Correction, revision, proofreading, editing: Say what?

Correction, Revision, Proofreading, Editing: Define these translation concepts and communicate with your client in order to avoid unpleasant surprises!

The Issue

Correction, revision, proofreading, what these concepts really mean, and the importance of translation terminology

Here’s a question that translators, copywriters and other localization professionals, might answer with somewhat raised eyebrows, thinking of it as a topic for a seasonal article that comes back every year, sometimes to make up for a slow period… So why did I pick this topic? Simply because it is important for us translators and professionals of intercultural relations. Any beginner, at least once, has fallen into the trap of vagueness that surrounds these concepts, hence it is useful to attempt to clarify them. In fact, this is something that they don’t teach you in translation and interpretation schools such as ESIT, ISIT, or ISTI so you learn “on the job” at your own expense! 

What did I do the first time that I was asked to “review” a translation, without any further specifications? I started with an exhaustive comparison of the source text and its translation to spot errors, inconsistencies, omissions or terminological errors. After which I carefully checked the style, spelling, grammar, punctuation, typography and so on, of the target text! My client was happy with my job, but finding my remuneration a little thin for such a comprehensive work, I requested a revision of the initial quote. I was then told that I had been over-zealous and the client was right… The moral of this story is that you must not only define the concepts, but also make sure that your client defines them the same way you do.

The Concepts: Correction, Revision, Proofreading

In order to clear my head, once and for all, I committed myself to a serious and thorough research based on numerous and sometimes contradictory sources, which at first somewhat increased my confusion. You’ll find here my little summary, deliberately simplified, because as you may have guessed each institution, each organization, each company cultivates its own jargon and little quirks!

My summary results from the compilation of these numerous sources: a “correction” of a translation would include two successive steps of equal importance, first the review step, then the proofreading step. 

Revision is the comparative scrutiny of the source text and the final text in order to detect contradictions, nonsense, mistranslations, omissions and terminological errors (on this subject, you can consult the following book).

Proofreading involves checking spelling, grammar, typography, punctuation errors or any typos. It’s as simple as that.

What’s at Stake

What are the real consequences, you ask? I would simply answer that they are major consequences money wise. Based on advice I collected on blogs, forums and a variety of professional sites, for a revision you should charge about 50% of the price of the translation and for a simple proofreading, approximately 25%. I hope that by now I convinced you to clarify with your client what they mean by correction, revision, proofreading or editing. These four words, even among some translation professionals is not fixed and can lead to misunderstandings. I don’t know if that’s any consolation, but it seems that the English terminology is just as imprecise. Do you know exactly what your Anglo-Saxon translation agency is asking from you when they request a proofreading, editing, revision or a correction job? Roughly, proofreading would be the equivalent of rereading, whereas editing, copy-editing and revision would be the equivalent of revision.

A little advice to conclude? Communicate with your client, you will avoid unpleasant surprises!

Translation into English: Chloe Findlay

Discover our translation agency.

This article has been written by Agnès

Agnès studied translation at ESIT, in Paris. She is a lawyer and an English-to French-translator; she is also a professor of translation at ESIT.