A strategic approach to reviewing
Are your document review cycles cumbersome and frustrating? Then you are missing their value. An integrated review process can and should be a keystone of a smooth quality management operation.
"Client language reviews often called in-country or third-party reviews are notorious for causing delays and frustrations for all parties involved." This is one of the findings of a Common Sense Advisory study on Rethinking Client Language Reviews. Reviewers "alter the meaning of translations, introduce mistakes, fall into an editing black hole, or sit on review files for months." So, how do we get reviewing out of this dead-end street and onto a finely tuned, strategic and solution-oriented translation highway?
Despite all the problems, many still value the review stage as an indispensable step in the translation production process. The reason for this is rather simple: As subject-matter experts often based in the target country the reviewers' task is to check if the translation is a good fit for the intended purpose. They are ideally suited for this role, as they know their products, services, brands, and the purpose of the content, not to mention the "lingo" and mindset of their target audiences. After all, this insight is desperately needed and can be decisive for making or breaking the success of a given product or campaign in the target market.
This clearly makes the costs and efforts involved all the more worthwhile, especially if you consider all the money that has already been spent. Before you even reach the review stage, significant sums have been invested in creating the best possible content in the source language, minimizing legal liabilities, translating into all the target languages, adhering to the company's terminology, etc. To forego the review step would increase the risk of wasted expenses. Establishing a review process is thus a matter of content quality in every language!
Despite the obvious importance of the reviewers' work, they are often "lone wolves" without guidance, process involvement, or proper tools. Usually, their job description does not even list reviewing, and they are working outside of the "industrialized" translation process. Often, the person who receives the honor of reviewing is the one who least aggressively refuses to do the job. Quite clearly, they are not professional linguists or copywriters and have a different professional background. Yet they are haphazardly asked to "correct" a document, which essentially implies that it is broken to begin with and upon them to rescue the day.
Breaking the vicious cycle
While solving these process and technology issues makes life a lot easier, it does not tackle the heart of the problem:
"[Review ] alone is an imperfect art and can never ensure that an intrinsically bad product will be rendered flawless. Nor indeed should it be seen merely as a form of corrective action. Its real strength and investment value is as a feedback tool that allows its results to be channeled back into the whole cycle of translation production in order to eliminate or reduce problems at source," states Tim Martin, senior staff member of the European Commission's Directorate-General for Translation.
The industry therefore needs a new approach, which
- sees the review process as a keystone of an integrated quality management system instead of a last-minute rescue operation;
- gives its participants a new and much more strategic and proactive role; and
- is based on true collaboration between all relevant stakeholders, rather than black-box thinking.
A strategic quality management workflow
For us, quality management starts well before the actual translation and brings together all the stakeholders strategically at an early stage of the process. The entire workflow can be broken down as follows:
- Pre-translation efforts: These include process steps such as terminology work or style guide development, but also the specification of requirements broken down into "content profiles", issue types, quality scores and quality benchmarks.
- During translation: Open collaboration in translator-reviewer teams resolves translation issues and queries as they arise, ideally using special query management portals. This process reveals valuable information about the content and the process, which should be actively spread to all stakeholders.
- Post-translation effort: This is essentially centered on a continuous feedback process to make sure the outcome is in line with the strategic goals and defined expectations. This can be achieved by regularly assessing and tracking the quality of the translation output, or by cleverly calculated text samples, which vary in type and size according to the project's content profile. By assigning clearly defined and objective "issue types" to each reviewer change, a review system can calculate an overall quality score of each document based on the reviewed sample. This data can then be tracked and analyzed in order to identify weaknesses in the process. As a result, the "notoriously frustrating" review experience morphs into a strategic, objective and efficient process that encourages true collaboration and produces business intelligence to measure and improve the entire workflow.
So, what would such a new review and quality management approach look like in "real" life? The most important steps and pitfalls are outlined below.
Getting the basi(c)s right
The more the source text is in line with the defined style guide, the stronger the basis for any downstream work done by translators, project managers, or reviewers. All copywriters and editors should adhere to the style guide and, importantly, the company-wide terminology. Which brings us to another core requirement: It is necessary to use software that enables all stakeholders to work together and to contribute to the success and quality of the project. This should go without saying in the days of "wikinomics", creative commons, and "shareconomy", but cooperation still does not enjoy the status it deserves.
Guidelines and terminology
As an example, let's have a look at what cooperative terminology work could, and should, look like. It is crucial that all stakeholders editors, developers, product managers, marketing teams, partners, translators, and clients have quick and easy access to terminology for research, for checking texts, for requesting new terminology or terminology changes, or simply for providing feedback. It is important to ensure your software provides collaborative terminology life cycle management, allowing you to manage globally dispersed approval processes across multiple decision levels and languages.
Furthermore, it is vital to systematically organize this terminology workflow request, agree, research, approve, translate, change etc. and to be in full control in terms of a complete version and change record of the termbase. For a terminology process to be successful, it needs to motivate and encourage users to use and engage with it. This can be achieved through social media-like features such as live chat, term quizzes, "liking", recommending entries or just being part of the community. And last but not least, sound key performance indicators to clearly measure and demonstrate the success of the terminology work, are critical.
