Quality Assurance and Revision in Translation

How do we define translation quality?

There are a multitude of factors that can be considered when defining the concept of quality in translation, the importance of specifying for this purpose the object of assessment (process or product resulting from translation) and the aspects that can be assessed in a translation to determine its quality. This accumulation of factors, together with the relativity and subjectivity inherent in the notion of quality, from a diachronic and synchronic perspective, make it practically impossible to have a definition of the concept of quality in translation agreed upon by all the agents involved (translators and reviewers, TSPs, clients and end users, translator trainers and researchers).

In any case, it seems reasonable to affirm that the implementation, application, monitoring and verification of a series of standardized procedures, from the beginning to the end of the translation process, will result in a higher quality of the final product resulting from this process (the translation). The translation market is no exception in terms of business trends and strategies aimed at developing and implementing quality assurance systems3 as a key management element. Let us look at what is meant by this concept in the provision of translation services.

Translation quality assurance (QA) is the set of procedures applied by all members of the translating entity before, during and after the translation production process to ensure that the quality objectives relevant to the client have been met. The translation QA therefore includes procedures to ensure:

  1. The quality of service (through adherence to work guidelines, proper handling of client complaints, and archiving and retention of copies of work).
  2. The quality of the physical product (through compliance with presentation, layout, formatting and delivery deadline requirements).
  3. The quality of the translation (through client satisfaction).

As can be seen from the above definition, various procedures can be used to achieve translation QA, with procedure being understood as the specified way of performing an activity, as defined in ISO 8402: 1994.

It should be noted that this classification does not include the post-editing of translations, as this is a procedure with particular characteristics in terms of the object of assessment, the latter being the product resulting from machine translation. On the other hand, it should be stressed that while the main purpose of translation QA is to prevent problems in relation to the client’s quality objectives, that of the above-mentioned VPs is to contribute to translation quality assurance by detecting quality problems during the translation process or in the resulting product, the target text (TL), but with different methods, objectives and addressees. Consequently, establishing a system for translation QA requires, on the one hand, determining what the object of assessment is to be (the provision of the service, the translation process or the TL as the physical product of the translation process) and, on the other hand, establishing assessment criteria and procedures that determine how to apply the criteria in question.

With regard to the object of assessment, it is worth considering that the ISO 17100:2015 and EN 15038:2006 standards are characterized by being oriented, fundamentally, to the provision of translation services by TSPs (see Parra-Galiano, 2010). For this reason, ensuring compliance with a whole series of requirements and the application of the work and management procedures stipulated by these standards, throughout the translation process, does not imply an absolute guarantee (100%) of the quality of the TL as a final product, considering the variety and quantity of factors that come into play for its assessment.

In the following sections we will limit ourselves to defining the key concepts related to one of the above-mentioned VPs, revision, in order to show how it contributes to translation QA. To this end, we will begin by illustrating the uncertainty arising from the use of the term revision and the types of revision that are performed, considering various criteria.

The Concept of Revision Applied to Translation

The problem of terminological imprecision when speaking of the revision of translations, both in Spanish and in other languages, has been addressed by various authors. In English, for example, this lack of precision is sometimes reflected in the use of some of the following terms as if they were synonyms: bilingual editing, checking, editing, proofreading, revising, revision, review and self-revision; the same happens in French with the terms autorévision, correction, relecture, révision, révision bilingue, révision linguistique, révision unilingue and vérification.

One of the greatest confusions observed in Spanish, for example, derives from using the term revision as a synonym for correction, to refer to interventions aimed at improving the quality of an original text, or from using it interchangeably to refer to the revision carried out by a third party (the reviser) and to that carried out by the translator of the TL (self-revision), when it is not used in its broadest sense.

Let’s see what is meant by review in the normative documents mentioned in the introduction to this article. ISO 17100:2015 defines the term revision, in section 2. (Concepts related to translation workflow and technology), as: bilingual examination of target language content against source language content for its suitability for the agreed purpose.

In Section 2 (Terms and definitions) of UNE-EN 15038, the concept of revision is defined as follows: Examination of a translation as to its suitability for the intended purpose, comparison of the source and target texts, and recommendation of the appropriate corrections.

The definition of this same concept and its purpose (object) according to the DGT Revision Manual is as follows:

Comparison of a translation with its original in order to point out or correct possible deficiencies, both in its content and in its formal presentation.

Within the DGT framework, the purpose of the review is threefold:

  1. Improve the quality of the translation.
  2. To serve as a quality control instrument.
  3. To act as a means of professional training for both the translator and the reviser.

The three definitions above, despite their differences, reflect as a whole the fundamental characteristics of proofreading: 1) the object of intervention (the TL); 2) the need to compare the source text (original) and the target text (translation); and 3) its main function: to detect errors and deficiencies in the TL, considering its purpose, for its subsequent correction in order to guarantee the quality of the translation.

To complete and qualify the above definitions, we will now present our concept of proofreading in its broadest sense:

Careful reading of a target text (TL), considered as a semi-finished product or draft translation, carried out by the same person who has translated the text (translator) or a third party (reviewer), generally comparing it with the source text (TO) and using a series of criteria established a priori, in order to check whether the specifications of the translation order have been met and to make the appropriate corrections and improvements in the TL, before delivering it to the client.

