Friday, October 24, 2008


A good editor is an essential part of a translation team, but working with a bad one may be a nightmare.
  • A good editor must be a good translator, but sometimes a good translator is not a good editor: a good translator who has too high an opinion of himself and who is convinced that the definition of error is "something translated different from what what I would do" is unlikely to make a good editor.
  • A good editor must know when to change things that are not real errors. This may be necessary to achieve an appropriate register, to standardize style and terminology in team projects, to follow the style guide provided by the customer, etc.
  • A good editor must also know when, instead, it is better to leave things alone (for example, when the translation is done in a style different than one would use, but which is still appropriate).
  • A good editor needs to know how to indicate when a translation is wrong, how to indicate the type of error, and when instead to indicate that the changes made are preferential.
When I work as an editor I tend to make many changes in the translations I receive. But I also take care to say to the customer when the corrections are because of real errors (serious or otherwise) and when I am suggesting stylistic changes. For example:

"You'll see that I have made a lot of changes, but the translation was not, in fact, incorrect: these are almost all preferential changes made to give more of a "marketing" flavor to an otherwise correct translation."


  1. That's the dilemma - editing is essential and I feel any translation agency forgoing this step (and there are many) is practically guaranteeing a substandard service.

    But as you say, what happens when the editor comes along and says, "oh, no, that's not right", completely unaware of the hours you spent trawling round the Internet and other sources to confirm that, yes, that is JUST the term that is required...? Editors can actually make serious mistakes in "correcting" something they feel is not right.

    I think communication is key. The editor cannot have the last word without the translator having a chance to defend his/her choices and dispute the editor's decisions. In my company (specialising in Serbian-English translation) ALL translations are edited and then returned to the translator for a second round of comments and corrections. Then the editor has another look, and the final say. It gets quit involved, especially on complex projects, and it's not cheap, but I believe it's a bare minimum if we are taking translation quality seriously.


  2. Mark's comment on the importance of communication is correct. Many translators actually welcome the input of a editor.

  3. Yes, I agree, with Odista - we also always check and, where necessary edit, our translations and find that is is absolutely necessary to send them back to the original translator to approve, as they have almost invariably done more research on the subject and may have had their reasons for choosing specific terms etc. A more difficult situation can arise when texts are sent for editing by clients to their in-country agents, who, though they work in marketing departments and hold responsible positions, are simply NOT linguists and sometimes re-work the text in their own fashion and actually introduce syntax or grammatical errors! Then there is a dilemma!

  4. In short, an editor/transltor must focus on translating to convey the original meaning as accurately as possible instead of translating word-for-word??

  5. Hi Cathy,

    I would say rather that an editor/translator must focus on making sure that the translation fulfills as best as possible its purpose (skopos)... and, yes, generally (but no necessarily always), that is done by focusing on conveying in the target text the original meaning of the source text.

  6. I am aware of how challenging it can be to find an editor who possesses both strong editing abilities and a solid understanding of translations. In addition, it is true to say that "a skilled translator is not always a good editor." Choosing reputable language translation services is, in my opinion, always favourable.


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