From review to quality

In-country review is important! Nevertheless, it is high time to stop focusing on in-country review as a standalone process and see it as a vital part of a holistic quality management strategy.

One of the findings of a Common Sense Advisory study on “Rethinking Client Language Reviews” is that “Client language reviews — often called in-country or third-party reviews — are notorious for causing delays and frustrations for all parties involved.” Furthermore, Tim Martin, senior staff member of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Translation, states that 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.”

We therefore envisage a different, new approach for our industry. We see the review process as a cornerstone of an integrated quality management system based on true collaboration between all the relevant stakeholders, rather than just black box thinking. Consequently, reviewers assume a new and much more strategic, proactive role.

Start before the translation

We break down the workflow into three phases: before translation, during translation and after translation.

So, let’s start at the beginning: the source text. This should adhere to a defined style guide. By controlling the content and design of documents in this way, companies can ensure consistency in all their written material. Sophisticated style guides even encompass best practice in usage and in language composition, visual composition, orthography and typography. As a direct consequence, a source text that adheres to the defined style guide makes work a lot easier for following stakeholders, such as translators, project managers and reviewers. A style guide will also imbue a document with a certain level of quality.

All copywriters and editors should therefore follow the style guide and, equally importantly, company-wide terminology, which should be easily available. If you want to succeed in terminology, you better make sure that everybody who will have some input into the content, such as editors, developers, product managers, marketing teams, partners, translators and clients, can easily access the terminology. This swift access allows everybody to research terms and check texts, request new terminology or terminology changes, or simply provide feedback.

In respect to translation, it is vital to ensure that the chosen terminology software provides collaborative terminology life cycle management, since this functionality enables you to manage globally dispersed approval processes across multiple decision levels and languages. Furthermore, it is important to systematically organize this terminology workflow — request, agree, research, approve, translate, change and so on — so that you stay in full control of the complete version and change record of your terminology.

A successful terminology process must motivate and encourage all possible stakeholders to use and engage with it. A proven and successful way to do so is by introducing social media-like features. Live chat, term quizzes, “liking” and recommending entries make people feel part of the community and familiarize them with the world of terminology.

The success of all these efforts should be tracked and traced through increasing access figures. Key performance indicators can provide valid data about the terminology work itself — a critical management tool for any terminology team.

In order to ensure that all your texts comply with the company-wide terminology, verification is the next step. Sophisticated software solutions are these days even capable of handling stemming nouns and verbs, decomposing words with several components and checking the result against the termbase. This way the algorithm can correctly spot declined or conjugated words and individual parts of compositions.

All in all, a widely accepted and validated terminological base reduces ambiguities, queries and mistakes. Or in other words, by increasing quality, terminology management saves time and therefore cost.

Staying on track during translation

In this phase, the best and most precise usability testers for any text enter the stage: the translators! Scrutinizing the source texts, they come up with queries that often result from defective or ambivalent spots in the text. Instead of considering these queries as a nuisance and ignoring them, as unfortunately happens all too often, we strongly recommend using them in a planned and strategic manner. This helps improve the entire content-creation process. Of course, translators benefit, too, since a clear and concise text free of ambiguity means fewer questions, which allows translation to be completed more quickly.

As queries tend to be neglected all too often, and because there was no valid data available throughout the industry, we initiated a master-thesis study at the University of Vienna. Large amounts of query data were categorized and analyzed, which helped us to discover that most queries — about 80% — are of a terminological nature. This finding proved that a solid terminological basis is important. In addition, it becomes clear that a link to terminology management is essential, so that resolved queries can be automatically reused in the termbase. The remaining 20% of the queries were about the process itself — issues with translator guidelines, conflicting information in references, terminology and style guides, or issues with the source text.

This analysis and our daily experience demonstrate the need for all stakeholders — translators, project managers, clients and subject-matter experts — to collaborate openly and freely.

Ideally, translators should submit and track queries directly within their translation tool, while other stakeholders can answer, delegate, comment, track or search for queries. Any time a new query is raised, the query database consisting of past and resolved incidences is searched right away.

Feedback loops to translators, clients and project managers increase effective communication and ensure that all the captured know-how is stored. Terminological queries can immediately be reused for terminology work. In addition, queries that involve relevant information pertaining to the original document can be bundled and relayed to the authors on the client side after the project is over.

After translation

This approach establishes a structured monitoring process that clearly focuses on strategic quality management. All you have to do now is to enable your reviewers to assess samples and provide constructive and objective feedback. The benefits are manifold; among other things you can monitor your “service level” of translation, determine weaknesses or “erratic” process outcomes and you can consign “last-minute emergency tasks” to the past and enjoy a smooth quality-management operation.

As a prerequisite, you need valid parameters for quality. 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.”

Clients, LSPs and potentially even end-users define these specifications and requirements and turn these into clear content profiles with defined issue typologies and quality benchmarks. Only this objective classification enables reviewers to assess every type of change they make in the document. These issue types can be quite complex, as in Multidimensional Quality Metrics or Dynamic Quality Framework, or simplistic, as in “meaning-terminology-grammar-style,” depending largely 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.

Tracked over time, this quality score provides a meaningful and strategic dashboard. The project manager receives valuable insight and knows where proactive actions are required. The score can also easily be used to demonstrate quality service levels to clients or reviewers.

The collaborative aspect adds even more flavor to the new review approach. Reviewers, translators and graphic designers (if needed) work together seamlessly on the same platform.

Focusing on overall translation quality and both its assessment and strategic management repositions the whole review process. It furthermore breaks down the barriers between individual stakeholders and boosts the quality of both the source and the translated text. This is achieved through four principles:

•Collaboration: Every stakeholder works together collaboratively, continuously, constructively and objectively to achieve the agreed outcome together.

•Preparation: Global content generation starts with defined content profiles, an appropriate style guide and a solid terminology basis.

•Usability in every process step: Considering that some stakeholders are nonlanguage 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 and so on provide a huge resource for business intelligence. The findings are a sound and objective basis for further business decisions, managing language teams and fine-tuning the process.