The answer seems like it should be obvious, but it isn’t. I suspect the question is rarely considered. For many, translating for the person who pays us is the point of the entire exercise, not the ultimate audience who will likely never provide feedback to us directly.

When I teach writing, whether scientific or not, the emphasis is often on convincing participants to write for the reader rather than for themselves. If the reader’s needs are the main focus as opposed to the writer’s needs, then new options for formulating the text become apparent. This is good and is how we would approach our writing.

Shouldn’t the reader’s needs always be our primary concern, both when writing our own texts and when translating texts written by others? When we do so, our language becomes more active, our word choices more reader-friendly, our sentences shorter, our formulations less redundant, our texts more appealing, our subjects and verbs closer together,

When we ask ourselves what the reader needs to understand the content, our entire approach to the text changes. This allows us to focus on clarity and conciseness rather than how the original source text was formulated. This allows us to break the bonds imposed by the source text and liberates us to do what needs to be done. To translate for the reader.

Money talks?

Of course, the person who pays has sway over us and we want repeat business. But let the client explain and justify their preferences rather than assuming what those preferences are based on the text you receive. More than likely, the client chose their words and phrases, not after weighing them carefully, but because they were stressed and lacked time to revise to create a more concise, active text. And in most cases, they will appreciate the extra effort we put into making their text clearer, easier to read and more appealing.

Ultimately, choosing to translate in a more active voice and to focus on the reader is also infinitely more satisfying for us, the translator. And we really should be enjoying our work.

Questions to ask:

  • Is translation more about reflecting the author’s words or about addressing the reader’s needs with the text?
  • Can translation really ever not include copyediting?

More to follow….

2 replies
  1. Linda Gunnarson
    Linda Gunnarson says:

    “Can translation really ever not include copyediting?”

    What a great question! Reminds me of a presentation by David Jemielity, I think, who said: “Don’t ask ‘Is this a good translation?’, ask ‘Is this good communication?'”

    You need to have the client on board, of course, but more often than not, this is what they’re looking for. I honestly think that any translator who wants to stay relevant in the future will need to incorporate copyediting into their translation process.

    Btw, I found this blog when googling your company after the SFÖ mini conference (what a great event!). Very curious to see what you will create in this space – it looks promising!

    • David
      David says:

      Welcome Linda! I agree completely. I was discussing with a colleague today that I enjoy my work so much, in part because I’m insisting on the editing process for myself. Of course, I do it faster these days since I’m experienced. But translation alone would not be at all as interesting without the editing process from a professional perspective.

      Thanks for your comment and feel free to jump in any time.



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