Once defined, you will need software that allows you to easily check the texts you are producing for adherence to this terminological base. A widely accepted and validated terminological base will help you throughout the entire process and help you save time and therefore costs by reducing ambiguities, queries, and mistakes.
Turn queries into know-how
During the translation phase, translators by far the most perfectionist usability testers for any kind of text scrutinize the source text. With their queries, they point out defective and ambivalent spots in texts. Yet these queries are often considered a nuisance and left unattended, rather than harnessing them to unleash their powerful impact on the entire content creation process. After all, the less ambiguous the text, the fewer questions a translator has to ask, the faster the translation can be completed and the more useful it is for the end user in every language including the source language.
Figure 1: Turning review into a quality management process delivers valuable business intelligence over time.
The importance of the data collected from queries is not just common sense, but has been proven in a master thesis at the University of Vienna, which reviewed and categorized large amounts of query data. The majority of all queries about 80 percent were of a terminological nature. This proves the importance of a solid terminological basis and the need for a link to the terminology management solution, so that resolved queries can be automatically reused in the termbase. The rest of the queries were about the process itself, e.g., issues with translator guidelines, conflicting information in references, terminology and style guides, or with the source text. Regardless of the type of query, it is vital that every stakeholder in this process step translators, project managers, clients, and subject matter experts collaborates openly and freely.
These teams resolve translation issues and queries as they arise. The enabler could be a role-based online portal that has a fully customizable and collaborative workflow. While translators can ask and track queries directly within their translation tool, other stakeholders can answer, delegate, comment on, track or search queries in their web browser, or even on their tablet or smartphone.
Past queries are searched immediately when a new query is raised, preventing the same question from being asked twice. Queries that are relevant in more than one language can be communicated automatically to all team members. As mentioned above, terminologically significant queries must be efficiently captured for reuse through links with the terminology management software. At the end of this process step, any feedback from translators on the source text should be made available to the authors so they can benefit from these specific linguistic insights.
Rethink and reposition the review
After you have put so much time and effort into the steps before and during translation, the previously cumbersome review process can be turned into a more strategic "monitoring" process by having your reviewers assess samples and provide constructive and objective feedback. This allows you to monitor your "service level" of translation, pinpoint weaknesses or "erratic" process outcomes, and thus turn the "last-minute emergency tasks" into a smooth quality-management operation.
To achieve this, it is important to define customized content profiles with different issue types and quality scores. As Alan K. Melby, linguist and translation scientist at Brigham Young University, once put it: "A quality translation demonstrates accuracy and fluency required for the audience and purpose and complies with all other specifications negotiated between the requester and provider, taking into account both requester goals and end-user needs."
These specifications and requirements must be established interactively between clients, LSPs and potentially even end users, and turned into clear content profiles with defined issue typologies and quality benchmarks. Only with this objective classification are reviewers able to assess every type of change they make in the document. These issue types can be quite complex, as in MQM or DQF, or simplistic, as in "meaning-terminology-grammar-style". This largely depends on the "professionalism" of the reviewers. Each content profile is linked to a different set of weighted issue types. Once a reviewer has assessed a sample or an entire document, the review system will calculate the quality score.
This quality score is then tracked over time, providing a meaningful and strategic dashboard for the project manager to know where proactive actions are required. In addition, it provides a great way to demonstrate quality service levels to clients or reviewers.
Another important aspect is the collaborative aspect of the new review approach. Reviewers, translators, graphic designers (if needed), etc., should work together seamlessly, if possible on the same platform, to ensure a smooth and efficient workflow. This includes ensuring that the translators do not have to manually insert into the translation the changes made by the reviewer, but can simply approve, reject, or expand upon the changes introduced during review. Also, it automatically makes sure translators actually receive the feedback they need to improve or "direct" their work to the liking of the reviewers. If there is a project manager involved, he stays on top of all the changes and who made them. All the approved changes will be included in the translation memory and will be useful in the next translation project. Detailed change logs, including a quality matrix, can be downloaded from the system.
A new review approach breaks down the barriers between the individual stakeholders of the process and boosts the quality of both the source and the translated text. This is achieved through four principles:
- Collaboration: It is vital to the new approach that all stakeholders work together collaboratively, continuously, constructively, and objectively to jointly achieve the agreed outcome.
- Preparation: Global content generation starts with defined content profiles, the right style guide and a solid terminology basis.
- Usability in every process step: Taking into account that some stakeholders are non-professionals, everyone should be able to easily access essential data, such as terminology or quality profiles, and be empowered to do their job without the need for any complex software.
- Management: All the data gathered from issue typology, quality scoring, etc., provide massive business intelligence. The findings are a sound and objective basis for further business decisions, managing language teams and fine-tuning the process.
In a nutshell: Let's shift the paradigm away from last-minute fixes by unguided stakeholders. Let's focus on objectivity, collaboration and achieving the expected results by working together!