Category Archives: revision

One too many tracked changes?

I’ll call him O for Offended.

O and I had volunteered our services at an NGO. His job was to translate an article and mine was to proofread it. And the NGO would get another English-language document for their website.

O’s work was good. In my mind, by suggesting about ten slight modifications, I made his translation even better.

For example, I changed

  • “June 9th” into “June 9”
  • “meet up with” into “meet”
  • “around the planet” into “around the world”
  • “numerous” into “many”

I also tinkered around with a sentence so that “sous la houlette” would not result in “under the primeship”; enter “under the primeship” in Google to see how obscure it is. Mystery expressions might be fine for an academic paper, but not for publicizing an event to the general public.

O protests

Each tracked change made O hostile.

He wrote back a page-long letter pitting His Word Choice against my word choice. He felt he had to defend all but one of my proposed changes.

I got a list:

Why did you take off the “th” from the date?

What’s wrong with “under the primeship”?

“Nombreux” means “numerous”!

The closing paragraph included a threat to never translate for the NGO again because he did not have time to correct the corrector.

Why would O spend an hour questioning every tracked change?

Maybe O is used to defending his work to project managers in face of The Overzealous Proofreader. But I was not proofreading for our employer and I did not go overboard.

A tracked change is not a personal affront.

Unlike O, I take editorial suggestions into account with little emotion. My own work is picked apart on a regular basis and these critiques are sometimes encouraging—and sometimes harsh, no holds barred. (Check out this post from The Cycling Translator if you want to get better at editing and proofing.)

Every time I get feedback, I get better at my job.

Thanks to feedback from other translators, I’ve been reminded that:

  • “Which” and “that” cannot be interchanged at will.
  • The spellcheck is better than me at Americanizing all instances of Canadian spelling (“fiber” not “fibre”).
  • Hyphens can be left out more often than I thought.
  • Short words are better than long ones.
  • Too much confidence in understanding the source text can lead to criminal linguistic activity.

I welcome feedback and read suggestions carefully. I take note of what I could have done better.

O should have done the same.

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Translating a website? 6 ways to make it more readable

Online reading is different from reading on paper. Because website readers like information snacking. They want to grab and go.

So what does this mean for the website translator?

We must pay attention to readability.

These six guidelines come from Letting Go of the Words: Writing Web Content that Works by Ginny Redish. What follows after each heading is about how I personally (attempt to) apply these tips.

Some of Catherine's favourite books

1. Give people only what they need (page 94)

I would not edit out much of my client’s website but there is one sentence which invariably deserves to be deleted: the welcome message.

Source text: Welcome to our site!

Proposed translation: [none]

Why not leave out these four useless words to make the useful words more prominent?

On the Les Feuilles Volantes blog (in French), Sara displays much more attitude. She talks about not translating the opening message on French-language brochures since they are typically of little interest to readers.

2. Use “you” (page 172)

Don’t use the third person when talking to your online audience.

Source text: Clients enjoy our hotel’s spacious rooms.

Proposed translation: You’ll enjoy our hotel’s spacious rooms.


Source text: Parents should check their children’s heads for lice on a regular basis.

Proposed translation: Check your child’s head regularly for lice.

If you are writing for an organization, use “we” (page 178)

Source text: Company ABC has been making desks for 25 years.

Proposed translation: At Company ABC, we’ve been making desks for 25 years.

Using “you” and “we” makes the copy sound much more like a conversation.

3. Use your web users’ words (page 195)

Do not confuse your readers.

I liked Nick Somer’s example in “The empowered translator” on Betti Moser’s blog:

The references to Bavarian dialect are all very well if you happen to know German, but they probably won’t add much to a Korean’s understanding of the text. Forget “Kaiserschmarrn” and “Palatschinken” plus explanatory translator’s note in brackets. Won’t “traditional Austrian desserts” work just as well?

As I wrote in my previous post about my own website copy, I used words that my reader would understand. I avoided words like “source language” and “transcreation” and other examples of translationspeak. I’m talking to direct clients, not agencies, so I use words they know.

This also means that I try to ground abstract concept nouns and replace them with concrete and understandable words.

4. Use lists to make information easy to grab (page 206)

Source text: Bring sunscreen, running shoes, a hat and a bottle of water.

Proposed translation:


  • sunscreen
  • running shoes
  • a hat
  • a bottle of water

Wouldn’t hurried customers find this bulleted list much easier to read?

