Why Complaints About Translation Quality Happen and How to Avoid Them

Zbyněk Zelenka

Zbyněk Zelenka

12. 11. 2012

It may be said that there are a variety of languages, stylistic options, lots of synonyms in each language, special terminology or even poor quality of source texts or insufficient communication when ordering the translation – all these are a breeding ground for creating a translation the client may not be 100% satisfied with.

What should the client and the translation agency do to maintain client satisfaction and avoid any complaints? And if there are complaints, what should be done to deal with them properly?


1) It is of the utmost importance to check the quality of the source text (i.e. the text which is to be translated) before commensing with the translation.

If the source text contains errors or is unclear (in terms of terminology and stylistics, or it contains unknown abbreviations), the translation cannot be expected to be excellent. The translator must not change meaning, content, or scope of the text; s/he can only correct obvious mistakes, but cannot improve the overall quality of the source text.

Prior to making a complaint, the client should find out whether the mistakes in the translation are not, in fact, mistakes from the source text. The translator may not always reveal these mistakes and usually does not have time to consult the client concerning every single unclear aspect or stylistic incorrectness in the source text.


2) Furthermore, the client should explain the purpose of the translation to the translator (or the translation agency)

If the translation agency knows that the translation is to be published, for example, on the Internet, it will surely try to convince the client to order all applicable proofreading with the agency and to make sure the text is correctly prepared for its final publishing.

Should the translation agency not be informed about the purpose of the text, the client may order a “working” version of the translation without any proofreading and then – without any necessary modifications or checks – publish it on his/her website or in another way, and a problem may emerge.

Not every text is automatically prepared for publishing. Prior to making a complaint, it is necessary to check whether the agency has been informed about the purpose of the translation and whether applicable proofreading has been ordered. It is impossible to make a complaint about work which has not been ordered.


3) It goes without saying that if the client has its own discipline or company terminological glossary (or a glossary with translations), then it is important to make it available to the translation agency

If such a dictionary (glossary) is not available to the translation agency, and thus to the translator, then all generally known and used terms have to be used in the translation.

The translator cannot know whether the client dealing in the automotive industry uses “windshield” or “windscreen” etc. The translator is forced to use the term which is used in the given discipline the most frequently and which has already been used without any problems. However, the client still may not consider it correct.

When making a complaint related to professional terminology, it is necessary to bear in mind whether there was a terminological dictionary or glossary available for the translator to use or not.


4) Be sure to spend enough time on preparing, ordering and carrying out the translation and to briefly consult the project manager of the translation agency

Each order, if its translation is supposed to achieve a certain quality, requires a certain amount of time and communication. The more professional or representative the text is (intended for publishing), the more time the translator, proofreaders, graphic artists and project managers need. If the client insists on a very short deadline, s/he should realize that it may negatively affect the quality of the resulting translation.

When making a complaint about the quality of the translation carried out within an extremely short time, it is necessary to assess the quality also based on whether any proofreading was agreed on (and even possible in terms of time).

Following on from the above, it is important to bear in mind that: Around 90% of complaints are caused by the fact that there was no stylistic proofreading.


5) If no stylistical proofreading was ordered and carried out, then the client has to stick only to the source text when checking the quality of the translation, just like the translator did

In such cases, it is necessary to evaluate stylistic quality of the translation based solely on the stylistic quality of the source text.

If the client (or his/her proofreader) starts with stylistic modifications of a finished translation independently of the source text, then they are considered extra modifications and improvements of the text that already replace the stylistic proofreading. If such proofreading was not part of the order, it is impossible to make a complaint about its absence.

Also, the proofreader uses other synonyms (of the same quality), but the proofread text then seems to be full of mistakes. Such modifications cannot be subject to complaint, either.

If, however, stylistic proofreading was ordered and conducted (apart from other proofreading), it is possible to check the translation also independently of the source text, as the text should be stylistically modified with no respect to the stylistics of the source text.

Last year our company created around 10 thousand translation jobs with only 22 complaints (i.e. 0.22% of the total number).

We believe that the information listed above can not only improve how we communicate with our clients, but also help us maintain or even improve these good results.

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