Is ISO 17100-compliant checking really better?

When talking about ISO 17100, the first knee-jerk response is usually the thought “doesn’t that mean translation based on the four-eyes principle?”. In fact ISO 17100, the standard for translation services, is much, much more.

The revision of translations in accordance with ISO 17100 – what it means and what benefits it really offers.

When talking about ISO 17100, the first knee-jerk response is usually the thought: “Doesn’t that mean translation in accordance with the four-eyes principle?”. In fact ISO 17100, the standard for translation services, is much, much more than this reduction to a revision of the translation by a second professional translator. Rather, it defines comprehensive framework conditions for the entire translation process and all parties involved in it – an issue often overlooked. This may be due to the fact that many non-certified service providers advertise ISO 17100-compliant translation services but in fact rarely actually comply with the other content of the standard because of a lack of certification and failure to undergo audits. Ultimately therefore, they are only selling their clients the four-eyes principle.

Although it may be worthwhile considering ISO 17100 beyond the four-eyes principle, it is precisely that detail that is the main focus of interest and is the subject of numerous controversial discussions. So, let us take this opportunity to examine a history full of misunderstandings.

Because mistakes happen

One argument that frequently arises in the discussion about the purpose behind revision is that it is allegedly unnecessary. Why should a translation be revised again when it has been done by a qualified, experienced translator? Is it not safe to assume that the translator has delivered a high-quality translation in the first place?

At first glance, this may be a fairly good objection if it were not for one thing – the human element. Translators, as qualified and experienced as they indeed are, are humans and humans make mistakes every now and again. This is not a criticism of the translator’s ability or a doubt as to the high quality of his or her translations, it is a simple fact. The point is: This post you are reading has been written to the best of the author’s knowledge and belief and every last detail has been checked. That said, you are reading it after a second pair of eyes has reviewed it – the final touch if you like in order to achieve the best possible result and eliminate any mistakes where possible.

More than a spell check

Mistakes happen and as often as I have also read this post, I somehow missed a comma issue that my colleague picked up on straight away at first glance. This works in a similar way with translations and their revision, wherein the revision – and in many cases this is ignored – involves much more than simply correcting spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. What is meant?

Quite simply: Only the reviser can really check that the individual requirements specified by a customer for a translation have been met and that the relevant specifications, style guides, terminology and briefings, etc. have been adhered to and consistently implemented.

Project managers, as experienced and competent as they indeed are, can only partially ensure this, and only if they have knowledge of the target language in question and have translation expertise. The same goes for clients. As annoying as a spelling error discovered too late may be, if thousands of copies of the translated brochure have already been printed, the failure to comply with the customer’s instructions becomes far more critical and thus, a review becomes all the more important. Just think, for example, about avoiding forbidden terminology or the failure to comply with project specifications that are important because, for example, the client has to comply with international guidelines such as the Brazilian Machinery Directive.

For continuous quality control

Of course, certain requirements have to be met to ensure that the revision is actually of benefit. The main issue being the reviser. Revisers are by no means “better” translators and they are not infallible either. What does set them apart and, in a sense, distinguishes them however is their well-trained eye and the awareness that improvements are only made where necessary, in other words an ability to exercise an acquired restraint and also to only find errors where they do actually exist. In their task, revisers not only check sentence for sentence, they also check the text as a whole to determine whether it meets the requirements and purposes stipulated by the client – in the case of a transcreation for example, that the translation has been prepared appropriately for a clearly defined target audience – and then they rate the translation based on specific criteria. For example, oneword uses the requirements of SAE J 2450 as a basis for this.

Corrections are not unusual during this process. Often the result of a revision is simply that no changes are needed to the translation. Does that then actually make the revision unnecessary? Are the associated time and costs justified if no improvements are needed? Absolutely! After all, revision does not just mean changing every translation, it is about the continuous quality control of all translations. As previously mentioned, mistakes are human and it is not always possible to predict when and why mistakes (misunderstandings, inadvertent errors, etc.) creep into translations.

For all intents and purposes the revision is the safety net and second bottom of the translation process. An analogy should help explain this. A level-headed trapeze artist would not suddenly stop using his safety net after 20 years’ professional experience even if everything had gone always gone well for the past two decades and he can obviously rely on this expertise and experience. Instead, he would breathe deeply and say to himself: “Better safe than sorry.”

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