If self-revision is bogging you down, try this system

If self-revision is bogging you down, try this system

By Judy Murphy


Self-revision is an incredibly important skill to master as a translator. The idea behind it is to produce a translation that requires minimal intervention from a reviser. It takes a while to reach this stage, but that is the end goal. The more you practice self-revision, the better you will get.

Self-revision is one of those painstaking processes that is very slow at first but is worth its weight in gold later on in your career. Since translation is deadline driven, translators are always pressed for time and often feel like they have no time to self-revise. The key is efficiency, and it really helps to have a system. Here is one I developed for myself when I started translating.


  1. Translate the entire document, highlighting difficult passages as you go.
  2. Move on if you spend more than 5 minutes trying to solve a problem. Highlight the problems, revisit them at the end, and then ask for help if you can’t figure it out. Often, someone else can answer your question or you’ll resolve it elsewhere in the document.

Bilingual revision

  1. Do a bilingual revision.
  2. Go segment by segment. Read the source and then read the target. Ask yourself: Does it have the same meaning? Did I use the right terminology? Have I left anything out? Have I added anything? This tackles three major translation issues: meaning, word choice and omissions/additions.
  3. Check everything that you are not sure about: words, facts, sources, etc. When in doubt, find the answer or ask someone. Do not leave unresolved questions in your translation.

Unilingual revision (for style)

  1. Read through your translation without the source text.
  2. Ask yourself: Do the sentences flow from one to the next? Do the subjects and verbs match? Do I have any dangling modifiers? One trap that all translators fall into is telling themselves that something “sounds better” or that we “say it in English.” This leads to their introducing errors or trying too hard to create poetry out of board meeting notes. So only change what you know you can change.
  3. Ask yourself: Have I followed the French too closely because I’m scared of making a mistake? This is another sneaky trap. Many French and English words look the same but do not mean the same thing. Check usage. Use the dictionary. Master your words.

Unilingual revision (for grammar and punctuation)

  1. Read through your translation without the source text.
  2. Check for grammar and punctuation.
  3. Make a list of grammar and punctuation issues that come back from revisors and go through the checklist during this unilingual revision. Soon you’ll find that you make these mistakes less and less as your awareness of them increases.

A note on consistency: Identify potential consistency problems in a list and tackle them separately once you have finished translating. This keeps you from getting distracted by improving style or correcting punctuation at the same time.

For a different but equally useful approach to self-revision, read A Procedure for Self-Revision by Brian Mossop.