Why Copy Editing is Important in Software Localization and Translation


Jon Atkinson

Jon Atkinson

By Jon Atkinson

Those who have worked in print publishing environments are intimately familiar with proofreading and copy editing — iterative processes in preparing written material for publication. These three practices often connote images of printer proofs with marked errors.

It’s an image that is sometimes at odds with today’s technology-rich software development industries.  Many wonder, how do the traditional definitions of proofreading and copy editing materialize in today’s localization work? What forms do they take in the current processes of adapting software applications and game titles into different cultures and locales?

The ‘Four Eyes’ Principle

Copy editing and proofreading occurs after text from a piece of software or game script has undergone the initial adaption from the mother language — it has been ‘roughly’ translated. The copy editor or proofreader who aids in the localization of a text is fluent in the language that the text was translated into as well as the original language of the text. In some cases — with smaller projects or with clients with more limited resources — a text’s translator and its copy editor/proofreader are the same person.

The copy editor or proofreader pores over the two versions of the text and not only checks for any kind of factual and grammatical errors or inconsistencies — but also looks for potential gaps in logic in the translated text that may impede reader comprehension, as things do get ‘lost in translation.’

To mitigate this, localization teams often apply the ‘four eyes’ principle: One translator performs the rough translation; another edits — refines and strengthens the translation.

As translation is only part of the overall localization process, and localization itself is somewhat of an art, not an exact science — the strength of a text is often based on the person or people who are performing the language conversion. They make a significant number of small decisions throughout the text — such as deciding between multiple ways of phrasing a passage that will best retain the original’s spirit. Great translations do not just come out of language proficiency, but through experience and far-reaching, comprehensive knowledge of the target language’s culture.

A good copy editor or proofreader has these strengths, too, and it’s through a deep understanding of both texts that they can lend their ‘fresh eyes’ in cleaning up the piece. The editor also has a responsibility to maintain the style of the text because inconsistencies can significantly damage the final product. End-users of the software or game will detect that something is ‘off’ — that, essentially ‘four eyes’ have worked on the text and it’s not cohesive.

Solutions to Blindness

There is sometimes a problem with blindness when a translator or editor has been immersed in a text for a long time, especially when deadlines are tight — which they often are in software development — and work is rushed.

Has this happened to you?:

You spend a good amount of time crafting a written presentation. You read and reread it over and over, systematically cleaning up some clunky phrases or confusing explanations. At the point when you’re just moving commas around, you feel pretty good about your presentation.

Then you noticed that there is a glaring typo in the large and bold title of the presentation! You wonder how you could’ve missed it.

‘Blindness’ is easy to avoid when deadlines aren’t tight, of course, but time is a luxury that we don’t always have in software development. Oversights do occur in translating software, but an experienced professional translator will make far fewer mistakes than someone who is inexperienced and inexpensive — and he or she will be able to accomplish high quality work under tight deadlines.

There are projects — such as smaller social games — with text that isn’t extensive. These projects can be done by one translator. But even one person can utilize the two eyes approach, in a way. With one-person projects, translators should take a significant break or work on something else in between the translation work and the editing work.  The time allows their brain to ‘forget’ some of the details the translator has started taking for granted. The break allows them to come back to the text fresh, which is like coming back to the text with another pair of eyes. (end)

Jon Atkinson is a Senior Program Manager at VMC.  View his profile on LinkedIn. Read more of Jon’s blog posts here. Contact Jon at JonA@vmc.com or 877.393.8622.

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About VMC Consulting and VMC Game Labs

VMC Consulting is a technology consulting and outsourcing company that provides flexible and scalable build, run and support solutions. VMC Game Labs is the world’s leading partner for games quality assurance and support.
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