Posted by: patenttranslator | January 30, 2012

What Is The Right Mix of “Personal” and “Professional” for My Blog?

This is something that I have been wondering about for almost two years now, since I started blogging at the end of February 2010.

Translators and translation agencies who design their blog mainly to attract new customers will probably put emphasis on professional content. But what is in fact “professional content” (is there even such a thing on a blog?), what is “personal content”, and is there even a clear boundary between the two?

I don’t think so.

There are many translation agencies, companies and even large corporations in different lines of business who are now pushing the idea of a blog as a very useful tool that does not really cost anything, while it can really help to find new customers and keep the loyalty of existing customers.

These “blogs” are usually quite boring because they are mostly based on clichés that are repeated in different variations ad nauseam: a blogger, who is usually an employee, explains in different posts how professional and wonderful her company is because it uses an ingenious and unique method to “guarantee quality”, with examples of suitable instances when the company saved an almost hopeless project for their client, for instance a large translation project of an extremely complicated patent into several languages in an impossibly short deadline. This would be an example of “professional content” that is often used on blogs of translation agencies, large and small.

I have done projects like this on a few occasions, but,  truth be told, I did for the money. This is an example of “personal content” on my blog because, unlike an employee of a translation agency, I can afford to tell the truth on my blog. Projects like that are always, and I mean always, characterized by poor quality of translation. Poor quality is unavoidable when you have to split a large chunk of very complicated text between several translators who may not be all equally qualified and experienced. But you still may have to use them simply because they are available.

I remember my first project like that, in 1994. It was a biotech patent that needed to be filed in Japan in Japanese. I split it between 4 translators and then spent most of a week cajoling the translators to push them to reach the finish line on time. We did finish on time, the patent law firm in Japan thanked me for delivering as promised, their US client paid me on time, and everybody was happy. But it could have easily gone the other way, in which case I would be stuck with four invoices from four translators while the client could refuse to pay me.

So I try to stay away from projects like this. Because I don’t want to be left holding the bag should something go wrong, I only take on projects like this from old clients who I trust to pay me if I deliver the translation within an impossible deadline. And I always make it clear that I cannot guarantee good quality of the translation under such conditions.

Now, was the previous paragraph an example of “personal” or “professional” content? Both, I think.

People read blogs mostly for the personal content. They want to know how is “the personal” of another person’s life relevant to their life. I think that the ratio of personal to professional on a translator’s blog should be in the range from 30 : 70, preferably 40 : 60, and even more preferably 70 : 30 (just kidding, this is how a patent lawyer would put it in a patent application for a new chemical compound to cover all bases).

As far as I can tell, the more personal a blog gets, the more interesting it usually is. I don’t know about you, but I like to read on translators’ blogs about their dogs and cats, what their husband or wife said that morning during breakfast, how in the world they managed to get through the hell of puberty and high school and things like that (because as Emily Blunt put it in “Jane Austen Book Club”, “high school is never over!?!).

So, all things considered, I think that the optimal ratio of personal to professional on a translator’s blog would be about 70 : 30, while keeping in mind that there is really no clear boundary between the two.

I will try to keep the content on my website mostly professional, and on my blog more personal than professional.

Let’s hope it will work.



  1. Hey Steve,

    As a recent newcomer to your blog (it was pointed out to me by a colleague a month or so ago), I’m happy to say that I think you strike the right balance between personal and professional. I also like the fact that you throw in a good dose of humour: translation is often a lonely and a serious business, and anything that makes me smile as I drink my mid-afternoon coffee has to be a good thing.

    Keep up the good work!



  2. Thank you very much.

    I aim to please.


  3. Mr. Vitek, this post of yours reminds me of a translator profile at Bokor’s back in 2004 – José Castro’s “Mom, I Wanna Be an Artist!” ( At the end of José Castro’s writing, he said:

    “As you see, dear reader, this article doesn’t contain many instant formulas or strategies. In translation, as in all the intellectual professions, the translator-person cannot be separated from the translator-professional. What happens to one affects the other and so, if we improve professionally, we also improve as people, and vice versa.

    That’s the great fortune of having chosen this profession. And the great pleasure.”

    For me, it is all right even if your “personal content” really goes up to 70:30 against the so-called “professional content.” It’s always good to know the attitudes of translators. And I believe that good clients would like to know translators’ real attitudes, not their professional self-promotion stuffs.

    So, please keep on writing as freely as you have been doing up to now.


  4. Thank you very much for your words of encouragement, as always.


  5. The first thought that came to mind after reading your previous post and this one, one after the other, was: Draw the line just before discussing your experiences with the blond from your university days. (I would say, just kidding, but I’m not.) But nevermind — it shows you’re comfortable in the world and can say what you like! I enjoy reading your blog — a personal view of the life of a professional. Very nice to have your perspective about all kinds of things.


  6. My frustration with the garbage on teevee masquerading as news programs is almost as frustratingly painful as that particular frustration I suddenly remembered from an incident decades ago, which was up until then hidden deep in my memory, almost forgotten.

    I just could not resist the comparison. I’m sure Freud would be able to explain it.

    Plus I thought it would be funny.


    • You certainly made your point! And I believe you’ve shown the universality of (certain frustratingly painful) human experience. I will abstain from further comment. ;v)


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