Proofreading, Editing and Revising: What’s the difference?

February 25, 2014 9:12 am

Revising editing proofreading

In the daily life of the translators in the EU Institutions, a recurring question is “which is the difference between Revising, Editing and Proofreading? Which are the things to consider and the tricks to use?”

Terminology Coordination likethe article written by Else Gellinek on

Lack of uni­ver­sal definitions

When trans­la­tors dis­cuss proof­read­ing, revis­ing and edit­ing, they often don’t agree on what the terms mean in their every-day work. Then how are clients sup­posed to know what they want? To add to the con­fu­sion, out­side of the trans­la­tion world these terms have yet other meanings.

Brian Mossop offers these translator-specific def­i­n­i­tions:
Edit­ing: The process of check­ing a non-translational text for error and mak­ing appro­pri­ate amend­ments, with spe­cial atten­tion to mak­ing the text suit­able for its read­ers and intended use. (p. 198)
Revis­ing: The process of check­ing a draft trans­la­tion for errors and mak­ing appro­pri­ate amend­ments. (p. 201)
Proof­read­ing: (1) In edit­ing, com­par­i­son of the printer’s proof with the man­u­script. (2) In revi­sion, some­times used as a syn­onym of uni-lingual re-reading, espe­cially when this is lim­ited to cor­rec­tions (i.e. no improve­ments are made). (p. 200)

I have seen trans­la­tors use dif­fer­ent def­i­n­i­tions of these terms and my web­site also fea­tures other expla­na­tions. Proof­read­ing can mean any­thing from revis­ing a trans­la­tion to check­ing a text for spelling and punc­tu­a­tion errors. This tan­gle of mean­ings and vary­ing approaches make it chal­leng­ing for trans­la­tors and clients to be sure that they are talk­ing about the same thing. Care­ful com­mu­ni­ca­tion is key (as always).

I will not be able to set­tle the debate with a sin­gle blog post. What I can do is out­line how com­plex a task cor­rect­ing and refin­ing a text can be. It is never a case of just giv­ing a text a quick glance.

Things to consider

Is it a trans­la­tion or an orig­i­nal text?
a) Orig­i­nal text: Edit­ing
b) Trans­la­tion: Revising

In a nut­shell, edit­ing is for a mono­lin­gual text what revis­ing is for a bilin­gual text.

1) Edit­ing

a) Copy­edit­ing: Help­ing the text con­form to a house style, cer­tain usage rules or style sheets. Ensur­ing that ter­mi­nol­ogy and for­mat­ting are consistent.Layout, typog­ra­phy, punc­tu­a­tion, spelling, cap­i­tal­iza­tion, hyphen­ation, numer­als, acronyms, gender-neutral lan­guage or not, for­mat of foot­notes, quo­ta­tions and ref­er­ence works.
Miss­ing words, cut-and-paste errors, uni­d­iomatic usages (influ­ence of source text, lack of spe­cial­ized phrase­ol­ogy).
b) Styl­is­tic edit­ing: Improv­ing a text by cus­tomiz­ing it for a read­er­ship, smooth­ing sen­tence struc­tures and word choices.
Is the read­er­ship spe­cial­ist? Level of edu­ca­tion? Nec­es­sary for­mal­ity of text? Sen­tence struc­ture is non-ambiguous and does not require reread­ing?
c) Struc­tural edit­ing: Reor­ga­niz­ing a text to make the message/points clearer.
Empty ref­er­ences? Unde­fined acronyms? Mis­or­dered para­graphs? Prob­lems with head­ings?
d) Con­tent edit­ing: Adding/taking away con­tent. Cor­rect­ing factual/logical errors.
Fac­tual errors? Con­cep­tual errors? Log­i­cal errors? Math­e­mat­i­cal errors?

Trans­la­tors will often men­tally edit the source text when trans­lat­ing. They cut redun­dant word­ing, shorten lengthy sen­tences and choose clear-cut trans­la­tions for ambigu­ous source passages.

2) Revis­ing

A reviser’s sacred duty is to ensure trans­la­tion accu­racy. Revi­sion makes use of the source text and the trans­la­tion.
Trans­fer: Accu­racy, com­plete­ness of trans­la­tion
Con­tent: Logic, facts of trans­la­tion
Lan­guage: Smooth­ness, tai­lor­ing, sub-language, idiom and mechan­ics of trans­la­tion
Pre­sen­ta­tion: Lay­out, typog­ra­phy, organization

3) Retrans­la­tion

A rea­son many trans­la­tors don’t accept revis­ing jobs. Revis­ing an extremely bad trans­la­tion (machine trans­lated, per­haps?) can be more time con­sum­ing and frus­trat­ing than sim­ply trans­lat­ing the text again. Clients are gen­er­ally not too happy to hear this.

Where do we go from here?

I could go on and on — but I won’t. What’s impor­tant is that clients real­ize how many dif­fer­ent aspects are involved when work­ing with texts. Clients need to be clear in what they expect and what they are will­ing to pay for. And trans­la­tors need to ask the right ques­tions so that every­one is on the same page.

Sources: Brian Mossop, Edit­ing and Revis­ing for Trans­la­tors, 2. edi­tion, 2010, St. Jerome Pub­lish­ing, Manchester

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