I have to admit something that’s
just a little bit very nerdy: I love proofreading. I love diving into sentences, eradicating stray punctuation marks and comma splices. I also enjoy editing, where I have the power to rewrite entire sentences if need be. (And I do mean need—I have been on the receiving end of an overzealous editor’s red pen, and it isn’t fun.)
However, there is one sentence I dread. It usually comes in an email from a client. The email explains that the client has a project with a translator already lined up. And then the dreaded sentence:
“I am looking for a proofreader.”
What’s so wrong with that request? Shouldn’t I like hearing that my clients need me? Of course I should, and I do. But not everyone has the same idea of what it means to edit or proofread a translation. That one sentence doesn’t tell me what the client actually needs me to do. In other words, we end up wasting time trying to define what we both mean by “editing” and “proofreading.”
What is Editing?
Think of editing as the big picture process. The translation is compared to the original (source) text, and the translated text is reviewed as a whole. The editor should check for things like word choice, clarity, conciseness, consistency, jargon, and register. This editing process should answer a few simple questions:
- Does the translation accurately convey the meaning of the source text?
- Does the translation use the appropriate terminology and style for its intended audience?
- Is the translated text consistent? (This is especially important when more than one translator was involved.)
A Word of Caution: Think twice before using a Spanish/English editor who offers “edition services.” The Spanish word for editing, edición, is sometimes mistranslated as the word “edition.” This kind of word choice error is exactly what a good editor should be watching out for!
What is Proofreading?
If editing is looking at the big picture, proofreading is like getting out the magnifying glass and doing a careful inspection. At this stage, the goal is to clean up the text; the source text is forgotten and the translated text must stand on its own. Issues to consider:
- Style Guides: In-house guide and/or professional guides (such as The Chicago Manual of Style)
- Mechanics: Spelling, capitalization, punctuation, abbreviations, numbers
- Sentence Structure: Run-on sentences, comma splices, sentence fragments
- Regional Differences: UK v. US English spelling and punctuation
A proofreader may have specific duties that depend on the kind of document or the client. My favorite client sends a checklist to all proofreaders, to ensure that our work is consistent and covers everything the client needs. After proofreading, the translation should be ready to use.
Who is the Editor/Proofreader?
So who do you contact for editing, proofreading, or both? Most translators include some amount of editing and proofreading in their workflow. For example, when I translate a document, I always compare my translation with the original document. I check it for accuracy, and then I rewrite any part that doesn’t flow well in English. After that, I proofread the entire document for mechanical and formatting errors.
For some documents, this process is sufficient. If the translation will only be distributed internally, you probably don’t need to get bogged down in additional editing. However, even the best translators won’t catch every error in their own work. If you are translating marketing materials or other documents to be published, an independent editor and/or proofreader will help create a polished product.
The editor should be an expert in both languages, while the proofreader may be monolingual. The editor should also know the subject matter deeply—nothing wastes your money like having errors introduced in the editing stage after paying top dollar for an expert translator. Proofreaders may or may not be experts on the subject, but they should be experts on the writing style guide used in-house and in your field.
When requesting editing and proofreading services, be clear what it is you need. Define the service you are looking for and your requirements for the person who carries it out. When it doubt, ask your language services provider to explain what is included in each service. Spending a little extra time at the outset will ensure a more accurate quote and the best translation for your needs.