Revising and Editing for Translators

Revising and Editing for Translators (Translation Practices Explained), 2nd Edition.

Brian Mossop (2007)

Manchester, UK & Kinderhook (NY), USA: St. Jerome Publishing, 208 p.

Reviewed by: Jin Huang

Brian Mossop, a practitioner-researcher in the field of translation as described in his curriculum vitae (, is a full-time professional French-to-English translator, part-time lecturer at York University School of Translation in Toronto, and reviser and in-house trainer for the Canadian Government’s Translation Bureau since 1974. His research interests include translation theory, translators’ work processes and workplace organization, as well as translation pedagogy with a special focus on revision. His work, Revising and Editing for Translators, first published in 2001, was the first English guidebook for ‘translator-editors’ and ‘translator-revisers’ (Mossop 2007: 1). At present, we have its second edition in hand.

The book is subdivided into 14 chapters, starting with two introductions: one for users and one for instructors. The introduction for users describes the target audience of the book, that is, ‘translation students who are learning to edit texts written by others, and professional translators who wish to improve their self-revision ability or learn to revise others’ (Mossop 2007: 1). It also clearly defines the nature of the book by stating what it is to be used for, i.e. helping translators formulate principles for editing and revising, and what it is not (Mossop 2007: 4-7). The introductory section for instructors describes the didactic purpose of the author. He provides pedagogical ideas and syllabus suggestions for two types of instructors: those of undergraduate translation students and those of translators for professional development. The main body of the book is organized around the theme of editing (Chapters 2-6) and revising (Chapters 9-14), with Chapters 1, 7 and 8 concerning both. Each chapter ends with descriptions of exercises and further reading suggestions, providing learners with more food for thought, and instructors with useful teaching materials.

The opening chapter considers the necessity for editing and revising by analyzing the convoluted nature of writing and the responsibilities that editors and revisers have to fulfill, that is, to achieve the publisher’s goals, to suit the intended audience, and to balance the interests of different parties. For people who are not conversant with the field of editing, Chapter 2 is a good source of information as it enumerates the editorial tasks that editors in different divisions have to take on throughout the publication process. It also delimits the work of editing by distinguishing it from rewriting and adaptation, illustrates professional translators’ mental editing processes, and provides suggestions about editorial procedures for learners. However, when the reaction of writers is considered, in terms of the degree of editing, Mossop suggests keeping changes to a minimum, as writers will be ‘less inclined to work with one who appears to be competing with them as a substitute writer’ (Mossop 2007: 34). From the perspective of social networking, this explanation is plausible. Yet, from a professional standpoint, to edit or not and the number of changes should not be based on or influenced by personal preferences. Editorial work should keep to the translator’s brief, meeting the requirements of all parties involved in the business.

Copyediting, defined as ‘checking and correcting a document to bring it into conformance with pre-set rules’ (Mossop 2007: 37), is discussed in Chapter 3 under five headings: house style, spelling, syntax and idiom, punctuation, and correct usage. Each item is illustrated with well-chosen, practical examples to give readers a clearer picture. In the punctuation section, Mossop focuses on the usage of commas, concluding with a handy rule of thumb: ‘If in doubt, take it out’ (Mossop 2007: 49), to help editors avoid the confusion of whether or not to use a comma. This rule is seemingly established on a limited linguistic basis and is somewhat misleading since in some languages, such as Chinese, the use of a comma or not, or the position of a comma, can convey completely different or even opposite meanings.

Chapter 4 is concerned with stylistic editing. The author talks about how to tailor the language to suit the target audience and to create a smooth and consistent text. Apart from considering readers’ motivations, general knowledge, level of education, time and location as well as the use of the text, one important factor the author has not taken into account is culture. Readers from different cultures have developed different ways of processing written texts. As Nida (2001: 78, 139) suggests, ‘Language constitutes the most distinctive feature of a culture… the particular structures of a language (sounds, lexemes, syntax, and discourse patterns) may reflect to a certain degree the way people think’. Not only does using the specific language style of readers from a particular culture help to create a better writer-reader relationship, but it also avoids misunderstandings.

Chapter 5 and Chapter 6 deal with structural editing and content editing respectively. The former focuses on the small-scale changes of the physical structure of a text by listing problems with prose such as missing markers, unexplained acronyms and poor paragraphing, as well as problems with headings. The latter covers principally the micro-level tasks that translators are often asked to perform, i.e. the detection and correction of factual, logical and mathematical errors.

Achieving consistency is one of the chief goals of both editing and revising work. Mossop discusses degrees of consistency with a stress on over-consistency in Chapter 7, suggesting that accuracy should take priority over consistency, and that both revisers and editors should consider the amount of time devoted to the task of maintaining consistency. In Chapter 8, entitled ‘Computer Aids to Checking’, the author refers to the use of Google in checking for language authenticity, terminology, phraseology and subject matter, providing implicit illustrations on how to deal with the innumerable results that Google produces in seconds. Google is a powerful search engine, but it should be noted that not every nation in the world uses Google as the default search engine. For instance, the majority of Chinese people have turned to 百度 (Baidu) since Google retreated from mainland China in 2010. Aside from Internet-based technological tools, employing Computer Assisted Translation software (CAT tools) such as Trados, Déjà Vu and MemoQ to assist translation, revision, editing, and post editing are current practices in the current phase of translational activities. It is slightly disappointing that the author makes no mention of these translation memories, as they are embedded with useful terminology management and translation quality assessment systems.