5. Make links meaningful (page 318)

Redish is against writing “click here” and “more” as link text. We should use the content of the link instead.

Source text:

We offer

  • group lessons (read more…)
  • private lessons (read more…)
  • telephone lessons (read more…)

Proposed translation:

We offer

  • group lessons
  • private lessons
  • telephone lessons

Website readers know what links look like. If a word underlined, it is a link.

6. Break down walls of words (page 107)

No large and intimidating blocks of text. Keep paragraphs short. Use headings to divide your text into user-friendly chunks.

Headings can be

  • statements
  • questions
  • action phrases

To my surprise, Redish advises against using nouns as headings! So “Getting here” is better than “Directions”?

Letting Go of the Words is recommended reading if you’re interested in writing and translating web content. Mine is full of post-it notes that serve as helpful reminders.

Translators, can you recommend other resources about writing for the web? (You might be interested in my post about Matthew Stibbe’s free e-book 30 Days to Better Business Writing.) What techniques do you use to make your web writing more readable?

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I rewrote my website’s home page

No little tweaks for me. I deleted my website copy and pulled out a fresh piece of paper.

What’s the point of this website?

In Don’t Make Me Think, Steve Krug stresses how important it is to quickly communicate what you do:

“Right off the bat, the home page has to tell me what site this is and what it’s for.”

So this time, instead of saying that I love languages, I love translating, and I promise to do a good job, I forced myself to say just one thing.

My one single message:

Catherine Jan translates websites from French into English

To avoid diluting my message, I deleted any references to

  • print translations
  • quick turnaround times
  • proofreading services


Some freelance translators advertise that they specialize in ten fields, work four language pairs, and translate, interpret, write copy, sub-title, transcribe, teach, coach, edit, proof, do voice-overs, and bake cookies.

While I do five of the above, I focus on the “translate” part. As Krug says on page 45, “Getting rid of all those words that no one is going to read makes the useful content more prominent.”

Who is it written for?

In Sonia Simone’s 10-lesson copywriting newsletter (sign up at Remarkable Communication), she sets her e-course in motion by saying,

“Write to one person.”

Decide who your perfect customer is and do not get distracted. Do not worry about leaving people out.

So I promptly addressed my home page to My Ideal Client.

My Ideal Client is a small, ambitious, Paris-based company which values a strong online presence. Good web content is crucial to my customer’s success. My Ideal Client spent hours crafting the French-language copy for the company website and is now ready to give the source document and a detailed brief to a competent translator.

Plain language only

I used Plain English. Out went industry jargon such as:

  • source language
  • target language
  • transcreation
  • language variant
  • CAT tools

The above words appeal to translation agencies. My Ideal Client is a direct client who has no idea of what a “fuzzy match” is.

My one regret…

What do I wish I could add to my home page? SEO magic.

While I do know a little about what search engines fancy, I certainly don’t know enough to make SEO a selling point.

On the bright side…

My slogan emerged! Every word matters. Chaque mot compte.”

Did I cut too much?

In the end, my home page consists of fewer than 100 words. (Apparently, UK copywriters have an average of 298 words on their home pages.)

Feedback is welcome. How’s your home page doing?

Avoiding translationese

Translationese. A sorry language. It makes a comeback when a translator’s idea of revision is one quick read-over.

We’ve all seen stiff-sounding translations by native speakers. At cause: a) the translator accepted a ridiculous deadline and/or four peanuts per word and had no time to work up a sweat. Or b) the translator may have excellent source language skills but is a poor writer.

First draft versus sixth draft

As for myself, my first drafts are shameful. I tend to grab the closest words at my brain’s disposal.

I then make tea. The process of re-working and revising requires at least one hot cup an hour as I attempt to make something really English.

Here’s how I might revise my work (while keeping the context and the author’s voice in mind):

French term                  First grab                           What about… ?

compétences                            skills                                                 skill set

influence                                    influence                                        clout

critiques                                     criticism                                         flak

tentative                                    attempt                                           foray

vol                                                robbery                                           heist

projet personnel                    personal project                          pet project

tâche difficile                          difficult task                                   tall order

publicité                                    publicity                                          plug

évaluer                                      to evaluate                                      to vet

embellir                                    to beautify                                      to spruce up

montrer                                    to show                                            to showcase

ignorer                                      to ignore                                          to tune out

partager                                   to share                                             to divvy up

banal                                         ordinary                                            run-of-the-mill

How do you avoid “translationese”?