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THE QUIET JOY OF PROOFREADING

tłumacze freelance weryfikacja

In our previous text, Paweł gave his answer to the fundamental question – why do we like revision? Today, Martyna will have her say, but from a slightly different perspective.

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A disclaimer is necessary before I start. Although we have enumerated the strict differences between checking, revising, reviewing, and proofreading in one of our articles, today I’m going to treat them as one and use these notions interchangeably, referring in general to all kinds of tasks which require working on a text, other than writing or translating.

focus dictionary translation proofreading

My musings might seem quite vague or even overly solemn, but that’s what happens when you try to describe the indescribable. So far, the texts on our blog have mostly concerned specific subjects and technical matters, but I think it’s high time we gave some room to more elusive feelings, as they are usually the ones which make us enjoy what we do at our work.

Why do I like revising and proofreading? Is there anything to like about these activities? Although it’s pretty easy to understand why someone gets excited over language learning or translating, text editing and proofreading sound like rather boring and arduous tasks. I’m sure all of you have heard your language and literature teachers moaning about the piles of essays to correct awaiting them at home.

In fact, school is where this all started for me. I often corrected my friends’ assignments and I treated that as entertainment rather than ordeal. And I still feel this way.

I believe I’m not a harsh proofreader – although I guess the people who receive their texts from me might disagree, seeing them shine red in the Track Changes mode. I normally fight against cliché phrases in the texts that I edit, but now I’m going to actually use one: the devil is in the details. It’s the details that usually undergo changes in the texts and translations we check, as they’re what escapes the attention of their authors most frequently.

Microsoft Word Track Changes
Sample corrections – English text, Polish comments

I am lucky (or unlucky, as I’ll explain later) to be quite perceptive of details. I wouldn’t even say I pay particular attention to them on a daily basis: I can simply see them, they catch my eye, they attract my attention. This can be really tiring, as not all of the details I see are worth it. But the ability to perceive is very useful if you work with texts and words.

Being sensitive to details, I simply need to turn up my concentration levels to spot almost all (if not all!) the problems in a text. And that’s what I like about proofreading! It’s nice to feel that something you’ve seen as an ordinary, neutral feature of yours can actually come in handy and be of use. Identifying and repairing errors and mistakes in texts gives me a lot of satisfaction and the sense of a job well done. With the first scanning of a page, I am already able to notice the biggest deficiencies. However, the unwilling spotting of typos in anything I read in my free time can be really annoying. 😉

I intentionally use the word “repairing”. The goal of a proofreader is not to point out faults mercilessly. The goal is to repair the defects, to make the text usable and readable, to ensure linguistic consistency. And that’s the fun of that! We all know that entropy rules the world and trying to escape chaos is pointless. But there are some people, including me, who cherish symmetry and organise their world so that there is as much harmony and balance as possible. Yes, working with texts allows you to introduce some form of order in the universe. [The Star Wars vibes are not intended!]

Of course, that doesn’t mean that the job of a proofreader, editor, or reviewer is to make all the texts sound the same, by no means! The key is to find the text’s melody and make sure it’s all internally coherent, to honour the author’s intentions and style. I know I’ve just entered the territory of exceptional vagueness, because I’m not referring to grammar or punctuation rules but to something more than that. Knowing and using the language correctly and clearly is indispensable – but other things you need is high sensitivity and intuition which help you understand the author’s message and meaning. This way you can ensure that the text expresses exactly that. You need to skilfully maintain the delicate balance between the specific features of the text at hand and the rules governing a given language or register.

It might be said that working on a text or on a translation is like sculpting. I’ve never had exceptional manual skills. I only learned to tie my shoes when I was well over 6 years old; I hated knitting classes at school; and I still find it immensely difficult to thread a needle. But I like to refer to my editing work as my mental-manual skill. It’s actually all about tying, knitting, and threading, but using words and sentences. You add and remove something here and there and all your movements must be precise, accurate, and focused.

That’s where I take my pleasure: perfecting the nuances in the text and getting everything shipshape; making sure the target text corresponds with the source text in every translatable aspect; matching and combining words like colours or sounds; polishing the text to make it clear, legible, and cohesive at all levels. I love that feeling when I put the finishing touches, read the whole text, and then something clicks and I know now everything is in the right place and the text is ready to be given in.

Proofreading, revising, editing – this is not artist’s work, but it is like handicraft, where you fiddle with words and as a result the text reads well, is free from defects, and helps someone express something they find important. What’s more, there’s always dialogue involved. If I want to introduce a serious modification, I don’t do it bluntly and silently: I explain my decisions in the comments, I ask the author or the translator about their opinion, I give my ideas which can then be further discussed. And that’s very enjoyable, too!

On a different note, when proofreading or revising a text, you need to adopt a very cautious approach. What that means is that it’s a good practice to cross-check the facts (such as dates, numbers, proper names) given by the author, unless you’re dealing with a typically scientific or scholarly text. Also, in the case of translation revision, you need to check if the tiny pieces information are in accordance with the source text. Everyone makes mistakes, and that gives editors the chance to play at detectives who search for the sources of information given and can learn a lot for themselves.

translator proofreader editor
Proofreading and revising may get difficult sometimes

Speaking of sources – I love working with dictionaries, especially the unusual ones. Thesauruses and collocation dictionaries are my best friends – I consult them to find out what words like each other or resemble each other in meaning. When in doubt, I refer to online language companions or style guides. Interestingly enough, although I think that the English language allows more freedom than Polish, it is at the same time better codified and described, so it’s easier to find answers to any questions concerning English than Polish. Even if the answer is “you can use both forms”, at least I know for sure that I can.

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When I took my first steps in the world of translation (mind you, this is another cliché phrase that is better avoided!), I didn’t really think about doing any proofreading or translation revision jobs. But the jobs came in and it turned out I actually loved them.

Being a perfectionist can be a nuisance but it can also be a genuine value when you work with languages. That’s why I decided to join a year-long post-graduate course on text editing at the Jagiellonian University – I want to become an even better word sculptor. I’m going to complete this course soon and among others, there’s one thing I’ve learned for sure. Learning a language is a never-ending process. Especially learning your native language.

We hope our two articles have helped you understand the curious course of translators’ and editors’ thinking. To put it short – it’s cool to do what you love and to love what you do! 😉

Martyna

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