That’s not what I wrote! How to handle edits to your translations

By Marion Rhodes, CTA Social Media Coordinator and
Jim McMillan, CTA Vice President

Whether you’re working for translation agencies or collaborating with a colleague who reviews your translations, chances are you’ve been in a situation where an editor made changes to your original work. Suddenly, that text you were so proud of only a few days ago stares back at you from the screen, red lines striking through your words and new phrases replacing the translations you thought up.

We all take pride in our work, and seeing someone criticize our final product can be hard to swallow. But translators are only human. Sometimes, we make errors and edits are justified. In the best of cases, edits improve our work, teaching us how to be even better at our jobs in the process. Other times, however, you may find yourself staring at a large number of edits you simply do not agree with, wondering how to respond to your client. Should you stand by your original translation? Accept all changes against your better judgment and move on to another project? Offer to redo the text?

The answer depends largely on which type of edit you are dealing with. Edits can fall into three categories: good, neutral and bad. Here’s how to handle each one of them:

1. Good changes
These are edits that improve the text, correct a mistake you may have made, make the language flow better or use better terms than you chose. In this case, you really should thank the editor for making your translation even better. At the very least, acknowledge the edits and point out instances where the text was improved.

2. Neutral changes
These edits neither add nor subtract from the overall quality of the translation. You may read them and think: “Yeah, it’s technically correct, but no better than my choice.” Don’t give these edits much thought. Simply count them, if you need to keep a tally, and provide the client with a final number of edits you consider correct, but unnecessary.

3. Bad changes
Sometimes, an editor may introduce changes that make the text harder to read or are flat-out incorrect. If you encounter edits you would really object to as detracting from the accuracy, readability, style or flow of the piece, stand up for your original word choice and explain why you think the editor’s changes make the text worse rather than better.

Once you’ve reviewed the revised translation, draft a response to your client (or the editor if you are collaborating directly). If many of the edits were in the first category of good changes and you feel that the work fell below your standards, you may consider offering your client something to make up for it, such as a discount on a future translation. If, however, you feel that most changes are in the neutral to bad categories, give a brief explanation with a few examples and stand your ground. Be professional yet firm. After all, it is your translation, whether or not it will have your name attached. In the end, you will feel better knowing that the end product is a document you can be proud of.

One final bit of advice: Be objective and impersonal in presenting your defense. Imagine it was your mother or spouse doing the editing when you draft your feedback. You never know, the edits may have been made by the person who hired you!