The Case for a Collaborative Revision Process

I’ve been thinking lately about how to get better results in the translation revision process. There are several potential issues which I think could be avoided by employing a more collaborative process. Some of the issues, largely involving a lack of communication and coordination between translator and reviser, can be found in the processes of some translation agencies. However, I think that these issues are relevant outside of translation agencies too, such as when only one of the two translators is in contact with the end client and the second person either is or behaves like a subcontractor.

Responsibility

Who is responsible for the end product delivered to the client? The translator? The reviser? An intermediary? Do multiple people share responsibility? If so, have they been given equal say? Is there an open line of communication between everyone sharing responsibility? Have all parties sharing responsibility agreed on the final wording? What happens if the reviser makes mistakes and the translator is never given a chance to correct them? What happens if the translator is given a chance to review the reviser’s changes but then rejects important changes or makes new mistakes upon implementation?

If the translator and reviser are not in contact with each other, it’s harder for them to do their best work, make suggestions, check each other’s work, and agree on the best wording together. If they are in contact and sending suggestions back and forth, it needs to be clear who is responsible for finalizing the document for delivery.

Accountability

A translator might feel a lacking sense of accountability when another translator or agency has contact with the end client but not this translator. This translator might assume the client does not know their name, so they are not accountable to the end client, they are just a cog in a wheel and want to get paid for their part. If everyone feels involved in the process and responsible for the end product and, where relevant, the end client even knows the name of each key person involved in the process, then they all feel a greater sense of accountability.

The translator might also feel a greater sense of accountability if the translation agency has a preferred supplier model and the translator is aware that they are the preferred supplier. If the translator and reviser share responsibility and both feel accountable for the end product, then both of them are invested in the end product being as good as possible. Neither of them are prone to “sending and forgetting”.

Speaking of “sending and forgetting”, I think getting away from that mentality is a key success factor for translators who aspire to serve premium markets. And speaking of premium markets and accountability, let’s not forget about the ultimate measure of accountability a la Chris Durban: Signing your translations! You don’t get a greater sense of accountability and motivation to do your best work than that. I would know, the first time I ever asked a client to put my name on a translation, I spent about 20 hours on 2000 words…

Feedback and peer review

How do you improve if you don’t get any feedback? In situations where the reviser’s version is sent directly to the client without the translator seeing it, the translator misses out on potentially valuable feedback and insights. Ongoing dialogue, feedback, and collaboration form the backbone of effective peer review. You constantly learn from each other, improve, and keep each other in check. I’m talking about peer review in the sense used by Kevin Hendzel. Here are two posts from his blog on the subject of collaborative revision which I enjoyed rereading for inspiration on this subject: Three Lessons: Humility, Collaboration, Perseverance. and Confirmation Bias: Why Collaboration is the Path to Translators’ Best Work.

My experience of collaboration

Ok, that’s enough with theoretical problems. Now I am going to talk about my own experience structuring the revision process for my own direct clients. Here’s a case in point about what it took to produce the best results on a complicated text for an important client.

First I did a rough draft, then I polished my translation and sent it to a trusted reviser. The reviser went through it and made suggested changes. Then me and the reviser (both native speakers of the target language) and a native speaker of the source language sat in the same room and went through all of the sentences and words flagged as requiring discussion. We went through the whole file and agreed together on the best wording in all of these cases. Now that degree of collaboration is not necessarily necessary for all types of jobs. Sometimes it is enough for the translator and reviser to go through any flagged areas in person, over the phone, or chat without a third person

I think in general that we should be charging enough money and planning to have enough time for the translator and reviser to discuss the text and to both see and give input on the final wording if we want to truly be able to do our best work. After all, two heads are better than one. To me, that’s the key to avoiding essentially all of the potential problems mentioned earlier: Unclear responsibility, lack of accountability, sending and forgetting, and lacking feedback.

On a personal note, those who know me will not be surprised to see me advocating this type of collaborative working method. Why? Because I enjoy working with other people and I don’t like to make decisions on my own (my translation team buddies can attest to how many minor things I run by them before making up my mind). It makes me feel secure and confident to know that someone I trust has revised my translation and signed off on it before I let a client see it. I learn new things and get awesome inspiration basically every time I collaborate with a colleague (either as the translator or as the reviser). I wouldn’t have it any other way, except of course when I don’t have a choice because a client orders a for information only translation that does not require polishing…

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