Behind the words

We write for the reader

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It is not enough for our texts to be free of error.

We also want them to read well. Our secret client is the addressee. In our translations and editing, we want our own texts to read like originals. This holds for texts which demand close adherence to the prescribed wording – as do written agreements, financial reporting or policy-sensitive press statements – just as it holds for texts which demand close adherence to the spirit, as do periodical publications, website presentations and other widely distributed media.

Getting behind the words

In each case we have to get behind the words of a text and into its message, even into the mind of its author. At the same time, we need a secure sense of target audience, and must learn to speak their language. Where we need to be precise, we shall be precise, but never at the expense of clarity or accessibility.

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The decisive interface

As translators and copy-editors, we are the guiding hand of the author’s intent and the advocate of the addressee. We are the decisive interface between the two. We write for the author, yes, but in truth we write for the reader.

Readers are seldom willing or indeed able to compare our text, in their language, with the source text in the author’s language. If the wording of the source text lacks clarity, accessibility, or style appropriate to the intended media, we have a problem the reader does not [and (ideally) should not] see.

Before tackling the first line

Authors should not be blamed for difficulties unintentionally caused (first in comprehension, then in readability) by their being sometimes too close to their subject. Translators and editors must ensure that they have acquired sufficient background knowledge to convey the author’s intended meaning before they begin to tackle word choices. A thorough check-up of any text is therefore essential before starting the first line of any translating or editing job.

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Nobody should ever notice us

Since we are ultimately judged by our ability to smoothly convey the message from the author to the reader – and in a way that can be accepted by both without hesitation – the highest praise we can ever hope for is that nobody will ever notice we were involved. Work like this takes ability, sensitivity, dedication, and discipline. And as with any creative process, it takes incubation periods and iterative loops, and these things take time.

Getting the timing right

This basic requisite of translating and editing is easily miscalculated. Getting the timing right should not mean working against the clock. But if our translators and editors, working at the tail end of the communications process, can only rarely ask their customers or readers to wait, it is equally true that “the best I could do in the time available” is not a valid compromise. Quality is at stake here.

The better solution is teamwork, communicating (unexpected) problems as they arise, and treating your own product as a translator with respect by respecting your own limits.