The title of this post makes a pretty bold claim. I was subtly referring to this in my post on freeing your translation, but now think I can come right out and say it. Why? I suppose I found this point validated at the most recent Editors Association of Canada (EAC) conference that I attended June 1-3.

As I was talking with other participants and presenters, explaining what it is that I do as a literary translator, I constantly referred to the elements of editing I face in my day-to-day work. Then I attended a presentation by Mary Frances Bell and Damon Loomer, both of whom work at the Canadian government’s Translation Bureau, entitled Balancing Act: Translators as Editors. I have used some of their handout (with permission!) and definitions from the EAC for the examples below.

As you’ll see, as translators, we are involved in all levels of editing.

Substantive or Structural Editing

Substantive or structural editing involves assessing and shaping material to improve its organization and content.

* Contradictory passages
* Factual errors
* Inconsistencies within the text (e.g., mismatched table headings and contents; different dates for the same event)
* Unexplained abbreviations and acronyms

Some of these elements can be addressed on our own and pointed out to the client when we deliver the final translation. Other times, though, we need to consult with the author or client to determine what was intended or suggest changes that affect content and meaning.

Stylistic Editing

The purpose of stylistic editing is to clarify meaning, improve flow and smooth language.

* Remove redundancies
* Change passive to active
* Eliminate wordiness
* Clear up confusion
* Change negatives to positives
* Clarify pronoun antecedents
* Make lists parallel
* Ensure consistency in terminology and formatting

These are all things we *should* be addressing as translators to make sure that the message is understood, and there is often no need to consult the client because there is no change in meaning.

Copy Editing

Copy editing is performed to ensure correctness, consistency, accuracy, and completeness.

* Grammar
* Punctuation
* Spelling
* Usage

This aspect has little to do with the original author of our text, but is simply part of what we need to do to provide quality work to our clients.

(Although, sometimes, depending on the client’s purpose for the document, we might want to leave the punctuation or spelling errors to show what the original document was like.)


The purpose of proofreading is to examine material after layout to correct errors in textual and visual elements.

* Confirm all elements are there
* Find and fix typographical or formatting errors

This is the very final step before we deliver the work to our client, ensuring that it is error-free.

Based on the above, would you now agree that translators are editors?