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Editing (I): Tips and Boundaries

Reading with close and extreme attention and getting immersed in the interstices of a text… that is the job of editors. On another presentation of Translating Is Easy If… this time I go I bit further (in the process of translation) and I deal with editing, which can be done in the easy, faulty way, or professionally. Doing it with professionalism and ethics involves more than just correcting what is not right.

Before I start, I want to dedicate this entry to a very good friend of mine and great colleague: Sofia Polykreti. She has been one of my inspirations for this post. I hope you all enjoy the reading 😉

First Things First

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word correct “comes from the Latin correctus, past participle of corrigere, which means to put straight, reduce to order, set right; in transferred use, to reform, amend, especially of speech or writing.”

In translation, the task of editing or correcting is carried out by editors once the source text (original) has been rendered into the target language to produce the resulting target text (translated version of the original). After editing, there may be a third stage: proofreading. The tasks of editing and proofreading sometimes overlap, but in practice they are different. The former compares source and target, while the latter only considers the target text (though having the source at hand for reference).

In an ideal scenario, every source text that needs to be translated should go through these three stages: translation, editing and final proofreading, as I explain on this article about the process of translation. These second and third pair of eyes look at the translation in detail; they verify that there are no mistranslations, omissions, unnecessary additions, typos, spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, etc.

What Do Editors Check?

As I have mentioned, the editor will compare the source text and the target text and will pay close attention to how the latter reflects the original in terms of tone and mood, cultural references, target audience, intended purpose, etc.

With respect to language, how should editors approach the text? What should they look for specifically? On the book Normativa lingüística española y corrección de textos (Normative Linguistics in Spanish and the Correction of Texts), Alicia María Zorrilla suggests that the editing expert should check for mistakes within these five aspects:

Orthotypographic correctness: capitalisation, spelling mistakes, typos, punctuation, etc.

Morphological correctness: verb conjugations, genre, plurality, etc.

Syntactical correctness: order of words within sentences, use of connectors, use of the appropriate prepositions for each verb, etc.

Semantic correctness: mistranslations, ambiguity, repetitions, etc.

Lexical correctness: anglicisms, gallicisms, italianisms, archaisms, neologisms, pleonasms, etc.

One Basic Idea: Avoidance of Personal Preferences

The editing job should be carried out with objectivity. As Alicia Zorrilla says, editors “cannot introduce changes based on personal preferences or on their own writing style.” I know this is arguable and many would not agree. However, in my humble opinion and provided editors are working with a professional translator, comments or suggestions based exclusively on personal preferences should be avoided whenever possible; or else, they should be kept to the minimum. It is not the editor’s task to co-author or rewrite the translation. If a translation needs to be reworked, that is not editing, that is an entirely different process.

Another Basic Idea: Comments and Reasons

Apart from scrutinising the translation in detail to spot errors, editors must justify their comments. They should be able to provide the rules that back up their observations and changes. It is true that many times editors work against the watch, but a good professional should be able to support their choices. In this regard, for translations into Spanish, it might be useful to know how to perform quick searches on sites like FundeuDRAE or DPD. If the reference cannot be found online and whenever possible, editors can also leave the name of any book or dictionary that may result useful for the translator who will review the edited work.

That being said, from my point of view, with or without reference, the editor should provide the explanations that support the suggested changes. A professional language editor should not add comments that cannot be reasoned in any way and should refrain from introducing changes based solely on personal liking.

Communication is Crucial

Communication is key throughout the whole process of translation and among the different parties involved. A good conversation between the translator and the editor is of utter importance for the smoothness of the editing process and the success in polishing the text. The editor and the translator “participate in producing a text by working it from a different angle, within their respective areas of language expertise. The editor and translator are like the architect and engineer who erect a building: both help build it … and both are essential,” says the Language Portal of Canada. Respect and open conversations will definitely contribute to the final quality of the project.

When and Where 

Under normal circumstances or ideally, somebody else edits our translation or we edit somebody else’s. But for those occasions when we have to edit our own work, it is better to leave the translation rest for a few hours and come back to it with a refreshed mind. In my particular case, it helps me go for a walk or a run; it all depends on the time available.

As for the place, and mind you, this is quite personal, both when editing my own work or another translator’s job, my working place needs to look and feel different; different from how it was during the previous activity. Hence, I take away everything that might have been piling up on the desk, I stop the music or radio (if any) and I concentrate on editing the text in silence and surrounded by a clear space. Of course, having enough time to refresh and to arrange the office is a luxury one does not get for urgent, super-rush requests.

To Conclude…

As the Language Portal of Canada explains, “the editor will improve the text where necessary, while considering all the aspects related to context, culture, vocabulary, sentence structure, punctuation, grammar rules, etc.” Editing should be done in minute detail, objectively and with critical thinking. Good communication with the author of the translation will be crucial and no comments or changes should be introduced without a sound reason. A translation that has been in the hands of a professional editor will most surely be excellent.

Coming Soon!

Next time I talk about editing I will enumerate the specific language problems that should be detected in translations into Spanish.

As always, thank you for visiting the Blog! I am truly happy you are here once more. But wait, before you leave, would you like to add any editing tip? Do you have an editing story you would rather forget? 😉

References and Further Readings

Normativa lingüística española y corrección de textos, Alicia Maria Zorrilla, 2012

Online Etymology Dictionary

Guide to Editing and Proofreading

Language Portal of Canada

Highly recommended: Traductores y correctores: bandos enfrentados

Picture: Pixabay

Published by Victoria Principi

Victoria Principi
Victoria Principi is a National Public Translator of English who graduated from the National University of Córdoba in Argentina. She translates, localises and reviews texts between English and Spanish, specialising in marketing and business, information and communications technology, and social sciences and humanities. She is a member of IAPTI and has been working as an independent translator since 2012. Currently, she is based in Lucca, Italy, and helps translation agencies and end clients who need to reach a Spanish-speaking audience. She is the creator of this website and the author of the blog.

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