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The Importance of Good Briefs

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: March 3, 2011

Part I

If you are reading this, the chances are that you know that you need translation or interpreting. You might want to hold a meeting with people in another country or you might have a message that you want them to read or hear. There are almost as many reasons for commissioning translation or interpreting as there are projects that require them. Nevertheless, all these projects have one thing in common: they all exist for a purpose. In the words of translation theorist, Christiane Nord, translation and interpreting:

should function in the situation in which it is used and with the people who want to use it and precisely the way they want it to function.
(Christiane Nord, Translation as a Purposeful Activity, 1997/2007, p. 29, translating Hans Vermeer)

This might seem pretty obvious. After all, no sane businessperson would spend their hard-earned corporate cash on translation or interpreting unless they had a good reason to do so. On the other hand, if we bear in mind that translation and interpreting is always provided for a specific purpose, we can use this knowledge to improve the quality of the product we will receive. The rest of this short article will examine one way to apply this knowledge.

  • The more translators and interpreters know about the purpose for their work, the better they work.

This is not exactly rocket science but it is amazing how many disagreements could be avoided if we bore this in mind. There is a very simple discipline that will improve the quality of the translation and interpreting you receive without costing any more money – never send a request for translation or interpreting without a brief.

What exactly is a brief? Well, think of it in project management terms. Before commissioning a large corporate project, people spend time thinking about the project timescale, the nature of the project, its purpose and some key indicators to be used to measure its success.

The same information can be used to commission translation or interpreting. Spending a few minutes communicating the timescale, purpose, intended audience and expectations you have for the translation or interpreting project will give the language professionals you work with a much better idea of exactly what you want.

Imagine, for a moment, that you were changing jobs and relocating to a different country. In order to get through the recruiting process, you would need someone to translate your CV. You would tell the translator all about where you wanted to move to, the position you were after and even the kinds of companies you wanted to work for. They would then be able to produce a translation that was especially tailored for your target market and would offer you the best chance of succeeding. The relevant information from your original CV would still be there but it would be arranged in a way that would have the greatest impact on the people you wanted to impress.

You can see from this simple example why a better brief will lead to a better translation. The more high quality information you can give to translators and interpreters, the more they can tailor their services to your needs. This actually leads us to the point we will discuss next week.

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