Proofreading

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Caveat

The international standard EN 15038 [1], a quality standard developed especially for providers of translation services, defines proofreading as "Checking of proofs before publication." The word "proofs" in this context refers to the final, typeset form of a document that is being made ready for printing. The proof-reader’s job is to check for typographical and punctuation errors, as well as ensuring that the publisher’s preferences regarding the layout and general appearance of the text have been correctly applied. The key thing to remember is that the document in question is the final version prior to printing or delivery and that usually only minor changes are permitted.

This is the traditional and "official" meaning of proofreading. However, it is important to be aware that, nowadays, many translators and outsourcers use the word to mean quite different things. For example, a translator or editor may be asked to examine a translation for appropriateness, compare the source and target texts, and recommend corrective measures. According to EN 15038, the proper term for this task is "revision". Often, when an outsourcer asks for "proofreading" what they are actually expecting is copy editing (also written "copyediting" or "copy-editing"), which includes the same kind of corrections as proofreading (in the strict sense), but goes further to correct word usage and sentence structure, clarify content and check internal consistency and basic formatting. Occasionally, an outsourcer may even expect substantive editing, which includes the above checks but also may require critical revision of the text, reworking confusing and awkward writing and, if necessary, reorganising content and structure to achieve clarity of subject, logic and consistency.

Obviously, these different levels of checking and correcting involve different skills and are likely to require vastly different amounts of time. Therefore, before agreeing a rate for a proofreading job, it is important to make certain that the translator/editor and outsourcer are talking about the same task, that they are "on the same page", both metaphorically and literally.

The remainder of this wiki entry should be read with the above in mind.

(With thanks to Suzan Hamer for some of the definitions.)

Overview

In translation, proofreading mainly consists of checking aspects of spelling, grammar and syntax plus the general coherency and integrity of the target text. Proofreading constitutes the translator’s quality assurance; a factor that is always necessary within a purely human procedure. Proofreading should always be carried out by an experienced translator.

While some translators prefer to proofread their own translations themselves others prefer to outsource this task. Some translators set their proofreading rate between the range of 20% to 40% of their translation rate and charge for this service separately.

Approaches

Proofreading is a topic frequently discussed among translators and it has been present in several ProZ.com polls. According to what translators have reported proofreading can be done in the following ways:

  • Proofreading on-screen (silent reading)
  • Proofreading on-screen (reading out loud to oneself or to someone else)
  • Proofreading from a printed copy/printout (silent reading)
  • Proofreading from a printed copy/printout (reading out loud to oneself or to someone else)

Some translators also report dividing the proofreading process into several steps. For example, one proofreading run only paying attention to typos or spell-check, another for grammar and coherence, another to check figures and facts, etc. See related poll.

Best practices

In approaching the proofreading task some professional translators follow certain steps that help ensure their translations meet the required quality standards. These steps include:

