The Journal of Specialised Translation
Issue 8 - July 2007
On-screen versus on-paper revision To my knowledge there is no published empirical research in English on translators’ use of paper rather than screen for revising. However, researchers interested in technical editing have conducted studies on this matter. Of course editing is more like unilingual revision; it does not include any task comparable to comparison with the source text. Nevertheless readers might like to consult three articles reporting on a questionnaire and interview study by David Dayton:
(2003). “Electronic editing in technical communication: a survey of practices and attitudes.” Technical Communication 50(2), 192-205. (2004). “Electronic editing in technical communication: the compelling logics of local contexts.” Technical Communication 51(1), 86-101. (2004). “Electronic editing in technical communication: a model of
user-centered 51(2), 207-223.
Dayton found that the use of computers is spreading rather erratically: some editors have stuck to paper, some have tried e-editing and then reverted to paper, others have enthusiastically adopted computers, and still others use a combination. I can add that translators at workshops also report a diversity of approaches. Many claim that they find it difficult to do comparative revision on screen. (By the way, Dayton found no correlation between the screen versus paper choice and the age or sex of the editor.)
4. What we need to know
Empirical studies are of interest in themselves, for the light they shed on mental processes and different styles of translating. But they may also help us answer practical questions. I’d like to conclude by pinpointing some specific questions that I think merit attention.
1. Why do revisers overlook errors? It would be interesting to identify translators who are good at finding mistakes, and to see whether their procedure or their self-concept (as revealed in think-aloud protocols) differs from that of translators who overlook mistakes. Of course there are different kinds of mistake, which call for different kinds of attention. Some people may be good at finding micro-errors and others good at finding macro-errors, for example.
Eye-tracking technology (a device that sits at the top of the screen and tracks the subject’s eye movements) may soon allow us to correlate keystroke records with data on what the translator was looking at just before a revision was made—or not made. Perhaps this will shed some light on why errors in the draft translation are not noticed.
2. What is the effect of reducing revision time?