Adventures in DTP

As the head of our quality assurance (QA) and desktop publishing (DTP) programs, I run into all sorts of unexpected situations. And by unexpected, I mean — let’s put a positive spin on this — adventurous. 

When complications arise during the process, they usually occur because of what we don’t know. Or, even more accurately, because of what we don’t know we don’t know. We love our clients, but, like the rest of us, they sometimes make assumptions. Assumptions, for example, about what a finished product will entail. Most of the time those assumptions line up with our standard processes and procedures. Occasionally, they don’t.

QA is a basic process that we perform that  involves a side-by-side comparison of the translated text to the original. We match text blocks and spacing, punctuation, callouts (such as pull-quotes, boxes and arrows), page numbers and so on. Essentially, we make sure that the translation matches the original (not so much in terms of the actual language, since a professional proofreader will already have done that check). DTP is a much more thorough process.

When performing QA and DTP on a translated document, we specifically ask the client about a variety of common customizations. We see the same client expectation pop up multiple times. To illustrate, we often encounter the issue of page match: should a translated document have the same content on the same page number as the original, and should the translated version be exactly as long? As one could imagine, this becomes especially thorny when a target language expands or contracts. A Spanish translation, for instance, will wind up being considerably longer than its English original. What if the client wants a page match? We can decrease line spacing. Or change the font size. Or, failing that — shudder — make other modifications too terrible to contemplate.

When we encounter the same client assumptions multiple times, we address that issue in all initial client onboarding conversations. We also create customer-specific style guides to pass on to our translators. These profiles address individual quirks and preferences that we’ve picked up on as we’ve worked with a customer. The profiles help tremendously, allowing translators and my team to proactively customize and thus avoid rework.

Just when we think we’ve seen every client expectation and have incorporated them into our screening and onboarding process, we get blindsided by a new requirement that we would never have imagined. A client, for example, might want specific terms left in English, and assume that such a requirement would be obvious. Or, even more complex, they may want those terms in English with their translated variant following in parentheses. They may have preferential wording for the final (translated) product: our translator made one valid choice, but the client had a preconception that a different phraseology was more in line with their vision. They may want their company letterhead incorporated into the translation — even though it was not in the original; they may want a table or graph omitted, shrunken, expanded or untranslated. The customer may want a specific font but neglect to tell us. Fonts vary considerably in the amount of space they require; a standard Word document with default margins will, in 11 point Arial font, allow 84 characters per line. Given identical parameters, 104 characters of Garamond will fit per line. Switching from Arial to Garamond, then, will shrink a translation by 23%. Obviously, this issue will generate a cascade of others. 

The individuality of client needs knows no bounds, but we must all rise to the occasion.