Back in July and August I ran a survey on revisions (one of my favourite topics!) using Google Forms to try to get an idea of colleagues’ experiences with and attitudes to revision.
As I stated in the survey:
By revisions I mean checking another translator’s translation against the source and making corrections as deemed necessary. This is often wrongly termed proofreading.
Even though I’m no expert survey writer, and I received a few grumbles about not providing a “don’t know” option for some of the questions (deliberate on my part, I’m afraid, as I think it would have proved too popular and rendered the survey less interesting), the results are still revealing. In fact, the pattern emerged quite quickly and the percentages barely varied after the first few responses came in.
A total of 232 people completed the survey (massive thank you to all participants!), although not everyone answered every question (as you can see in the images).
The vast majority of the respondents had revised another’s translation at some stage in their career (see image above) and nearly two thirds do revisions relatively regularly.
The percentage of translators advertising revision services on their websites and/or social media profiles was only slightly lower than the number actually doing revision work every month.
Out of the 93 who voted “no”, 91 gave their reasons, which were quite varied. Predictably, however, around 25% mentioned that they did not offer revisions because of the poor quality of the translation, which in some cases proves to be non-native or MT output.
“In general the quality of the translations received is poor and it takes a long time to revise and even so the final result can be less than ideal.”
“Too many bad experiences in the past. Encourages bulk-market resellers to hire incompetent translators on the assumption that the editor will clean up the mess.”
“I’m under the impression I’ll receive too many offers to correct very poorly (cheap) translations or even machine translations.”
“Here in Argentina, 99% of Spanish>English translators aren’t working into their native language (i.e. instead of offering only English>Spanish, most Argentine translators work in both directions) and the quality of work into English is generally appalling. At one point I was repeatedly approached by agencies here to ‘revise’ such work but I soon came to realize that generally the jobs in question implied retranslation, and thus were not revisions at all.”
The second most-mentioned reason was simply not liking revision work (with one respondent calling it “boring”) and preferring translation.
“Generally more hassle than it’s worth!”
“I much prefer to translate, and translation usually pays better and is more enjoyable.”
Another main reason, alluded to in the above and many other comments, is that the amount of money clients (both agency and direct) are prepared to pay for revisions doesn’t make doing the job worthwhile.
“Little pay and too much effort.”
“My fees are not competitive.”
These two comments largely sum up the above three reasons.
“I stopped offering revision because I enjoy translating more and am offered enough translation work to keep me busy. Also I felt that some clients were using inexperienced, less competent translators to do the translation and more experienced translators like me to do the revision. I often had to practically rewrite the translation.”
“I hate doing them and the work I’m given is almost always very poor quality so 1) the rate never covers the time needed and 2) it’s a headache of a job trying to make something bad better.”
The above quotes also introduce a fourth reason mentioned by a number of respondents: no time. Colleagues are either:
“Fully booked with translations so hardly any capacity for other services.”
Or find revision too “time-consuming”, especially considering the rates generally offered for the work.
“Very often it will be faster to translate afresh from the beginning rather than revise the given translation. Revisions rarely are productive in terms of money earned per hour.”
“A revision takes a lot of time for less money than a translation. Sometimes, revisions need more time and work than a translation.”
“In my experience clients (whether agencies or non-native speakers who want someone to revise something they have translated themselves) are unrealistic about the time it takes to do a full bilingual revision properly. As an outcome I find this type of work stressful and unsatisfying, especially if the original translation is poor.”
Other reasons given on the survey form included: being an in-house employee; not having a website; and never asked to do a revision. A few said it was a service they reserved for specific clients or colleagues.
“I only do revisions on work by a handpicked team of translators.”
Interestingly, only two respondents highlighted the fact that being a translator doesn’t always mean you’ll be a good reviser.
“I don’t think I have all the right skills. Revision is different to translation and requires different skills. I can do light to moderate revision, but don’t feel as confident with more.”
“I am not a specialist in revision.”
The last comment I’d like to quote in this post not only reiterates some of the above reasons, but also brings another thought-provoking slant to the revision debate.
“Revision should be done internally, it is too important to be entrusted to external people. Plus there are so many amateur & junior translators working for low fees that I don’t want to a) clean their mess, which is time-consuming (and usually at a very low revision price); b) encourage the practice of having translations done by amateur or junior translators at very low translation prices then having that mess corrected at usually also very low revision prices. Small, specialized agencies revise in-house, and this is how it should be. The more we sabotage large money making machines, the better.”
Part 2 focuses on respondents’ views on the rate paid for revisions.
Explore this blog by starting with the categories page, which includes a section on all the surveys I’ve run.
14 thoughts on “Revision Survey Results – Part 1: Why and Why Not?”
It seems most of those surveyed have negative experiences with revision. If your survey reflects the general thinking in the wider translator population – that revision is not worth the hassle, is time-consuming and not enjoyable, etc. – then it does call into question the usefulness of EN15038 processes and whether the assumed ‘quality’ of the final result is actually achieved in many cases. I am interested in Part 2 of the survey results, and keen to find out if being paid higher rates for revision makes for happier revisors and better revision!
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I think that’s because this part 1 has focused on the reasons people gave for not doing revisions. Hopefully the picture will become more positive in part 2.
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I think this proves the validity of the stance I have taken for many years: editing should be paid according to an hourly, and not per-word, rate in all cases. This means the editor is paid relatively to the amount of work required, and if this practice was well-spread, it would encourage project managers to seek better translators to reduce the editing time, which would improve editors’ experience and benefit the industry as a whole.
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Hi Chloe, I fully agree with you. But the counterargument, of course, is how can revisers be trusted to charge the hours they have actually spent revising? And some clients insist on knowing the price before they will give you the work. I can understand their point of view.
I will state my ‘average’ output per hour for editing or proofreading, and will accept the job on the proviso that I can alert the PM if the translation is sub-par. That way the PM can work out if the rate is acceptable, and in the case of really bad translations I find this is obvious very quickly, if not immediately. I will then alert the PM that I am likely to spend more time on the translation, stating the problem (MT, non-native speaker, spelling not checked, etc). He/She can decide whether a complete rewrite from me is worth it or to resend the project to the translator. If the translation is acceptable/good, I will charge my hourly rate which will be close to the initial quote. I find agencies are usually happy to agree to these conditions, and helps alerting them to mediocre linguists in their database.
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Interesting findings, and I must say I agree – it does seem that revisions are used as a cost-saving exercise rather than a quality control exercise. Question is, how can we stop agencies from using cheap, low quality translations and expecting revisers to up the quality at a lower cost?
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Either refuse the revision when offered if it’s obvious that the quality is sub-standard, or state that you expect to spend X no. of hours on a revision for the price paid and that you will stop if it takes longer unless you are paid more, or inform the client that if you find the translation or part of it is MT output, your full revision fee will be payable but you will not continue the revision.
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