Friday, 17 August 2012

Proof-reading – editing – revising: the essentials

Today, I want to talk a little bit about a term used by work-providers and which greatly irritates many translators: that term is ‘proof-reading’. I don’t know how many times I’ve been asked to ‘proof-read’ a text, only to find that what is actually meant is something else entirely.

A sample of texts I have been asked to check includes instruction manuals written in (poor) English by a non-native speaker of English, translations sent to me without the source language text and performed to varying degrees of competence by other translators, as well as translations accompanied by their source text (often still in bilingual format) for a full check of translation quality.

However none of the above is truly proof-reading. Proof-reading is what it says on the tin: reading the proofs that have been prepared ready for a print-run. Such a check is the final step on the road to publication and, provided that all other checks have been made beforehand, should really only throw up issues such as incorrect hyphens, incorrect placement of text by the typographer and other minor issues not connected with the translation itself.

If you are asked to ‘proofread’ you need to know EXACTLY what is required. Ask if your client does not tell you. You also need to negotiate the terms on which you will get paid. in 99% of cases you can only do this after you have had an opportunity to study the text fairly closely. Whether paid by the hour or by the word, you need to be clear with your work provider exactly what you are going to do and have formed an idea as to how long it will take.

Editing: When editing a text, you are not necessarily required to go back to the source language text, except perhaps to check on something that may puzzle you in the target. You are not checking whether the translation is true to the original, but you are checking for style, punctuation, sense and readability.

Revising: Revising a text is the most intensive form of editing. Here you are checking the target against the source and checking that there are no mistranslations or missing phrases, and that terminology is correct. You also have to perform the editing tasks I list above.

Personally, I am not keen on editing/revision work, and generally restrict my activities in this area to a final proof-read of ready-to-print material that I translated myself.

However, if you are keen to learn more about this demanding but potentially rewarding field, you could do worse that check out these FAQs from the Society for Editors and Proofreaders.

At eCPD earlier this year we held a webinar explaining just what editors and revisors do, with distinguished speaker Sarah Griffin Mason. It is available on-demand for just £21 from this link.

The Mediterranean Editors and Translators Meeting this year will be in Venice in November. The programme looks very interesting, especially the workshops on the first day.

A forum I follow recently had a lively discussion on the use of “they” as a singular pronoun as in this example: “The telltale sign of a right-winger: they can’t write in English to save their lives.”

My own view is that as translators we should try to avoid using ‘they’ and ‘their’ to accompany a singular noun by rewriting the sentence. But I accept that in certain cases it might be impossible to do so. For more discussion on this and other subjects, have a look at the debate at the Chicago Manual of Style.

What do you think about the plural pronoun issue?