Agile Translating and the Death of Proofreading?

Agile development is all the rage these days. Agile content development is even gradually becoming a thing, especially as it concerns online marketing and brand identity. Some are even starting to talk about “agile translation”, but agile is very much an iterative process, rather than a process aimed at making something absolutely perfect before it's released. So where does proofreading fit into the agile production and translation of content?

Given the quality of a lot of writing you see online these days, it's clear that not a lot of proofreading goes into the actual production of content in just one language, so why should we worry about proofreading translations of that same content? It may seem like a simple question, but it's one that has a profound impact on how we view the multi-lingual content creation process.

If we take mono-lingual content creation first, we can see how proofreading may be less necessary, because it's easy enough for the content producer to gradually tweak a text as it continues to be used. But if that same text is translated by someone less “vested” in the actual content - which is the usual case of a translation being outsourced in whatever way - the translator isn't going to keep coming back to the text to see if it can be improved. Once the job is done, it's done. In the same way, you can't really expect every minor edit to the source text to be farmed out to a linguist to see if that same sort of edit needs to be made in all the other languages the text has been translated into.


Speaking of edits, what about the role of content editor? An editor does more than just making sure a text is free of typos and grammar errors. An editor is someone who recommends more substantive changes to make a given text more effective at achieving its objective, so the role of editor is crucial to creating text of the highest quality.

In the world of print, it's essential to get the final product as close to perfect as possible, because making corrections can be extremely costly. As a result, the content-production process is specifically designed - much like the waterfall model of software development - to include both editors and proofreaders to make sure the text is as good as it can be before it's released. The time it takes to produce the finished product is much less important than the product's quality.


So how can we adapt this traditional process to the digital world to make content production faster without sacrificing too much on quality?

A huge part of agile is relationships. It's about trust. It's about face-to-face communication. It's about cross-function interaction, and it's about the independence in action that these close-knit relationships make possible. In a fast-pace setting like this, it is hard to see where a dedicated proofreader (strictly defined) might fit in.

Now an editor, on the other hand, is a whole different story. An editor, in agile content creation, could be seen as a parallel to the pre-release testing phase of agile software development. An editor can also help to define the short-term targets of any given content task. In an agile setting, an editor could even take on some of the writing prep that is traditionally left to the writer, like outlining - or at least ensuring that an outline is prepared and is on target before writing begins.

Conceivably, in a multi-lingual project like this, we might be able to talk about true “cross-market content creation”, rather than actual translation. Why wait for the text to be written in one language before translating into another when, with a bit of guidance and coordination by an editor, both (or all) languages can be executed simultaneously?

Now that's agile!

(Hey, maybe the title should have been: “Agile Content Creation and the Death of Translating?”)


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