Translation comments are incredibly useful. Not just for you, the person writing them, but also for everyone else who’s working with you.


Why We Write Translation Comments

Comments are your best tool to explain why you chose to translate something in a particular way.

They’re used by editors and proofreaders as well as other translators who are using your translation as a base for their translation. Comments make their jobs a lot easier as they can see the reasoning behind your decisions. It helps them better understand the context, the joke, or the reference that you might be making.

Translation comments should also be used when taking translation tests. They’re your way to show the company you’re testing how you approach translation and how good you are at communicating.

Comments are also a great way to help you remember the choices you made when you review or reference an old translation later.

But you can’t write comments in any old way… OK, you can, but you probably shouldn’t.

If your comments are huge walls of text, or if you’ve commented on every single tiny thing, or if your comments are vague and confusing, then they risk being more of a hindrance than a help.


How to Write Effective Translation Comments

Translation comments are used in every field. When I freelanced, I used them liberally in my technical, marketing, website, manga, and anime translations. Now, after working in-house, I have a better idea of the type of comments that are useful to editors, project managers, and other translators.

Here are my tips for writing effective translation comments.


Check the Commenting Style Guide (If There is One)

Most agencies don’t include “translation comments” in their style guide, but it’s always good to double check with your project manager if they have a preference. Some project managers might not be fussed about how you write comments, some might ask for a particular format, while others might prefer to not have any comments at all.

It’s always good to double check.


Keep Them Short

You don’t have time to write an essay, and nobody has time to read it.


Include the Date (and Your Initials)

When using a CAT (Computer-assisted Translation) tool or Excel then it helps to include the date of your comment and your initials when you’re working with a team.

Microsoft Word automatically includes your name and the current date/time when adding comments. (Some agencies prefer you write translation comments in the text directly, instead of using the comment feature.)

This allows people to track who said what when. Which is very useful when you’re on a long-term project where changes are constantly being made.


Link Relative Information

If you research something, such as the spelling for a place or person’s name, a specific date, a really obscure term etc., then it helps to include a link to the information in a comment.

Your editor might want to double check the term and providing a way to hunt down obscure information ensures that everyone is on the same page.

I want to emphasize obscure information because linking to common terms isn’t so useful. It becomes clutter that drowns out the useful information. Be mindful of what would be most useful for someone else reading your comments.


Highlight References and Callbacks

Many works make references to other works, be it documents, recent events, popular online jokes, etc. It always pays to double check and to do your research (link to the article!), and including links to important references can help your editor understand where your translation is coming from.

If you’re working on a long-term project there might be references to terms or phrases used in other parts of the project. Make sure to add whether text that appeared earlier will impact the translation later in a text/project/series.

Sometimes in technical translations, the text in one segment might be the same as the text in another. Including references as to where the same text can be found is helpful.


Keep Comments Updated

When working on large on-going projects, it’s important to keep comments updated. Old information in comments can lead to misunderstandings and mistranslations.


Writing Comments for Other Translators

If you know your comments will be used as reference for other translators there are a few extra things to keep in mind.

The first is that English isn’t the first language for most translators. Their English might be very good, but it’s often easier to understand a short and clear comment than an essay. And again, no one has time for it.

Avoid using acronyms or vague descriptions too. Not everyone knows what “EOD” and “OoO” means, especially if English is not your first language.

Second of all, what might seem common sense to you, might be abstract information for a translator in another language. It’s hard to gauge what this entails without working with other translators directly and answering their questions, but as a general rule I find it helps to include short explanations of

  • gender of characters,
  • who speaker and target (who they’re talking to) is,
  • puns, play of words, and jokes,
  • cultural references,
  • idioms and sayings,
  • and plain translations of accents.

Here are a few examples of some simple and clear comments that might be useful for other translators:

Speaker: Harry (m)
Target: Kitty (f)

“Sorry, I was tied up.” = “sorry I was busy” but also, the character is tied up.

“He’s away with the faeries.” = not paying attention, a little weird.

“’ere ye go.” = “here you go.”


Translation comments are necessary for every single project, and they’re extra work on your part, but they always improve the overall quality of the translation.

Discuss with your team and/or project manager about whether they would like comments, and if so, how they would like them.

Extra care to the project and team can go a long way.

How to Write Effective Translation Comments
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