fewest possible changes, given the users of the translation and the use they will make of it.
  4. Make small changes to a sentence rather than rewriting it.
  5. Minimize introduction of error by not making changes if in doubt about whether to do so.
  6. When you make a linguistic correction or stylistic improvement, make sure you have not introduced a mistranslation. (Tip: use ‘Simple markup’ if using track changes in Word.)
  7. When you make a change, check whether this necessitates a change else­where in the sentence or a neighbouring sentence.
  8. Do not let your attention to micro-level features of the text prevent you from seeing macro-level errors, and vice versa.
  9. Check numbers as well as words: they are part of the message.
  10. Do not make changes you cannot justify if revising the work of others.
  11. Do not impose your linguistic idiosyncrasies on others.
  12. If you have failed to solve a problem, admit it to the client.


Lastly, I want to share with you my own personal revision mantra:

Doubt everything! Is that abbreviation really used in your target language? Has the translator used the official translation of that EU directive? Does that comma really belong there in your target language?


Look out for Part 3 of this series: Tips for revising with CAT tools.


 Happy revising!

 Photo credit: Brett Jordan




7 responses to “Revision tips for translators – Part 2, revising someone else’s work”

  1. Edwina Simpson says:

    Thank you Kari, a very useful read.I expect I’ve been guilty of imposing my linguistic idiosyncrasies on others in the past! Particularly good to have your thoughts on charging by word. I find a lot of agencies want confirmation that you will take on a reviewing job even before they have received the initial translation, so a ‘per word’ fee is the best way to go if possible.

  2. Thanks for this, Kari; there are some goods points here.

    I have reservations about Brian Mossop’s “Do not ask whether a sentence can be improved but whether it needs to be improved. Make the fewest possible changes”, though.

    While I agree that the fewer changes you make, the lower the risk of introducing fresh errors, I don’t think that minimal intervention is really the best criterion. What we want is to make the text as good as it can be (without taking so long over polishing and fussing that the job were no longer economically viable, of course).

    Our primary loyalties are to the client and the reader, not to the original translator. If we can see a way to make the text objectively better, even slightly, and to make it fulfill its purpose more effectively (whether that is to inform, to sell, to entertain, to act as a documentary record, etc.), then we ought to do so.

    • Kari Koonin says:

      Thanks for your feedback, Oliver. I agree with the points you raise, particularly that our loyalty is to the client/reader. But I suggest that what Brian Mossop is saying here is reiterating the fact that we should not change things just for the sake of changing them, i.e. that we should guard against being too influenced by our own linguistic preferences.

      • I certainly agree about guarding against our own linguistic preferences, matters of taste, etc. And that can be a tricky exercise in self-discipline :).
        But when Brian Mossop says “Do not ask whether a sentence can be improved but whether it needs to be improved”, we can deduce (taking his “improved” literally) that he believes that there are occasions when it is better to leave a sentence ‘unimproved’. And there I part company with him.

  3. Nikki Graham says:

    I agree with Oliver, and I’ve said as much several times. Making the fewest changes possible implies you are on the side of the translator and even end up accepting OK renderings so as not to upset the apple cart. We should always revise with the client in mind and make sure they get the best text possible. On the other hand, of course, I see your point, Kari, but not being influenced by our own linguistic preferences is a hard task indeed! And it’s one of the reasons why revision often proves to be a far more difficult task than translating.

    • Kari Koonin says:

      Good points, Nikki. It also depends on your brief as a revisor and the purpose of the revision job. Some translation agencies are very strict when it comes to only correcting actual mistakes; others may commission you to make a translation more suitable for the target market/change the register etc. Drawing the line between personal preferences and actual mistakes/potential improvements is tricky.

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