Having explained the various definitions of the concept of revision as applied to translation, it is worth making another terminological observation as it is related to the criteria we will use in the following section to classify the types of revision.

We can distinguish between two types of revision, taking as a criterion whether the object of this intervention is a source text (TO) or a translated text (TL). The terms he uses in French for these interventions are révision unilingue and révision bilingue, respectively. However, we believe that the adoption of this criterion (the object of the intervention) is not appropriate for our classification because it is directly linked to the use of French terminology. To avoid imprecision and confusion, we advocate the use of the term correction in English to refer to what we might call révision unilingue (being the modifications and improvements made to an original text by its author or a third party) and the term revision to refer to the concept of révision bilingue, which implies the comparison of the TL and the TO.

Types of Revision: Classification and Criteria

Revision practice can be very varied considering the diversity of factors that come into play: who does the revision (translator or a third party), in what field it is carried out (professional or academic), whether or not it has an additional purpose (translator’s training), the degree to which it is practiced and the parameters used, among others. Establishing a classification of the types of proofreading therefore requires first determining the criteria to be used for this purpose. In this section, we will classify the types of revision according to two criteria: 1) the subject or persons who carry out the revision and 2) the existence of a secondary purpose according to the field in which it is practiced.

According to the Review Agent

Considering the subject and the number of people who may intervene in the revision of the translation, three basic types of revision can be distinguished: self-revision (AR), reciprocal revision (RR) in its two variants, concordance revision (RCC) and cross reading (LC), and collective revision (RCL).

We will begin by addressing self-revision (SR) as an activity inherent to the translation process and, consequently, mandatory for every translator. Self-revision is of crucial importance, particularly for freelancers who do not always have the possibility of having their translations reviewed by a third party before delivery to the client. For a translation to be considered finished, it must at least have undergone a self-revision (AR), meaning the revision of the TL by the same person who translated the text (the translator). This statement is corroborated in the DGT Revision Manual when it describes the first step (Preparation and delivery of the text) of an ideal act of revision: The translator delivers an ideal text, which is the one that the translator has prepared and delivered to the client.

The translator delivers a finished translation (i.e.: subject to self-revision, spell-checking, etc.), with an indication of any checks, doubts and solutions, and, where appropriate, the relevant reference documents”.

A professional translator should be aware of the importance of RA, as reflected in ISO 17100:2015 when describing this mandatory activity in the translation process, which it calls check”: examination of target language content carried out by the translator, and specifying what it consists of: This task shall at least include the translator’s overall self-revision of the target content for possible semantic, grammatical and spelling issues, and for omissions and other errors, as well as ensuring compliance with any relevant translation project specifications”.

Regarding the use of terminology, note that UNE-EN 15038:2006 uses the term “Proofing” as a synonym for self-revision (AR):

Once the initial translation has been completed, the translator must check his or her own work. This process includes checking that the meaning has been translated correctly, that there are no omissions or errors and that the defined service specifications have been met. The translator must make any necessary corrections.

Since the review of the translation by a third party represents an added value to the TL, the widespread use of the Internet among freelance translators working without intermediaries has contributed to the promotion of peer review (RR). Revision (RR), also known as inter-revision and cross-revision, is the practice of two translators revising each other, sometimes by comparing the TL with the TO or by simply reading the entire TL as if it were a TO. Since the revision of the translation by a third party implies an additional cost for the client and for the translator, as it is a complementary service, freelancers can avoid or reduce the payment of these additional expenses by using professional colleagues.

Concordance checking (RCC) and cross-checking (LC) are two variants of proofreading. Relecture concordance (RCC) consists of reading the translation aloud for a colleague to check the correspondence with the source text. RCC can be practiced between two translators whose mother tongue is that of the TL or with different mother tongues (those of the language combination in question).

In large companies and institutions, translation quality has become a negotiable, if not secondary, factor, since productivity is the only thing that counts. At the European Commission’s Translation Service (the largest translation service in the world), proofreading seemed to be an endangered species since it had not hired proofreaders for some time. However, this did not seem to be a mistake if one considers that the distinction between translators and proofreaders was unrealistic and unhealthy, since proofreading has been seen more as an activity than a function.

The progressive and generalized reduction of revision in the SoT, for economic reasons, led to the spread of the practice of cross-reading (a variant of RR) and the simultaneous promotion of the importance of self-revision. Today, in an institutional context such as that of the Directorate General of Translation (DGT), cross-reading (LC) is performed between two translators (who usually have the same rank or category) by reading the full TL and consulting the TO, if necessary, and consulting the TO, if something catches the reviewer’s attention, to detect possible errors.

Finally, collective review (CR) is performed by several people, usually a multidisciplinary group composed of terminologists, specialists in a certain field or subject matter, the client or his representative, the translators of the text and IT experts, among others. CR is often used in international organizations because it is one of the most effective types of proofreading for comparing and conforming texts in different languages.

Nathan Woods

About the author

Nathan is a lead project manager with over 16 of experience directing translation projects, as well as website and software localization projects.

ABC Translations