  • Avoiding rework: Editing and revising are tricky, treacherous and time-consuming tasks. It is better to translate each phrase as if the translation were to be published on real time. The fewer points that are saved for later the smaller the chance they will pass unnoticed during editing and proofreading.
  • Leaving some time between the translation and the proofreading process. Some translators start proofreading their translations only after some time has passed since they finished their translation (some hours, even a day). Proofreading with a clear mind in the most cases leads to the best results. This, of course, will depend on the deadlines the translator has to meet.
  • Keeping a list of dangerous words: This list may include words that are easily confusable in your target language. Words that can be frequently mistyped, in particular, words that are grammatically correct such as "where" and "were" in English, but have different meanings (homophones). Also, this type of list can include errors that are specific of a given translator. A careful scrutiny for each error on the list using the "search command" helps detect if the translator has incurred into the same error or not.
  • Running the spell and grammar checker. This should be done before editing a text. However, before checking spelling and grammar translators should select the entire document (ctrl + E), set the language to the translators' target language and make sure the checker is fully active.
  • Making sure target-language typography and punctuation rules are being respected. Different languages have different typographical and punctuation conventions and the translation should comply with target language usage. Many translators often forget this and impose source-language rules on our target-language text. For example, days of the week are capitalized in English but should never be capitalized in Spanish.
  • Checking that spacing rules for words and/or characters of the target language have been respected. For example, in English words should be separated by a single space, there should space between the word and the following punctuation mark (comma, period, colon, etc,). Translations with this type of errors give out an unprofessional image. Translators should aim at delivering a translation so good that an editor and(or a proofreader would not need to touch. Far from becoming typesetters, translators' work should at least conform to a few basic rules of "typographical hygiene."
  • Never use the "replace All" Command. This is the most deadly and fatal of all commands. Although it can be undone many times translators notice they have incurred in an error some time (even half an hour) after applying it and introducing another 100 improvements in the text. Then it is too late for control-zeeing it.
  • Making sure the translation flows naturally. Sometimes the text is free from grammar errors, but you can see that it is not the real thing. It is correct, but it reads funny. That makes the task of the editor a lot more difficult, because it is impossible to quote grammar rules to prove that the text needs changing, a situation that results in endless mud-slinging matches between translator and editor. In many cases, there is a PM involved who may not understand a word of the target language. A good way to determine whether a translation is natural is to read it aloud.
  • Making sure meaning has not been sacrificed. Natural style, however, should not be conquered at the expense of fidelity. This often is the result of an editing job done without comparing the target against source. An overeager editor often improves a translation away from the original, so to say-a case where the target language wins. Sacrificing the meaning may lead to what the French call a belle infidèle—a translation that reads beautifully, but is not true to the original. The only way to determine whether a translation is true to its original is to compare the source text with the target text. This task is sometimes neglected by editors, or by agencies that, in an attempt to cut costs, ask editors-proofreaders to refer to the original only when needed, as if there were times when double checking translations against the original was not needed.
  • Dividing the proofreading task in steps. Most translators make a point of editing their own work, even if it is to be edited later by someone else, which is very good practice. Some of those translators prefer to edit in two steps: first, compare target and source texts, to check fidelity; then read the target text alone, to see if it flows. Others do it in the reverse order: first check for flow, then for fidelity. Whatever order chosen translators should stick to it or the job will never be finished.
  • Being aware of false cognates/false friends. Translators should be aware of the false friends in his/her language pairs and check for their occurrence.
  • Checking headers, footers, graphs and text boxes. Some translators tend to go directly to the main text and forget about headers and footers, where more than one grave error lies in hiding. If the source text is an MS Word document, remember that some graphics will show only in print preview mode. And look for text boxes.
  • Running the spelling and grammar checker once more. Before delivering the job, it is advisable to run the spelling and grammar checker once more, just for safety's sake. Some grammar and spelling errors might have been incurred into while editing and this is the last chance to get rid of them.
  • Having someone else check the text. Some translators send their work to a colleague for a final check.

Polls on proofreading

Some examples of the questions asked in the past concerning the proofreading process are:

Do you proofread your translations on a printout or on-screen? 2011

When proofreading, what percentage of your corrections are for punctuation? 2011

How many times do you usually proofread your translations? 2010

As a freelancer, do you employ a proofreader? 2010

Do you charge separately for proofreading? 2010

Do you have your translation(s) proofread by a colleague when working for a direct client? 2010

When proofreading a text, do you work on a printed version? 2009

Do you take a break before proofreading your translations? 2009

As a freelancer, do you employ a proofreader? 2009

On average, what is your proofreading rate? 2006

How do you proofread your translations? 2006

Do you have a third party proofread your translations before delivery? 2005

Proofreading and Muphry's law

Muphry's law (not to be confused with Murphy's law) is an adage that states that "if you write anything criticizing editing or proofreading, there will be a fault of some kind in what you have written." The name is a deliberate misspelling of Murphy's law.

John Bangsund of the Society of Editors (Victoria) in Australia identified Muphry's law as "the editorial application of the better-known Murphy's law" and set it down in 1992 in the Society of Editors Newsletter.

The law, as set out by Bangsund, states that:

(a) if you write anything criticizing editing or proofreading, there will be a fault of some kind in what you have written; (b) if an author thanks you in a book for your editing or proofreading, there will be mistakes in the book; (c) the stronger the sentiment expressed in (a) and (b), the greater the fault; (d) any book devoted to editing or style will be internally inconsistent.

It goes on to say:

  • Muphry's Law also dictates that, if a mistake is as plain as the nose on your face, everyone can see it but you. Your readers will always notice errors in a title, in headings, in the first paragraph of anything, and in the top lines of a new page. These are the very places where authors, editors and proofreaders are most likely to make mistakes.
  • Muphry's law may be interpreted to be in accordance to a previous quote from Ambrose Bierce:

In neither taste nor precision is any man's practice a court of last appeal, for writers all, both great and small, are habitual sinners against the light; and their accuser is cheerfully aware that his own work will supply (as in making this book it has supplied) many "awful examples". ("Write it Right: A Little Blacklist of Literary Faults" 1909)

How does Muphry's law apply to translators?

The results thrown by a poll run on ProZ.com site (Have you ever been a victim of Muphry's law?) on March 2011 show that over 40% of the translators that participated in the poll were not aware of Muphry's law. Over 32% of the respondents reported having been a victim and over 11% reported having never falling a victim of such law.

References

ProZ.com's quick polls

Translation Journal

Wikipedia

Discussion related to this article

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