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  • Writer's pictureCarlie Sitzman MA, CT

Translation Behind the Scenes: Refining the Rough Draft

A translation’s first draft is much like a blocky painting before the artist fills in the details. You may have a good idea of what is going on, but it lacks refinement. In the case of a PDF, the translator will literally be working on visual details to ensure that the Microsoft Word file looks like the original PDF. Content will also be refined, however, with the translator reading through to add little nuances, correct errors, and refine sentence structure when necessary. Depending on how the document will be used, the client may also choose to have a second translator proofread the document to give it that essential bit of pizzazz.


Emerging from their full immersion in the text’s content, the translator will turn to formatting. If the original document is in editable format, this may simply be a matter of checking that everything is in its place. The translation software I mentioned before will generally export the translation into the document while retaining the original formatting. A word or two may travel a bit too far afield on the page, but everything should look great for the most part.

PDF files are another matter altogether. Some translators piece together a rough format as they translate. This means everything is mapped out and translated, but it isn’t exactly visually pleasing. Only after the rough draft is the text beautified to make its layout reflect the original. With the entire text already gracing the page, there is no danger of the text expanding or contracting and ruining the formatting as the translator arranges their visual masterpiece. During the proofreading stages, this also enables the translator to check both formatting and translation accuracy at the same time, producing a fully refined translation at the end.

Bilingual Proofread Original Translator

With the overall context in mind and the first rough draft completed, the translator will commence a bilingual proofread. This involves reading through the entire text and fixing any issues that the translator can identify. Such a process allows the translator to focus even more on the details the second time around, since they no longer have to devote attention to the act of translating. They will seek to identify small mistakes such as words in the original text that were erroneously omitted from the translation, grammatical mistakes, and minor typos to name a few. The translator will also correct any misunderstandings in meaning precipitated by a lack of initial understanding of the text as a whole. Finally, the translator will also check to make sure that identical words and phrases are all translated the same for consistency. By the time the translator’s own bilingual proofread is complete, the translation should be consistent, polished, coherent, and relatively error-free.

Second Translator Proofread – Or Not

What happens after the translator’s bilingual proofread depends entirely on how the client will be using the document. A translation proofread exclusively by the original translator would be very good for internal informational purposes. Documents destined for publication, however, should be proofread by a second person. This way, the second person can look at the document with fresh eyes and see possible improvements the translator may have missed. Think of those commercials where people are “blind” to how their house smells, because they spend so much time there. A translator may have gone “blind” to enhancements that could improve the text overall and are definitely essential to making a good impression in a publication. Changing the essential characteristics and writing style of the document, however, is not a priority during the second revision. The second translator will take a minimalist approach to making changes, only modifying things that truly enhance document quality. This ensures that the document is polished, free of even the smallest of errors, and ready for the spotlight.

Final Review by Original Translator

Once the text has been proofread by a second translator, the marked-up document will be returned to the original translator for review. At this point, the original translator will look through the changes and either approve or reject them. Modifications are generally accepted, since they usually do add value. When a drastic change is made by the second translator and the first one disagrees, however, the two may engage in a dialog to decide which is the better option. Sharing the research each has inevitably done into the matter and discussing it at length will generally produce a top-notch solution. In some cases, the client will also be consulted for background information on the document or for input as to their preference for a certain word or phrase. Once all problems have been ironed out though, the translation will be ready for its world premiere.


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