Proofreading Guidance

Proofreading by a second translator is a vitally important part of a Talking Heads translation project. Therefore, when it isn’t handled correctly, it can prove counterproductive; slowing down the process and possibly causing tensions between translators.

1. Don’t correct for the sake of correcting: Proofreaders sometimes feel obligated to find something wrong with the translation, if only to justify their fee. They may worry that if the translation is returned with no corrections at all, the client won’t know if they really proofread it. There’s no need to feel this way. Be sparing with your corrections, limiting them to objective grammatical or typological errors or serious deviations from the source text. Too many corrections can slow down the final review process; unnecessary changes can cause otherwise avoidable delays.


2. There is never a single “right answer” in translation:  “I never translate it that way” is not a valid argument for a proofreading change. There are many different ways to translate any one sentence, all of which may be equally valid. For example, in legal documents the Spanish term “Registro Civil” is often rendered literally in English as “Civil Registry". On the other hand, some translators believe it is more appropriate to apply one of the terms used in English-speaking countries for similar institutions which fulfil the same functions as a registro civil, such as “Vital Statistics Office”. Both options are perfectly valid and it is not the proofreader’s job to impose a preference, unless a glossary specifies a term. If you doubt the validity of a particular translation choice, add a comment, but it shouldn’t be changed unless it has been researched and found to be problematic. The reasons for the change should be noted and supported by the research.


3. Check your facts: Never make a grammatical or spelling correction to a translation unless you are 100% sure that it is correct. Consider the case of a proofreader who “corrects” an English sentence that employed subject-verb inversion (e.g. “On the edge of the river sits a quaint little cottage” changed to “On the edge of the river a quaint little cottage sits”), and added a comment complaining that the translator failed to recognise that “verbs ALWAYS follow subjects in English!”. Do they? And what about interrogative clauses (like “do they?”)? It is a serious concern that a professional proofreader would not know that there are a range of cases in English where subjects and verbs are inverted. Furthermore, it’s a worrying that the proofreader didn’t investigate the construction before “correcting” it with an awkward and questionable construction.


4. Be diplomatic: Many translators have worked as language teachers and when proofreading can easily fall into “teacher” mode. It is important to remember that the translator whose work is being proofreading is not a student, but a colleague or client. It is therefore important to adopt a diplomatic tone in comments, suggestions and explanations of corrections and to bear in mind that the proofreader’s job is to check for errors, not give a grammar lesson. Consider the example of a proofreader who “corrected” the capitalisation of all titles in document, annotating them with the comment: “Please inform the translator that it is standard practice in English for all words in a title to have the first letter capitalised, except for words with three letters or less.” There are two problems here – firstly, the proofreader is factually incorrect: capitalisation of words in titles in English is governed not by the number of letters the words have, but by whether they are “content” words or “function” words. Secondly, the comment sounds obnoxious (facts must be checked!) - even if the proofreader had been correct, the tone of the comment was inappropriate.




  • Has the translation been carried out according to instructions, supplied reference material, glossary, style guide etc., where provided?


  • Is all of the content in the original document present in the translation?
  • Has all the content been translated?
  • Is all spelling and grammar accurate?
  • Are all numbers rendered correctly?
  • Are all names rendered correctly?
  • Have technical or industry specific terms been double-checked for accuracy?


  • Is the style of language suitable for this kind of text for the target culture/audience?
  • Is the reader addressed appropriately for this type of text for the target culture/audience?


  • Does the translation read like an original document in the target language?
  • Have grammatical structures been adapted to achieve fluency?
  • Has literal translation been avoided?


  • Does the text in the translation follow the same formatting as in the original document, e.g. fonts, font size, colours used, line spacing etc.?
  • If there is a contents page, have the page numbers been updated?
  • Are tables and diagrams formatted well, so that they are ready for presentation?
  • If the translation has expanded/contracted in comparison to the source text, has the content been formatted so that the document is ready for presentation?
  • Have local conventions on numbers, currency, etc. been taken into account?


  • Is the translation consistent in terminology?
  • Is the translation consistent in style?

Always contact your Project Manager if you have any queries - no questions are silly! It's always better to check, than to assume. :-)

Please also visit the Translator's Guidance page for notes on language, style, formatting, etc.

If you are reviewing a typeset file, please visit the Typesetting Guidance page for assistance.