Why Edit?
Freelance Editing of Translations

freelance editing

Editing in general, and freelance editing in particular, can help to improve written materials, including translations.

One may suppose, with good reason, that a large chunk of editing workload in a translation agency is done by freelance translators who edit translations of their colleagues. So editing of translations is editing done basically on a freelance basis.

It would be unrealistic to say that translators do not make mistakes. They do. That’s why editing has been and will be an important part of a translation process.

However, such value-added service as editing is not necessary for all translations.

When a translation buyer can do without freelance editing?

When a translation is intended for internal use, it may be accepted as a good enough “for-information” translation, even if it has minor translation mistakes. You do not have to spend time and money on an editor in this case. Especially if a translator is reliable.

For example, if you need a translation of a personal letter to/from your relative in the other country, it will be OK to have the translation not polished by an editor. If you need a translation of an in-house document with limited circulation, editing of such translation is not a must either. This brings us to the other question:

When it makes sense for a translation buyer to buy freelance editing services?

It is reasonable to use an editor to check translations of case papers, contracts, official correspondence, press releases, annual reports and other important documents.

Also, whenever you are trying to persuade or sell, it makes sense to spend some resources on editing. If an inaccurate translation can affect your image or legal/social liability, a second pair of eyes to edit the translation will come in handy.

At best, substandard translation of texts of commercial, political, or legal importance can put target foreign-language audience off. At worst, it can have far-reaching negative consequences for image or legal liability of a translation buyer.

Freelance editing and specifications for editors

As far as I can tell from my experience, freelance editing is performed by freelance translators who have taken either trial-and-error approach or attended workshops to learn how to edit, or acquired editing skills under the mentorship of their more experienced colleagues.

Ideally, a freelance editor should be a native speaker of the target language and a person with the translating experience in the subject matter under consideration. In practice, however, these conditions are not always observed.

It makes sense first to send a source document and a translation to an editor for her/him to be able to do a quick evaluation of materials before accepting the job. In addition, it is advisable to send the editor any available reference materials (glossaries, past translations, translation memories, etc.) handed to a translator along with a copy of a translation specification (information about the client, the target audience, and the style, specific instructions, such as instructions not to use negative sounding words/phrases or not to translate certain words/phrases like brand names or footers, etc.).

To receive a maximum benefit from editing services, it is not enough if you send the editor reference materials and translation specifications. For effective work, the editor needs an editing specification stating what aspects of the translation to check (content, obvious errors and omissions, language and style, terminology, meaning transfer, formatting, physical presentation, number of characters per message) and what scope of editing is necessary (full or partial).

The absence of the editing specifications sometimes causes uncertainties in an editing process and makes it unnecessarily long.

Determining editing aspects on which to focus and a sufficient scope of editing may speed up editing of translations and make translation projects less expensive – especially if the editor is paid by number of hours rather than number of words.

Misconceptions about freelance editing of translations

  • Experienced translators are so good that their translations do not require editing
  • Editing is too costly. (Not always true. An overview of editing and proofreading rates is provided here)
  • A good editor can “fix” any, even very bad, translation
  • Editing always improves the translation quality. (Not always. It happens that editing makes the translation quality worse if an editor does not take into consideration ethical aspects of the editing profession)

Ethical aspects of editing

According to striking results of one recent study, 40% of editors of translations produce an output that is worse than the initial translation. Overlooked mistakes, unnecessary and erroneous changes introduced by the editors have worsened the quality of the translation. (Künzli, Alexander. 2007. “Translation revision: A study of the performance of ten professional translators revising a legal text”. In Doubts and Directions in Translation Studies, Gambier, Yves, Miriam Shlesinger and Radegundis Stolze (eds.), 115–126.)

That percentage would probably have been less alarming if all the editors had taken into consideration ethical aspects of the editing profession. One of the most important of them is that an editor should respect a translator’s individuality. The editor should provide fair corrections using objective criteria so as not to ruin both the translation and the reputation of the conscientious translator with a translation company or a direct client by striking out zealously parts of the translator’s work and rewriting them with unnecessary changes.


Freelance editing can help to ensure the final quality of translation. However, editing is not a must for all translations. One should use it selectively. It makes sense to have a translation edited when the quality of the final translation is important. Editing specifications can help to complete a translation project quicker and with less cost to a translation buyer.

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_____________________________________________________________________ Website owner: Irina Lychak, self-employed freelance linguist, Russian translator, Ukrainian translator, Kiev (Kyiv), Ukraine

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