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  • Writer's pictureSijin Xian

Five Editing Tips from a Professional Translator

Updated: Jun 30, 2022

You might be familiar with the saying that there are no good writers, only good editors, as it takes rounds of tweaking and tinkering to produce a polished piece. This adage also holds true in my experience as a translator and a reviewer of other translators' work. After all, translation is a form of writing. Here are my go-to practices for delivering high-quality texts.

Tip #1: Edit in stages

There are a lot of things to look out for when editing, from grammar, spelling, and syntax to flow, coherence, and consistency. A once-over usually won't cut it.

When proofreading my translation, I first make sure all the ideas from the source text—the document provided by the client—are fully and accurately presented. Then I put on my quality controller hat to double check dates and numbers, correct typos and punctuation errors, and ensure consistent formatting. Lastly, I embody my target audience and make sure the writing is natural and clear.

This way, I have a defined goal in each go-round so that I can sharpen my focus. I also find it helpful to keep track of the mistakes I'm prone to make so that I can keep my eyes peeled for them.

Tip #2: Switch your point of view

I believe audience empathy—the ability to read your own text from the perspective of the person you're writing for—is a crucial skill in editing. In the authoring stage, we write from our background and knowledge. Editing, then, calls for a little role-playing.

In translation, for instance, a typical blind spot occurs when the translator still has the translator hat on when they proofread. Because they are bilingual, have the cross-cultural awareness, and have read the source text, their very familiarity with the original can cloud their judgment as to how clear their translation actually is. That's why the best proofreading practice is to wait for the old memories to fade and approach the translation with a fresh eye as if you were reading it for the first time.

This shift in mindset and focus helps us remove hidden roadblocks and clears the way for our readers. Some helpful questions to ask yourself include: Are there any acronyms you take for granted that people will appreciate an explanation for? Is your target audience familiar with the specialized terms, or can you say that in a simpler way? Ultimately, does the reader know what they need to know to absorb your text effectively?

Tip #3: Change your environment

Related to the earlier tip, reading your text in a different physical environment can also help stimulate new perspectives on your reading. Try to read it on a different medium, such as your tablet instead of computer, or read it in a different room or posture. Or you can change the font and color. Anything that hints to your brain that this is something you haven't seen or done before helps clean the "cache." Reading aloud is also a great practice to get a different part of your brain engaged with the text so that you can experience it anew.

Tip #4: Imagine the "worst" reader

Most ideally, we hope our readers can savor our writing and appreciate every bit of thoughtfulness we put in. But like it or not, people might just be scrolling past, or be distracted when they read, or they could simply find the text too complicated or challenging.

"Worst" is by no means a moral judgment. Another way to think of it is vulnerability. When I do audiovisual translation, for example, I'm intentional about making my subtitles crisp and clear enough for someone who doesn't read as fast or is watching the show in a distracting environment. If they can watch it without much trouble, then everyone can.

In other words, while we have the obligation to cover all bases so that our text can withstand close scrutiny, it's equally important to make sure our text is scannable. Write simply. Cut to the chase. Use layout and formatting wisely to create a smooth experience.

Tip #5: Know when to stop

As the saying goes, a piece of writing is never finished, only abandoned. I'm on the neurotic, perfectionist side, and I can edit myself sick if I'm not careful. I think a telling sign that it’s a good time to stop is when the tweaks begin to look more like an equivalent than an improvement, or when I go back and forth between two equally valid choices to no end.

While language sensibilities and literary flair are not equally endowed amongst the populace, good writing comes down to one word: care. You have to care about the craft, care about your readers, and care about the quality enough to be willing to take the time to refine and rewrite.

Looking to work with an English-Chinese translator who cares and proofreads her work meticulously?

Hi, I'm Sijin, and I'm an English-Chinese translator certified by the American Translators Association with seven years of professional experience. I always include editing and proofreading in my project timeline to deliver top-notch translations. Get in touch today, and I look forward to taking care of your text.


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