High-Speed Quality Control

When it comes to translation, a simple mistyped number can mean the difference between a patient taking 50 mg vs. the correct 5 mg dose. In other words, it is literally life and death in some cases so there’s just no room for quality problems. In other specializations, patents might not be valid or wars might start so quality can never be compromised. Unfortunately, being pressed for time is becoming the norm, so how can we make sure quality doesn’t suffer as a result?
Here are a just a few tricks I use to ensure quality when moving at high speeds.
Proofread backwards
There’s a great article on why our brains tend to gloss over typos and missing words on Wired.com and if you’re interested in the details, you should check it out. To summarize though, it’s pretty hard to catch your own mistakes and there is a very good reason for that. According to University of Sheffield psychologist Tom Stafford, making your work as unfamiliar as possible is how you can trick your brain into believing it is seeing the information for the first time thereby greatly increasing the chances you will catch mistakes. In other words, the reason why a second pair of eyes catches more mistakes than the author, is because that person is unfamiliar with the work.
Enter backwards proofreading. Proofreading things like names and numbers backwards makes them unfamiliar and I find that I can go quite a bit faster and still catch typos. I also sight translate from English into French when I proofread (for a translation whose source is French and target is English) which helps me make sure I’m not missing anything from the source and the English flows naturally all in one step. I even know a couple of translators who proofread their entire translations backwards from the last sentence to the first. I have to admit that I haven’t tried that one just yet, but I can see how it might work.
Copy/paste – don’t rekey
The process of producing a translation involves translating and proofreading. Being productive in terms of words per hour means making sure both of those tasks are completed efficiently. When we rekey text, we’re creating an opportunity for human error and the more we reduce this possibility, the more time we can save on proofreading.
It might seem easier to just rekey the name of a drug, name, number, etc. as we’re going through a translation, but being absolutely certain that that word or number is correct saves time in the end.
I’m sure many of us are already very familiar with the “insert source” feature of a CAT tool but creating a glossary that includes all of those pesky drug names, proper names, etc. is another great way to ensure we’re not mistyping anything. On the other hand, as medical translators, we are often faced with a lot of PDF files which makes CAT tools useless in many cases. Leveraging optical character recognition tools is a great way to make use of these tricks even on PDF files.
Automated quality control
Last but not least, I can’t avoid mentioning the built-in quality assurance tools in most CAT tools. If you’re not familiar with this, while they are still fallible, they’re great for catching typos in numbers, forgotten segments, consistency issues and a few other more obvious problems. This is more of a bare minimum in terms of quality control and it’s important that you familiarize yourself with the specific settings so it doesn’t become more trouble than it is worth. It’s easy to spend more time skipping through the non-issues it flags than fixing the real ones. Still, as you try these tools out, you’ll see patterns emerge with the features and you’ll learn which functions seem to be flagging mostly non-issues and you can turn them off. Once you’ve turned off those features, it just takes a few minutes to run and is a great initial step in your quality control process.
These tricks can be combined to create a very streamlined quality control process, which greatly reduces the time it takes to finalize a translation. Not only does having a streamlined quality control process increase productivity while maintaining quality, you might find your quality even improves.
What are some ways you ensure quality in your work?

Author: Jenae Spry

Jenae has been a French > English translator for over 10 years and a productivity and performance coach for freelancers for over 5 years. Jenae launched the Success by Rx blog to help freelancers achieve success.

Posted in Productivity.


  1. I found the backward proofreading interesting, I’m definitely going to try it! The one thing I was already doing was, at the beginning of a translation, for example of a clinical trial protocol, add maybe the name of the drug being tested and the disease it treats into the glossary (who needs to type rheumatoid arthritis more than a hundred times?!) and that has turned out to be a great time-saver

  2. I really like using Xbench when using Trados; it catches spelling mistakes, double byte characters, and numerical errors, making it easier for me to focus on the translation itself when proofreading!

  3. Excellent idea to proofread backwards, just yesterday I receive a feedback complaining about didn’t find some typos and inconsistencies. I was complaining to myself to don’t be as perfect as the proofer, but now I understand a little more why I can’t detect those mistakes in the first review. Usually I find very boring and difficult to keep focus on the review of my own translation. I found the suggestion to review backwards quite interesting and useful.

    Thanks for these great articles Jeane.

  4. To proofread backwards sounds like an interesting option. I’m already doing the other two 🙂 Another function I like in Wordfast (I imagine other CAT tools can do that, too) is “Preview in MS Word” (CTR+ALT+P). As I mainly work as a proofreader, I don’t always get to work on the final, converted file because there’s often some kind of quality assurance/ final eye step after I do my thing and this is a possibility to use the MS word spell check rather than the one the CAT tool provides, which is not so great.

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