22 June 2017

Transcreating technical journalism, conference presentation

On Saturday 17 June, I at spoke at the TransLisboa 2017 conference organised by Aptrad. My presentation was entitled
Transcreating technical journalism.

To give this presentation, I prepared a Word file for the first part and a PowerPoint file for the second part. The contents of the Word file appears below.
The files area available on request.

In this talk I will
  • describe a niche market for translation and transcreation,
  • explain how real commitment to a niche market can improve your job satisfaction and income, and
  • show how this niche, like others, depends on fundamental skills.

The skills I refer to include:
  • understanding what your client wants
  • knowledge of the source language and culture
  • technical knowledge of the client’s industry and technologies
  • writing skills and flexibility in the target language.
The niche I will be discussing involves the transcreation into English of technical journalism on the French naval and maritime sectors.
For a definition of transcreation, see The truth about transcreation by Michael Farrell.

First, a word to the younger translators in the room

You will, I trust, have learned that our industry is extremely fragmented, by which I mean that different translators often specialise in quite different language services.
This means that what some translators say about their services may directly contradict what others say about theirs or even things that your teachers or mentors have taught you.
Do not let these contradictions worry you. They are just part of our fragmented industry.


Transcreation of technical journalism can be viewed as a three-step process:
  1. First, translate the original.
  2. Then, a day or two later, review and, where necessary, rewrite the document with the same sort of rigour and severity as a copy editor (o editor ou chefe de redacção) might — specifically a copy editor of the type of publication you have chosen to emulate. In my case, Jane’s Navy International.
  3. Review again to double-check that you have fully taken into account the target readership’s information needs.

Negotiating a mandate

  1. Define the target readership and their information needs. Also identify the readership’s other sources of information in the target language on the topic of interest. One of these sources may be a good candidate for emulation.
  2. Reconcile and negotiate your client’s goals and your own aims. For example, if you are aiming to establish a reputation as a transcreator and the client wants a less ambitious translation, you may have to ask yourself if this client is for you.
  3. Should the client express interest in the details of your process — which is extremely rare in my experience — produce a test document for discussion then explain your method and the devices you use. The devices may include:
  • geographical information omitted or added
  • other content omitted or added
  • passages reorganised
  • passages where the focus has been changed or shifted.
  1. Whether talking to yourself as you transcreate, holding imaginary conversations with a curious client or responding to actual client queries, you will — or should — find yourself constantly referring to the end readers’ needs, which is to say the needs of your client’s customers.

Best practice

In my opinion, best practice in this sort of work also calls for:
  • a Microsoft Word stylesheet (previously called a ‘template’), typically in *.dotm file format, to ensure consistent formatting
  • a Style Guide* covering all relevant points of style, including preferred spellings, punctuation, use of acronyms and abbreviations, use of italics, etc., etc.
  • instructions for graphics layout teams, webmasters and anyone else contributing to the final layout.

My mandate

My client, a small team of journalists who call themselves Mer et Marine, produces a daily French-language newsletter called Toute l’actualité maritime, and a monthly English-language newsletter called Maritime News based primarily on articles that previously appeared in the French version.
My mandate for Maritime News is to transcreate, from French into English for English-speaking readers based primarily in north-western Europe (i.e. UK, Germany, Scandinavia). Most of these readers have technical qualifications and a professional interest in naval and maritime engineering and allied areas. The prime aim of the English version is to promote French technologies and innovations. The second aim is to promote the companies concerned and their products. The order of these priorities for the English version is the reverse of that for the French version.
To support this mandate:
  • I drafted a definition of the target readership
  • proposed a Word stylesheet
  • drafted and regularly update a Style Guide and instructions for the layout team
  • discussed all of the above with the client.
For the record, I should explain that many of the instructions for the layout team have yet to be adopted because the team is reusing an html template originally developed solely for the French version which cannot take into account some of my suggestions. One example is standfirsts containing full sentences. This last point is rather frustrating.
Publication to emulate: Jane’s Navy International.

What are the benefits of all this?

  • higher job satisfaction
  • higher client esteem
  • possibly higher income (… rates need to be high to very high, but for some people — including me — this type of work can take a long time to produce)
  • work with your head rather than boring and sometimes stressful translation tools.

Examples from Translating Technical Journalism:

The most important fundamental skill

Earlier on, I mentioned the skills required for professional transcreation. They are:
  1. what your client wants
  2. source language and culture
  3. technical knowledge
  4. target-language writing skills.

