6 Things Your Translator Needs To Know Before Each Project – A Customer Guide

Translation is not only about translating the meaning of a text. A translator must always keep in mind the goal of the text and who is going to read it: that is actually the biggest difference between Google Translate and us!

However, your translator is not a mind-reader: he cannot guess the goal and the audience of your text if you don’t tell him. Quite often, I receive translation requests looking like that:

Could you please translate this in French before [[[INSERT DEADLINE HERE]]]? Thank you.

Then comes the text to translate, without any further information.

Although the clients sending this kind of requests probably think this is enough for me to start working on their translations, in most cases I have to contact them and ask for more information. Here are the information you should always give to a translator along with the text to translate:

1) The deadline


Let’s start with something pretty obvious: the deadline. Your translator needs to know when the translation must be sent back to you. Although I have almost never seen a translation request without deadline, a little reminder does not hurt!

2) The file format


This may seem anecdotal but believe me, it is not. The file format is especially relevant when you are providing your translator with a PDF document or a picture, and are expecting a translation in the same format. In these cases, you should make sure that you are both on the same page, as editing a PDF or a picture is much more time-consuming for a translator than simply editing a Word document. Any additional cost charged by the translator as a result of the time needed for the edition of your translation should be agreed on beforehand.

3) Characters limits and other specific requirements


This is HUGELY important. If your translation has to comply with a characters limit or other specific requirements (e.g. keywords to use in the translation), this MUST be notified to the translator. There is nothing worse than working for hours on a translation just to be told afterwards that it does not comply with the characters limit. For the sake of our mental health, let us know about this kind of “details” before we start working!

4) The region or country targeted by the translation


Depending on the target language of the translation, knowing the country targeted by your text can be relevant. In my language pair for example (English to French), the same source text won’t be translated in the same way in European French and Canadian French. Therefore, it is important to let your translator know about the targeted country if you want the result to sound like a text written by a native, and not just a translation.

5) The context


What is the document about? Who wrote it, and for who? Even if the translator can often guess the answers to these questions by reading the source text, it is always better to tell him beforehand everything there is to say about your project.

Let’s take a concrete example: you are a travel agency. From that, we can safely assume that your promotional content will be about selling… travels. But which part of the population are you targeting? Depending on whether you want to sell luxury travels to wealthy customers or inexpensive stays to the middle classes, the translator will have a different approach and pick different words.

6) The goal

What is the purpose of your text? What do you want the reader to do or not to do? Each text has its own message, and conveying this message in another language is a translator’s work. Therefore, it is only natural that your translator knows exactly what your objectives are with this text. Sometimes the message behind a text is obvious: “buy my products”, “check out this website”, “don’t forget tomorrow’s meeting”… Still, you should always make sure that you and the translator are on the same wavelength, and the best way to do that is to tell him clearly what you need!

The bottom line


To conclude this post, I can only emphasize the importance of continually exchanging information with your translator. The more information he has about your text (and about you!), the more accurate and suited to your needs the translation will be. If you plan to have content translated on a regular basis, I suggest that you build a trusting relationship with your translator or your agency. If your translator knows you well, he will already know before each project the message you want to convey, and the goals you are trying to reach with your content.


How would you complete this list? What information do you give to your translator before each project?