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In-country Review: a must, a pain or both?

by Clio Schils, Chief Development Officer at Commit

When we look at the history of the process of translation and localization, primarily at the quality assurance step, we have come a very long way in the past 3 decades. I vividly remember a story from a good friend and now retired localization manager from a medical company. He mentioned to me that when he started running the translations for that company, the team literally had to “cut – with scissors – and paste” pieces of text for reuse into new updated versions of manuals. The content was then finalized with new to be translated text. The new text was translated and “more or less” reviewed back then as well, but one can imagine the challenges and risks of such a process.

The concept of Quality Assurance since then has been further developed, refined and optimized by industry stakeholders on client and vendor side, and the process of refinement is still ongoing: translation software programs have emerged and are still emerging, QA standards are being implemented, numerous commercial QA tools are being marketed and sold to those who understand that high quality is key. Still, in addition to all the tools and standards, there is one historical component in the process that is still there and offers the essential added value to any QA process, the human reviewer.

We all know that the essence of good translated output is a well-written source, the known “garbage in, garbage out” theory. However, for the sake of argument, let’s assume we have a translation that was based on a perfect source. We now move to the next step in the process, the review. Leaving aside the question “why we need a review in the first place, when we have a “perfect” translation, since it was based on a perfect source?” we go straight to the review step itself.

There are many criteria that co-define the type or depth of a review. As a rule of thumb, one could say that the higher the risk impact of a wrong translation, the more in-depth review is required. A mal-functioning vacuum-cleaner will not have the same impact as a wrong interpretation due to a bad translation of a patient’s medical-technical manual. In the latter case, a mistake in instructions could potentially have fatal consequences. Therefore, the in-country review is a must.

As per the example above, the in-country subject matter expert review is mandatory for highly regulated content “to the extent possible”. This step is conducted after the linguistic review by a subject matter expert. The emphasis lies on the technical aspects, functioning, use and terminology of the product rather than the linguistic elements.

Unfortunately, the in-country review step is not without challenges:

  1. The ideal subject matter reviewer is the in-country expert on client side. In most cases, these experts have other responsibilities and reviewing product content comes on top of their core responsibilities. It is a challenging act to balance.
  2. More and more “exotic” languages are required. Clients and buyers of translation services do not always have experts readily available in these countries.
  3. The limited availability of expert reviewers poses challenges on the overall TAT of a translation project and could endanger market release date of a client’s product.
  4. High turn-over among in-country reviewers of some companies, lead to longer lead times and potentially less reuse efficiencies due to differences of opinion regarding translations.

There are ways to ease the pain to some extent, some of which are:

  1. facilitate the process by providing specific proofreading guidelines and by providing validated “do-not-touch” technical glossaries. This will also be useful in cases of an instable reviewer pool.
  2. come up with other ways to execute this important step, i.e. use of specialized third party in-country review companies, use of the best specialized linguists who are being offered product training to master the features and function of the product.
  3. allow for reasonable time to execute a specific subject matter review task and document these pre-agreed lead times in a binding SLA, for example “up to 10k words, review time 3 working days”. When the generous deadline is not met, the project manager has the go-ahead to continue the process without any repercussions.

Finally, to summarize the answer to the question “In-country Review: a must, a pain or both?”. My answer is “both”, but the job needs to be done. Even today, and despite the challenges, an in-country review by a highly qualified subject matter expert offers a substantial contribution to the process. It will not only reflect on the overall quality of content but also on the company’s branding and reputation. Translated product documentation remains a very powerful marketing tool. It allows for deeper local market penetration thus bringing the product within reach of local end-users.