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Proofreading etiquette

Translation is a mostly solitary job by nature, and although we do work together with colleagues, project managers and clients, we usually interact with the world through our computers. Add education and expertise to this insulation and you sometimes end up with a rather … ugly combination.

We have all worked hard to earn our credentials and it’s a good thing to have confidence in your abilities, but there is a fine line between confidence and arrogance.

I was once asked to review a file that had already been proofread by another colleague. The proofreader had apparently become so frustrated with the translator’s perceived lack of ability that he had added comments in the margin like “Oh wow, unbelievable, another big error.” Not only was this highly unprofessional, some of the proofreader’s “corrections” were, in fact, wrong. For example, one source word referring to the front of an organ was originally translated as “inferior”, and then changed by the proofreader to “posterior” (rather than “anterior”).

It was actually a wake-up call for me because it’s easy to criticize from the safety of (relative) anonymity. A rule of thumb I now use for myself when reviewing or proofreading a colleague’s work is to phrase any comments the way I would if they were sitting across from me at the table. If I wouldn’t use a certain tone to someone’s face, I won’t do it in writing, either. No one is infallible, and a healthy dose of humility will reduce the cringe-factor when the shoe is on the other foot.