Which do you think is the most critical and the most difficult to find when building a team? Also the skill that I personally find — despite my years — needs the most work?

Anyone like to suggest an answer?

Well, in my experience, it’s mother-tongue writing skills.
While proud of my work, I often feel that my texts should flow better and be more concise. In a word, they should be more snappy. Why? Because, in English, it is how well an article flows that determines how much is read and retained which, in turn, determines the article’s impact on the target readership. And that, of course, is precisely what your client wants. Sure my articles flow, at least some of the time. But I’d be happier still if they not only flowed, but sang.

A closer look at what ‘technical’ means

Given, first, that most of you are Portuguese mother tongue speakers: second, that I only work from French to English; and third, that few of you will benefit from detailed examples of technical French, allow me to conduct an experiment.
I want to do this because, despite the challenges, technical detail is fundamental not only to my topic, but also to my approach.
So, let me show some slides adapted from a presentation that I gave here in November 2010 presenting examples in English from Jane’s publications. I leave you to imagine what might be needed in order to produce a high-quality into-Portuguese transcreation of each.

Open Transcreating TJ_Lx_June2017_v2.ppt.

13 June 2017

Multiple qualifiers

Despite the fact that long strings of qualifiers are frowned upon by style guides, they are widely used, especially in technical writing and journalism for the simple reason that they offer a handy solution to a frequent problem, namely the clear, extended, multi-dimensional qualification of technical terms.

The challenges raised by how to order qualifiers probably explains why OSASCOMP: Applied analysis is by far the most frequently consulted post on this blog.

Many who have blogged, posted and tweeted on this, including me (see OSASCOMP in the news and OSASCOMP in the news), have failed to stress sufficiently that OSASCOMP only applies to unpunctuated strings of adjectives.

In Hysteria over hyphens, Johnson points out:
English is a Germanic language that allows for many different kinds of compounds, including those made from two adjectives (“blue-green”), two nouns (“kitchen sink”), adjective-noun (“darkroom”), noun-adjective (“slate-blue”) and so on. But which ones should be written separately, which hyphenated and which closed up?
To this I would add "And in what order should they be arranged where multiple qualifiers with different grammatical categories occur in combination?"

Johnson adds (my bold):
A bestselling guide to punctuation was subtitled “The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation”. Punctuation pros sniggered. The Economist, like most other publications, would require a hyphen (“Zero-Tolerance”) here.
This hyphen is starkly different from the one in “arch-rival”. It has a critical grammatical function, not just a stylistic one. It tells the readers that several words are to be taken together as a single modifier. You can write “we have zero tolerance for bad punctuation,” but when “zero tolerance” is used to modify a noun, it acts a bit like an adjective. It does not become an adjective, as many people think. But taken together, as a modifier, “zero-tolerance” functions like a single word; hence the hyphen.
Reading means parsing grammar on the fly, a tricky task requiring concentration. Everything that helps with that does a favour to the reader. Strings of words with no punctuation can often be parsed in several ways. The hyphen eliminates one possibility. This not only speeds up comprehension, but in some (rare) cases, is crucial for avoiding ambiguity.
I have written repeatedly on OSASCOMP and multiple qualifiers, and will no doubt come back to the topic again and again, given that many challenges remain. Still, Hysteria over hyphens definitely takes us a few steps forward.

A helping hand from Johnson

Following the publication of Hysteria over hyphens by the incomparable Johnson, I posted this comment:
As a French-to-English translator freelancing for the French naval defence industry, I have long been bothered by the ambiguity of terms using "amphibious assault" as a qualifier. For some, "amphibious assault ship" presumably conjures up the comical image of a ship moving up a beach and across the dunes ... For the first time, Johnson has made clear the reason for the ambiguity and the solution. So, despite the fact that I have never seen "amphibious-assault" as a hyphenated qualifier in any naval document that has come my way, I have resolved, from today, to adopt it. Many thanks.
I then updated my translation archives by replacing the qualifier "amphibious assault" by "amphibious-assault" to help me remember today's resolution.

While the point of punctuation is relatively minor, I allowed myself to be misled by naval journalists and writers that I usually consider worthy of emulation (cf. Translation by emulation, take #1). It took me decades to discover my mistake, but at least I found it. Thank you, once again, Johnson!

French-English glossary of naval defence, v17

Below you will find a link to v17 of my  French-English Glossary of Naval Technology  dated October 2019. This glossary or lexicon is ...