Posted by: patenttranslator | February 4, 2011

The Truth About Three Layers of Rigorous Translation Quality Control

Every now and then I receive an e-mail which reads approximately like this:

My name is So-and-so and I am a project manager for Your friend Joe What’s-his-name recommended you for a patent project we need to review from Japanese into English. Are you available next week to do this revision? If so, would you be so kind as to let me know your hourly rate?

Thanks in advance. We look forward to your answer.

I don’t proofread translations that were done for agencies by other translators. I used to when I was starting out because I wanted to find out how other translators work, or pick their brains if you want to call it that. But the last time I agreed to take on editing work like this was when Ronald Reagan was president and there was a mighty superpower out there called Soviet Union.

I think I understand the thinking behind the business model here. An agency could ask an experienced translator, such as this patent translator, to translate the document or documents in question. But experienced translators tend to be expensive. Why not have the job done by a beginner and then find an old pro to clean up the translation? Editing should not take that long and the editor will have to let the agency know ahead of time how many hours he is going to bill. Since beginners tend to be inexpensive, the profit margin should be really nice.

I may be wrong about it, I am not sure, but I have a feeling that most experienced translators will usually refuse editing work like this just as I do. The hourly rate for such a job is probably not worth the trouble. There is no telling in advance what the translation looks like. It could be a total disaster, which could turn “an editing job” into a painful exercise in futility. And how do I determine my hourly rate for the agency? How much is 24 years of experience in hardcore translation of patents from Japanese, German and other languages worth? And why would I want to share with an agency that claims to be able to “translate anything” what I learned after almost a quarter of century on the job for just a few dollars? Would that not be kind of stupid? I think it would be kind of really stupid.

The chances are the patent will be translated by a beginner and proofread by a beginner as well because beginners are inexpensive. Better yet, a beginner in a low cost country. For the client’s sake, let’s hope that these beginners are at least as talented as I was (or thought I was) a quarter century ago.

Incidentally, I think that the process described above and further specified in three simple steps below is what many agencies advertise on their websites as “a rigorous translation quality process in three steps implemented by a team of subject-qualified translation experts”.

Step 1: Find an inexpensive warm body to translate the damn thing. There are two main requirements for the translator, he should have a  pulse and charge low rates.

Step 2: Find another inexpensive warm body to proofread the damn thing. Maybe you will have to pay more than about 30 dollars an hour, but not much more than that. And make sure you know how long the proofreading will take ahead of time.

Step 3: Have the project manager who does not speak the foreign language and does not really know anything about the subject either proofread the damn thing. Project managers are on a (low) salary anyway, so why not keep them busy.

Because let’s face it, if you had three experienced translators/editors working on one translation by translating it first, then editing it, and then editing it one more time to double and triple check everything, how much would the translation have to cost?

The answer is that it would cost too much, of course. This business model will not result in a healthy profit margin.

Which is why this business model does not really exist as I wrote for instance in this post, except in marketing propaganda on websites and marketing materials printed in beautiful colors on glossy paper.


There was an interesting article in the Translation Journal Recently on the same subject. The link is here.


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Suyash Suprabh , MoonsukPark. MoonsukPark said: #Translation The Truth About Three Layers of Rigorous Translation Quality … […]


  2. HA! Love the post.
    I don’t have nearly the same experience as you but after having worked at an agency and getting intimate with “TEP”, I could not agree with you more. Your words really mark what my wife and I feel is…fixable…in the industry. It will be tough but, young and not-yet-disenchanted, we will stay true the course as long as our hard work allows us.

    Thanks for the chuckle today.


  3. Do rains in Spain still stay mainly in the plain?

    Just wondering what life is like over there.

    I have no idea what “TEP” means.

    Would you please expand my horizons?


    • Hi patenttranslator,

      The rains in Spain stay mainly in the north, but I’ve never been much of a poet. Actually where we live it does not rain too much, here on Grand Canary it’s mostly sunny.

      As for TEP, it is merely the initialism for your “Three Layers of Rigorous Translation Quality Control”, it stands for Translation, Editing, Proofreading. An industry marketing ploy much akin to your “team of subject-qualified translation experts”.



      • Thank you for your response.

        Grand Canary sounds good. It must be a very different lifestyle from what most people experience.


  4. Hello! This time I have an exception to mention ;>)) Usually I reason the same way you do, so I avoid reviewing for “agencies”. However, I encountered one big exception. I’m working with Capella Mc Grath, a German agency. My 100% trusted Dutch colleague is also working for them. From the beginning of our relationship, they asked US if we thought it possible to work together for reviews of our translations. They very well know our specialties and the different markets we are translating for (Dutch in Belgium and Dutch in the Netherlands). Our collaboration is perfect and is a perfect example of what reviewing should be: a second pair of eyes in the most cases, somethimes a collaboration to resolve problems together where the (first) translator did’nt find a satisfying one. And yes, they are paying very well, in our case per word and minimum wages for short texts. Their customers are paying surely high prices, but they get 100% guarantee (= risk free texts) for their money.


  5. Hi Frauke:

    Yes, there are good agencies out there. But the model I described in my post unfortunately exists too.


  6. Thanks for summarising the familiar issue so well:) I could not agree more:)
    Regards,Aga 🙂


  7. Nie ma za co.


  8. […] about this mythical “multi-level translation quality process” for instance in my posts here and […]


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