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What do I mean when I say I want “Quality”?

What is Quality?

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 often disappointed with the result they get from suppliers; a clear indication that “quality” means different things to different people. Since “quality” is an ambiguous concept, 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 outlining their expectations.

Issues related to “Quality” in Translation

Correct use of specialised terminology

Industry or client-specific vocabulary is often difficult to find, and time-consuming to research. Sadly, many less-than-professional translators all too often resort to guesswork. This is never a good approach and inevitably results in ambiguity, and frustration. The solution is to create and maintain one or more glossaries (vocabulary lists); and ensure that they are used throughout the documentation process. This process should be led by the translation supplier; but its effectiveness also depends on the level of committment and cooperation from the client.

Find out more: Technical glossaries and termbases


Every translation project needs to address the issue of translating terms or sentences which are repeated in the same context. Glossaries are useful here also, but even better, are Translation Memories. TMs are software-backed databases which record how segments have been translated in the past, and “remind” the translator when they come up again.

Find out more: What is Translation Memory?

Tone and register

Different documents are written in different ways depending on who they’re addressed to — customers, senior management, distributors, press contacts, etc. It is important to make the translator 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 what is “correct” and “my preference”. Unfortunately this can lead to unnecessary problems, linguistic arguments and disappointment. 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.

To achieve the desired result first time around, clients should communicate clearly with the translation supplier what is required in each case. It sounds obvious enough, but this simple approach is often not followed and causes problems and frustration in later stages.

Find out more: The role of the internal reviewer

In conclusion

  • A good translation conveys the meaning of the original accurately and fluently in the target language.
  • Rather than ‘forcing’ the original concepts into the target language, optimum quality translations adapt the core message to the target audience. A free translation is not necessarily less accurate than a literal one.
  • The ultimate judges of quality are your readers, who should be able to read the translated text as effortlessly as those who read the original. Attaining that result is the ultimate benchmark of a successful, quality translation.

Find out more: What is Added Value in Translation?

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