Today’s text is going to be about the source texts sent to us to be translated. How to prepare a text for translation so that the process of translation is smooth and undisturbed by unnecessary problems? The clients can do a couple of things which will help the translators achieve an even better quality of the target text. They can save the translator’s time which can then be used to work on the text itself. I’m going to present the crucial points according to their level of importance, which may sometimes differ for individual projects.
The final version of the source file
Let’s begin with the most important thing – a text commissioned for translation should be its final, ultimate, and definitive version. This is normally the case – frequently, the texts we translate are not written by the client: he or she usually also receives the ready version of the source file from a third party, e.g. an agreement drafted by a contractor or an instruction manual for a machine purchased by the company.
However, we often make translations which are directly edited by the client for a particular publication. The client may be tempted – especially with the looming publication and release deadlines – to send the text in parts, one by one. This is of course quite understandable, but very difficult for the translator. Firstly, because in such a situation, it is hard to determine the amount of text which will be translated, make the pricing, and schedule the whole project. ‘There will be 5 or 10 pages more’ will not make it easy for the translators – they may not be able to estimate how much time will be necessary to translate the remaining fragments and to organise other projects.
Secondly, when we receive only excerpts of texts (e.g. only the beginning or some middle parts), errors and mistakes are likely to occur. The translator needs to know the whole text and the whole context to make the right translation decisions, e.g. concerning the terminology or register. The same goes for modifications within the source text during the translation process. Removing, altering, or extending some sentences and paragraphs may end up in a lack of cohesion and coherence of the translation. Redrafting the original often means that the translation will also have to be edited again – and that results in additional costs and delays. To avoid unwanted charges and last-minute work, it is crucial to send the final, clean version of the source text.
Another essential aspect is the editable format of the source file, if available. Nowadays, most text documents are Microsoft Word’s .doc or .docx files; however, in the case of texts with complex formatting and graphic elements, .pdf files are probably the most popular ones. As most professional translators use CAT tools, which usually work best with Word’s formats, .pdf files may be somewhat problematic. The subject of using and converting .pdf files deserves a separate article, but let me just say a few words about this now. In a situation like this, translators can choose between using an OCR programme, Adobe Acrobat, or a plugin in the CAT. All these solutions have a certain error rate, but their main drawback is the time the conversion adds to the translation process. Instead of focusing on the translation itself, the translator concentrates on a marginal service which increases the price of translation and extends the deadline.
If possible then, to avoid any mistakes in the text and speed up the translation process, it is best to send a Microsoft Word file, or a similar opensource file type, e.g. OpenOffice or Libre Office. Of course, we do understand that sometimes it is impossible to get hold of an editable version of the text – if that is the case, we make it clear that the text is going to be converted and that this may slightly prolong the translation.
Nevertheless, even .doc and .docx file are not always ready for translation. Sometimes the files contain unexpected line breaks, page breaks, paragraph breaks, for instance, to avoid ‘widows and orphans’. In other cases, the text is centred by means of tabulators, or spaces are used where tabulators should be. This is a source of problems for CATs, as these programmes usually interpret new paragraphs as new segments. This can be helped by joining the broken sentences in the programme or in Microsoft Word, but of course – that takes time and is not a part of translation as such. It’s great when the source text is polished by an editor before being sent: this shortens the time of translation and saves the translator from struggling with the unruly source file.
Editable text in illustrations
A similar issue concerns all sorts of illustrations containing text. Ideally, the text in the images should be editable: then, there is no problem with having them translated. However, this is hardly ever the case. Normally, they are not editable, so the translator has a couple of solutions to choose from, the most popular one being a bilingual chart containing the texts which accompany illustrations. This is quite a painstaking task when the pictures are plenty. What matters here is to determine whether these texts need translation at all – it often happens that they don’t. And that leads us to the next point.
The scope of translation
The translator needs to be precisely informed about what exactly is to be translated. The clients usually make it clear and say whether they need a whole text translated or only parts of it. The best practice is to provide detailed information about which pages or fragments are to be translated (e.g. from Point 5.5 on page 2 to Point 7.8 on page 12 inclusive), even mentioning particular beginning and ending words. The fragments meant to be translated can be also marked with colours. We also need to know whether charts, graphs, and illustrations containing texts are to be translated as well.
Unless required by personal data protection or confidentiality matters, it is not recommendable to definitely remove the fragments which should not be translated. Those parts may include additional details which help in understanding the text as a whole or its problematic elements: an explanation of an abbreviation, a description of how a particular machine works, extended information on a given phenomenon, etc.
The last issue refers not to the text itself but to the reference materials which can help in translation, provided by the client. These usually concern terminology, if the text requires the use of a particular term out of a few existing versions, or some useful stylistic guidelines. For example: in Polish texts, some non-Polish companies want their name to be always preceded by the word firma or spółka (Polish for ‘company’), whereas others categorically forbid it. Some clients provide translators with their own glossaries, useful links to the company’s website or particular products, and in the best scenario: similar, already translated texts for reference. We are really pleased when we receive these because that makes our work much easier and faster; what is more, this helps to improve the quality of the target text and the clients get exactly what they want.
As you can see, there are several aspects which can be taken into account by the client to help the translator make the translation process smoother and thus achieve the highest quality of the target text. Of course, we are able to deal with any of the abovementioned problems but we are really glad when the files we receive are ready for translation. This makes our cooperation better, and the translation is completed quicker.
We are waiting for your files then and will be happy to get in touch with you!