Some people don’t realize how important self-editing is to a translation. Even if you know an editor will look over your work it helps to have at least two or more passes of your work before submitting it.

As a dyslexic person I have to be extra careful when self-editing. It’s a skill that’s not perfect but one I’m constantly trying to work on. Which means I am always trying to study and practice self-editing. However, even non-dyslexic translators should work on their self-editing skills to improve their overall translation quality.

Here are a few tips on how to edit and exercises for practicing editing translated texts.


This six-part series is designed for all levels; from amateur to professionals, looking to hone their skills.

  1. Understanding Source Texts
  2. Improving English Writing
  3. Learning from Others
  4. Improving Self-Editing
  5. Working on Your Niche

(The above will be updated with the relevant web page links once each article has been released.)


The 10% Solution Ken Rand book cover Improve Your Self-Editing – How to Improve Your Translations Skills

First of all, I will always plug the book The 10% Solution by Ken Rand. It’s a short, quick, easy read that does a great job providing useful tips for self-editing.

Here’s a glossing over of my key take-aways from this book, as well as general tips I’ve picked up over the years, broken down into three steps.


Step 0: Give Yourself A Break!

You need a break (maybe a KitKat). Well, specifically, you need a break between translating and editing. This is so your brain can switch modes between writing/translating mode and editing mode.

Neurologists have proven that different parts of your brain are activated when you do different types of work (or ‘modes’). So, trying to force a shift between these modes without a rest means your brain can’t cleanly shift into the gear it needs to be in. This causes you to not be as efficient with you edit.

People vary on how much rest they need. Some only need an hour away from their computer, while others need a sleep. I personally like a good night’s sleep between editing and translating (I always work better in the morning). This is also why breaks during the day are also important!

So, translate, take a break (at least step away from the computer) then edit.


Step 1: Edit Before Proofing

Editing consists of a re-read that specifically checks for accuracy of translation, spelling and grammar errors, and consistency of terms and punctuation.

This is a great time to re-read the style guide! (Just in case there’s something you’ve missed.)


The first thing you should do before you start editing is run spellcheck!

However, there will always be those naughty little words that slip through the spellchecker. I highly recommend either reading the translation aloud or using the text-to-speech function on Word and reading along with it. This takes time, but it’s incredibly useful!


Reading aloud (or using text-to-speech) will also help you pick up on unnatural wording in English. Unnatural wording could indicate either grammar mistakes or potential mistranslations. It can’t hurt to double check the English with the source text if you have a nagging feeling that something isn’t right!

Another trick you can do is a global search of common errors, such as double spaces and punctuation in the style guide (such as “!?” instead of “?!”, or vice versa).


Step 2: Proofread

Proofreading is another read-through of the text, checking for any unnatural wording, spelling or grammatical errors, etc. that you may have missed.

It’s also a chance to focus more on the English wording. Check the flow of paragraphs and pages, rather than one sentence at a time. In manga it helps to check the flow and readability of the entire page and chapter.


Look for redundant words and syllables. (Words repeated multiple times are especially redundant and impact readability.) In other words, make the writing tight.

This is the core idea behind The 10% Solution; that you can improve readability by cutting any piece down by 10%. (I still need to work on my ‘cutting’ skills.) It’s also known as “line-editing”.


Another great tip at this stage, is to print your work out and re-read it. Often having the text on paper can help you pick out errors a lot easier than on computer.


Editing Tips Summary

  1. Rest between translating and editing.
  2. Run spellcheck.
  3. [Re-read style guide] [Read translation aloud] Check for accuracy, spelling, grammar, term consistency, etc.
  4. [Print out translation] Re-read focusing on English – check flow, remove redundant words (such as repetitions), etc.

Miyajima photo by Jennifer O'Donnell Improve Your Self-Editing – How to Improve Your Translations Skills


Okay, now that’s out of the way, let’s discuss some exercises you can use to practice your self-editing skills!

Note: Similar to previous suggested exercises these translations do not have to be very long. Even editing a single page of translation can be great practice!


1. Edit Older Translations

If you’re anything like me then you’ll probably cringe at this idea but… Dig out one of your old translation and edit it.

It could be something you did for fun, or a piece for a competition, or for work early in your career, but going over an old translation is great for a number of reasons. Not only is it fantastic editing practice but it can show you how far you’ve come.

If you don’t pick something too old, however, then it can show you what words and grammar you might use a little too much. (I have a bad habit of using “so” and “get”…)


2. Explain Every Change

The aim of this exercise is to be reflective. Practicing your translation and editing skills is all well and good, but you can get so much more from it by explaining why you make certain choices.

As you read through the text and make changes add comments with each change explaining why you are changing something. Explain it in a way so someone with no idea about your source language and translations can understand. Also, add links to references to back up your points!

This is a great exercise for not only practicing editing and being mindful of editing, but also for improving communication with clients.

Including comments, explanations, and links to references can be a godsend for editors; getting into the habit of including them will only benefit you in the long run!


3. Edit Someone Else’s Work

This could be a collaborative exercise with another translator, or you could edit someone else’s translation that is publicly available online*.

I would highly recommend making this a collaborative exercise with another translator. Swap some translations and try to provide constructive feedback. Include comments and track changes.

*If you edit someone else’s translation that is publicly available online you should ideally ask permission first, and secondly do not post it online. This is a) a personal exercise and b) that is not your work to post.

If someone gives you permission to edit their translation as a personal exercise and asks for feedback then send it, otherwise if they do not ask for feedback do not give it. Likewise, if you don’t get permission but edit their work anyway, do not send them your edits. (This is why it’s more ideal to exchange edits with another translator or editor.)


Japanese castle photo by Jennifer O'Donnell Improve Your Self-Editing – How to Improve Your Translations Skills


That’s all on editing for now! If you’re interested in further reading to improve your English writing and self-editing, then I recommend checking out the following:


Writing Excuses Podcast (specifically Episode 4.29: Line Editing)

The Elements of Style (classic style guide for American English)

The 10% Solution by Ken Rand


(The following books I haven’t read but have heard good things and plan to read…at some point.)

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers

Intuitive Editing: A Creative and Practical Guide to Revising Your Writing

The Copyeditor’s Handbook


Improving Self-Editing – How to Improve Your Translations Skills
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