How to make a text revision effective


When taking the language skills of professional translators, it is customary to think they are automatically capable of revising the texts on which they work. However, you should remember that a translator will be unable to detect all their mistakes, no matter how often they re-read the text. Why is that?

In a 2014 article in the technology and science magazine, Wired, the British psychologist Tom Stafford put forward an explanation for this phenomenon: “We don’t catch every detail, we’re not like computers… Rather, we take in sensory information and combine it with what we expect, and we extract meaning.” The article’s author, Nick Stockton, put it another way: “The reason we don’t see our own typos is because what we see on the screen is competing with the version that exists in our heads”.

What’s the solution? The most obvious – and most used – solution is straightforward: teamwork, using a second “pair of eyes” to take a fresh look at the text. By working in collaboration with a translation service company, other professionals will help check the final text. Taking our natural difficulties in catching every detail, this is the best way to ensure the effective revision of a translation.

However, there may be times when this is not possible. For example, projects with tight deadlines may not allow time for colleagues to provide this assistance. In these cases, we have several strategies to ensure the translation is as error-free as possible. Note that, whether or not the text will be checked by a colleague, the translator must make every effort to ensure the final text is as free for errors as possible, and they must read the text over at least once!

1. Take a break
It is not a good idea to start revising the text straight away – after hours of work, your attention will not be focused enough, and you might not be able to concentrate enough to look at the text from a new perspective. Leave it for a while and take a break, and then, if you can, go back to it with fresh eyes.

2. Don’t put your faith in spellcheckers
Spellcheckers and the automatic correction features of modern word processors and computer-aided translation (CAT) programs can only detect typos – they cannot contextualise these mistakes semantically or grammatically, and they will not help you determine whether you are using the wrong word or expression. While these tools help detect isolated mistakes resulting from haste or distraction, their use is only one small part of the revision process.

3. Find and replace – use with caution!
While we know computers cannot do all our work for us, we should remember the “find and replace” functions in word processors and CAT programs can be an effective way of automatically correcting large numbers of small repeat mistakes (such as missing accents or typos in names and designations). By detecting the mistake and confirming the word to be used is correct for all contexts within the document, this automatic replacement saves time and allows the revisor to concentrate on more structural mistakes.

4. Read the text aloud or use text-to-speech
Translated sentences often do not flow naturally for native speakers of the target language. This can be because of idioms or technical terminology for which there is no direct translation. These are factors that can make the text appear clumsy and unnatural. One of the best ways to resolve this is to read the text aloud or, alternatively, use a text-to-speech program that will read the text in a synthesised/simulated voice. Many word processors, including Microsoft Word, have this feature. Errors of style and structure that were previously missed will become apparent when you hear them spoken aloud by a natural or artificial voice.

5. Read the document in a different format
Translations nowadays are usually done on computers. However, reading the document in a different format can help reveal errors in unexpected ways. Start by changing the size of the text and the font. Colour highlight some passages and, if possible, print a paper copy of the text. These apparently aesthetic and superficial changes can often help you see the text in a new light!