Translation briefs and why they matter


It would be easier, albeit quite boring, if all texts behaved in the same way and didn’t require different translation approaches. Every translation is unique, so even when armed with advanced language skills and subject knowledge, a translator still needs to know more about how the final translation will be used before they can begin the project.

For example, let’s say a creative translation about food will be published in a magazine that has a readership of students aged 18 and 30. From tone of voice to language style, the translation must be adapted for that demographic. Furthermore, if the translation is going to be accompanied by images or graphics once published, it’s probably a good idea to ask your translator to look through these for more context. You might also want the translator to adhere to a particular style guide, so this is something that needs to be discussed in advance. It’s difficult to produce an effective translation without taking these matters into account, which is why a brief is always essential. The brief acts as a set of guidelines or notes that your translator closely follows to ensure that the final text is perfectly tailored to your requirements. From contracts to tourist guides, a brief is the key to a top-notch translation.

What does it cover?

A translation brief often contains notes on the following:

  • Subject matter or specialism (law, fashion, gastronomy etc)

  • Language style and tone of voice (informal, formal, persuasive etc);

  • Formatting and presentation;

  • Delivery method (email, post etc);

  • Existing glossaries, style guides or materials to be used;

  • Details about the target audience/market/demographic;

  • How the translation will be used or where it will be published;

  • Variant of English to be used (regional dialects, British English, American English etc);

  • Special requirements (certification, notarisation, copies to be made etc)

It will also answer questions like these:

  • Do you want the translator to include footnotes? This is quite common with legal texts, for example;

  • Do measurements and units need to be changed? This could include notes on any metric or imperial units to be used, for example;

  • Will the final translation be accompanied by images? If so, will these be made available for the translator during the translation process? This is very important when translating product descriptions;

Who writes it up?

The translator does! If you already have a list of requirements or notes that you want to share with your translator, then that’s a great start. When a client agrees to proceed with a quote, I discuss the translation in more detail with them and ask some questions that I think are important. This information enables me to produce a detailed brief for the client to check.

Do briefs change depending on the type of text or subject matter?

Definitely! A brief for a museum or art gallery guide will be different to one designed for a legal document. I keep separate templates for the different areas that I work in to make things easier.