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Ten things a translator needs – number 4

Item number four on our list is an awareness of typographical issues/conventions, which sometimes seems sadly lacking among translators.

As anyone who has worked with “old school” typesetting professionals will know, there’s more to producing a polished document than meets the average eye. The correct length of dash matters, as does the correct spacing when writing things like temperatures, and using italics where appropriate, for example.

To make things trickier, there may be several equally valid options to choose from, such as various date formats (e.g. 25/04/22; 25 April 2022; April 25, 2022) and different ways of writing monetary amounts (£20 or GBP 20), to take just two common examples. For consistency within a document and over time, it is important to make conscious choices about such conventions and to document them for future translation work undertaken for the same client.

Apart from a lack of awareness, a frequent problem is simply copying the conventions used in the source document without thinking. This can lead to errors that jump off the page at any careful reader – some languages require a space between a number and a percentage sign, for example, while others don’t.

(The downside of being aware of typographical issues is that you find yourself shouting at the television every time the BBC reports the death of a notable person and shows their year of birth and death on screen separated by a normal hyphen, rather than the correct en dash. Even large organisations that should know better often struggle to get these kinds of things right.)

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