Translation editing and proofreading: Key steps for quality

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High-quality translation is a time-consuming endeavour. Translators have to analyse content, research terminology, and develop glossaries and style guides before even starting the translation. And although machine translation speeds up the process, both humans and machines are prone to errors. And if mistakes happen during translation, the editing, proofreading and quality assurance process is necessary for correcting and polishing the text.

This article explains what translation editing and proofreading entail, what the difference is between them and what steps you should consider if you want accurate, natural-sounding translations.

Translation editing and proofreading are key to quality translations

Translators have to focus on many tasks as once. In addition to working in the original and target languages, they need to consider pace, literary devices, double meanings, cultural differences and so on. They might also have to consider practical aspects of the document, such as formatting and number conventions. It’s not possible to complete all these tasks perfectly all the time, and even the most experienced human translators make the occasional mistake.

For example, when a translator is concerned about choosing the most culturally appropriate word for a concept that’s difficult to translate, it’s easy to overlook spelling, punctuation or sentence structure. They might also find it difficult to be 100% consistent in word choice when they’ve been working for hours or have to do extra research into a subject.

This is where translation editing and proofreading come in. Other experts need to review translations to make sure they’re clear, cohesive, accurate, and error free. Having additional sets of eyes revise the same text provides quality control and leads to professional, accurate results.

What is editing in translation?

Editing happens after a document is translated and before it’s finalised. The translation editing phase is like when a writer finishes a first draft – the bulk of the creative work is done, but it needs to be revised and refined before being ready for readers.

Editors work on many issues, including the following:

  • paragraph structure
  • clarity, cohesion and logic
  • style and tone
  • terminology usage
  • consistency
  • readability
  • transitions
  • spelling and punctuation
  • citations

In a nutshell, an editor strives to make a translated document consistent regarding word choice, punctuation and overall style. They make sure the content is complete and accurate, the sentence structures clear, and the text readable, and they might work on big-picture issues like tone, clarity, and paragraph structure. Translation editing and proofreading can involve everything from making sure UK spelling is consistent to reordering sentences and paragraphs to improve logic.

Are translation editing and proofreading needed for machine translations?

When a computer rather than a human performs an initial translation, editing and proofreading are crucial for revising and improving the text. Machine translation engines like Google and Bing are much better than they used to be, but they still produce inaccurate or confusing phrases, so an expert (who is often a translator trained in editing techniques) needs to edit the text to remove errors and correct word choice. This specific type of translation editing and proofreading is called machine translation post-editing, and it focuses on errors unique to machine-generated results.

What is proofreading?

So if editing corrects mistakes, why is proofreading important? The answer is that it refines the text, turning it into a final draft. Because editing involves substantial changes, minor errors or inconsistencies might remain after several rounds. Proofreading the text is the last step that fixes any obvious remaining mistakes.

Proofreaders work with almost-finalised drafts and cover the following topics:

  • major grammar mistakes
  • spelling and punctuation
  • word choice inconsistencies
  • typos and cut-and-paste errors
  • formatting problems


Because the document is close to a final draft, proofreaders correct only surface-level problems and make few changes per page. For example, they might catch a handful of typos or grammatical errors or a couple of spelling or hyphen inconsistencies. Depending on the project, translation editing and proofreading might focus on specific problem areas, such as cut-and-paste errors or British versus American punctuation conventions.

Why is proofreading important in business?

Proofreading adds a touch of professionalism. Successful businesses usually invest in clear, polished communication because it shows customers that they’re professional and legitimate. By using proofreading to make their content consistent and error-free – especially translated content – companies make it clear that they prioritise quality and user experience.

Summary: What’s the main difference between editing and proofreading?

Although many people use the terms ‘editing’ and ‘proofreading’ interchangeably, the terms refer to different tasks. After translation, editing smooths out the language and corrects issues that make the text hard to read or understand. Proofreading is a final check for consistency that is performed on clean text that’s close to finished. Basically, editing is more in-depth than proofreading, meaning that the editing process involves more changes.

Tips for proofreading and editing translations

1. Find the right professionals for your project. It’s always best to have another person proofread your work because it’s hard to see mistakes in your own writing. In fact, even editors hire other editors to review their work. Editors and proofreaders undergo specialised training, so the best way to ensure your translations are high quality is to work with experts who have experience in translation editing and proofreading.

2. Read with different methods. It’s easy to overlook errors, especially when your eyes are tired. To make your brain pay attention more effectively, you can read text in different ways. For example, reading slowly or starting with the last paragraph of a document and working your way back to the beginning will help you notice errors you’d otherwise not see. Other options include reading on printed hard copies and reading text aloud.

3. Use the right tools. Translation and editing tools exist to help people identify errors and be consistent. For example, Microsoft Word includes spell-check and identifies grammar mistakes, and other software solutions are on the market as well. But it’s important to know how to use them because they don’t always identify problems correctly or provide accurate solutions. Editors and proofreaders also use style guides, consistency checkers, translation glossaries and memories and other tools, so it’s helpful to familiarise yourself with standard practices in these fields.

If you need help with translation editing and proofreading, working with a professional translation service like Berba can streamline the process, especially if you need native-level quality for different language combinations.

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