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What do we mean when we say quality?

What do we mean when we say quality?

Quality in translation


The word ‘quality’ is used by everyone in the world of translation, all clients want it, and all translation suppliers offer it. And yet translation buyers are sometimes disappointed with what they get from suppliers, a clear indication that ‘quality’ means different things to different people.

The problem for buyers is that it’s difficult to know whether the supplier was not good enough, or whether they didn’t do a good enough job of clearly outlining their expectations.

Here are some of the issues related to the ambiguous concept of ‘quality’:

Correct use of specialised terminology – Industry or client-specific vocabulary is often difficult to find, and what we’ll (charitably) refer to as less-experienced translators all too often resort to guesswork. This is never a good approach and leads inevitably to frustration. The best way around it is to create and maintain one or more glossaries (vocabulary lists) and to ensure that they are used throughout the documentation process. This process should be led by the translation supplier, but its effectiveness often depends on how cooperative the client is.

Consistency – Any translation project needs to address the issue of translating terms or sentences which come up more than once in the same context. Translation Memories are invaluable here, as are glossaries.

Tone and register – Different documents are written in different ways depending on who they’re addressed to (customers, senior management, distributors, press contacts, etc.). Translators need to be made aware of this, as it will allow them to factor other elements into their work (e.g. a formal vs. more informal register).

Personal preferences – We all have our own way of using language and our own preferences. While we accept this premise, it is often difficult to distinguish between ‘correctness’ and ‘preference’. This often causes unnecessary problems, linguistic arguments and frustration. The best way to avoid it altogether is to trust the linguistic expertise being offered and work closely with the translation provider to ensure that the final text is the most appropriate for the business objective at hand.

The best way to achieve the desired result first time around is to communicate clearly with the translation supplier what is required in each case.

It sounds obvious enough, but this simple approach is often not followed, causing problems and frustration in later stages.

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