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Any good writer creates drafts of their work, refining them with each read-through until they have constructed a final, quality product. A translator is very much a type of writer, so when he/she is asked to provide her translation services for a client, the work goes through a few drafts.
For me, the number of drafts depends on the document: the more challenging the French text, the more drafts I need. For example, I am currently working on an academic article about a rare form of uterine cancer, and the author has used obscure medical terms and unconventional syntax (i.e. the arrangement of the words). It’s driving me crazy!
So, I have taken off my perfectionist hat and put on my hard hat for the layer-by-layer construction of this translation. I accepted that I will not get the sentences “right” the first time and that there will be many terms left untranslated in my first draft. My secret is to use a symbol (an asterisk or exclamation point) as a placeholder where I have yet to find the correct term/meaning in English.
Once I have written a VERY rough draft, I search for the placeholders and zero on in them. I find that, especially with academic articles, the challenging words will be repeated later in the text. Those later instances will often be variations that give me more context to accurately translate them.
If I cannot translate a sentence/term with 100% confidence, I will make a note for the agency. If I am working in Wordfast (the CAT tool I use), I will place the word in brackets, then add a note using the appropriate menu at the bottom of the screen. If I am working in Word, I will add a comment, found under the review menu, which highlights the problem-spot and points to the note with a dotted line.
This leaves room for discussion with the agency or editor. It is a way of admitting that there is a possible error in my translation, but I provided the best translation I could within my means. Thus, the agency/editor can review my comment and decide how to best handle it.
In summary, rough drafts are valuable when translating difficult French medical documents. Don’t be afraid to use them. They will help you provide a more honest and accurate final translation.