Attention is shifted to the theme of revision from Chapter 9 onwards. The work and responsibilities of a reviser in translation organizations are specified by recounting the brief, the trade-off of time and quality, the revision of outputs produced by machine and human, and the quality of revision. These depictions provide future revisers with useful hints of what their future work will be like. The author, in this chapter, also coins the term ‘self-revision’ – ‘the translator’s own check of the draft translation’ (Mossop 2007: 116), to distinguish from the concept of ‘revision’ – the work carried out by a reviser other than the translator him/herself.

Chapter 10 lists and elaborates 12 revision parameters, that is, the types of errors that revisers usually check for. They are categorized into four groups, covering the problems of meaning transfer, content, language and style, and physical presentation. Each parameter receives a detailed and clear discussion with suggestions on how to achieve it. These parameters are later compared with the revision checklist created by Shih (2006) based on her interview study of professional revisers’ revision habits. The findings show that her subjects, 26 non-literary professional translators in Taiwan, touch upon all twelve parameters enumerated by Mossop when revising. In addition, they also put creativity, expressiveness and emphasis/focus shift on their revision checklist, which Mossop is not concerned with. This indicates that there is no set list of revision parameters for all languages, as languages differ in their form and require tailored parameters for translation and revision.

Chapter 11, ‘Degrees of Revision’, is presented in an interesting Q & A format, which gets readers actively involved in the reading process. The author outlines factors determining the degree of revision and presents the levels of risk that a less-than-full revision might bring. He states, ‘Generally speaking, unilingual re-reading can be justified as a time-saver…’ (Mossop 2007: 147). However, his justification lacks objective evidence. Brunette et al. (2005) empirically tested the effectiveness of monolingual revision (unilingual re-reading) and bilingual revision (comparative re-reading), with a hypothesis that monolingual revision is just as effective as its bilingual counterpart, with the former being possible to do at a lower cost due to its time-saving nature. The results of this research have refuted Brunette’s hypothesis. The paper concludes that, ‘Bilingual revision was more than twice as effective as monolingual revision… according to the evidence, monolingual revision proved to be an irrational practice, even less helpful than no revision’ (Brunette 2005: 43).

Revision procedures are the theme of Chapter 12, where the author describes the procedures for finding problems, principles for correction, and problem-handling strategies in the revision process. When considering the checking procedures, Mossop suggests that revisers read the TT first without comparing it to the ST, because it presents a good opportunity for them to have a fresh look at the translation from the users’ point of view. However, Robert (2008) conducted a survey study exploring professional revisers’ working procedures which challenges this suggestion. Robert’s data show that the majority of professional revisers (36 per cent of all respondents) conduct comparative checking first, make changes, then read the TT on its own and make additional changes if necessary, whilst the minority of revisers (29 per cent of all respondents) adopt Mossop’s procedure. The contrast is somewhat striking, but due to the small scale of Robert’s (2008) study, further empirical research needs to be carried out to test the effectiveness of Mossop’s revision procedure.

The last two chapters deal with self-revision and revision. In the self-revision section, the author defines the three phases of translation production, that is, pre-drafting, drafting and post-drafting, and proposes the idea of integrating self-revision into translation production. Since only a few empirical studies had been done on the self-revision process at the book’s time of writing, the author seems to concede that there is no recognized approach to this integration process. However, with the introduction of new technological research devices such as Translog and Eye-tracker into translation process studies, researchers are now able to probe into translators’ cognitive processes by analyzing various measurements such as eye movement plots, gaze time and pupil dilation as well as logged keystroke data (Jakobsen 2011). More attention needs to be paid to the cognitive processes of translation revision.

The book ends with six appendices, in which the principles of revision are summarized; quality assessment is reconsidered from the perspective of the quantification of errors; a quantitative grading scheme for editing assignments is introduced to make use of numerical marks indicating students’ areas of strength and weakness; a unilingual re-reading sample is included with commentary; revising and editing vocabulary is listed to maintain the terminology consistency within the book; and finally, empirical research is presented on revision from 1995 to 2007 .

Despite the issues raised above, the impact of this book is immeasurable. It contributes to translation studies at three different levels: translation revision practice, pedagogy and research. Some institutions such as the Monterey Institute of International Studies, Universitat Rovira i Virgili, and Durham University have started to use this book as the textbook for their editing and revising courses. The publication of this book also refocuses many researchers’ attention from translation process studies to the study of editing and revising processes. Feedback from users of this book is also quite positive (e.g.

To conclude, Brian Mossop’s book Revising and Editing for Translators is a valuable and comprehensive handbook for people who are or will get involved in the work of translation, revision and editing.


Brunette, Louise, Chantal Gagnon, and Jonathan Hine (2005) “The GREVIS project: revise or court calamity”, Across Languages and Cultures, 6 (1): 29-45.

Jakobsen, Arnt Lykke (2011) “Tracking translators' keystrokes and eye movements with Translog”, in Alvstad, Cecili, Adelina Hild and Elisabet Tiselius (eds) Methods and Strategies of Process Research, Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins: 37-55.

Nida, Eugene Albert (2001) Language and Culture: Contexts in Translating. Shanghai: Shanghai Foreign Language Education Press.

Robert, Isabelle (2008) “Translation Revision Procedures: An Explorative Study”, in Boulogne, Pieter (ed) Translation and Its Others. Selected Papers of the CETRA Research Seminar in Translation Studies 2007.

Shih, Claire Yi-yi (2006) “Revision from translators’ point of view: an interview study”, Target, 18 (2): 295-312.

©inTRAlinea & Jin Huang (2012).
[Review] "Revising and Editing for Translators", inTRAlinea Vol. 14
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