How to ensure translation quality: factors and costs of poor translation

Quality of translation: you can make a difference. Factors that can help improve translation quality.

If you are not involved in translation professionally, it's quite possible that the process of translating a text into a different language seems to be more or less like a black box: a mysterious device where you cannot possibly have any knowledge of its internal workings. Nevertheless, there are many factors that can have an impact on the quality of the translation process, both before the translation even takes place and after it has been submitted.

The report “Quantifying Quality Costs and the Cost of Poor Quality in Translation: Quality Efforts and the Consequences of Poor Quality in the European Commission's Directorate-General for Translation” breaks down those factors and presents a fascinating overview of both ways to prevent a poor quality and ways in which a poor translation can increase company's (or institution's) costs and lead to loss of reputation.

Although the translation process and costs described in the report refer to a very specific type of translations, I believe that that the factors are relevant for any translation project. Another reason why this report is a worthwhile read is that it quantifies quality investments and cost of fixing poor quality; in theory, based on that one can evaluate the impact of similar factors on bottom line of any translation project.

Some of these factors are quite obvious, such as time pressure (leads to quality decrease), while some are less obvious, for instance, the cost of a poorly written source text, or cost of IT-related problems and delays.

Translation quality factors

For EU's Directorate-General for Translation all of the factors below are internal; but for clients of translation companies some (or nearly all) can be external, i.e. performed by a translator or a translation company.

Investing time in participation in these processes can help improve translation quality and make the final translation more effective

What can you do to improve translation quality: factors that can help improve your next translation and prevent losses from errors or poor quality

Choosing a translator

  • time investment in setting up a translation provider selection process

Internal (finding a translator or a translation agency), external (if not working directly with a translator)

Source text quality

  • updating versions, editing the text, answering translators’ inquiries and discussing possible changes

Internal (editing for clarity, updating versions thankfully, in many cases translation environment tools can handle version updates without internal involvement, answering queries), external (writing queries, pointing out errors or inconsistencies, implementing suggested changes).


  • terminology consistency throughout the translations, creating a terminology base, glossary, or style guides

Internal (style guides, term bases and glossaries), external (term bases, glossaries, consistency check).


  • time investment in working with new applications, time loss from underperforming IT systems

Internal (I suspect that the main reasons some companies prefer to not look for a professional website translator are anticipation of acute IT-related pain and relative ease of machine translation widget installation) or external (the cost of mastering a new translation environment or a workflow management tool).


  • time investment into project management, planning, including planning of quality control

Internal (handling of multiple projects, planning of translation deadlines and needs, review of translations), external (translation project management, to find out more about translation process steps, check out an excellent infographic by Clara Giampietro).


  • investment in translator training on subject matter

Internal, external.


  • time investment in evaluation of submitted translation, feedback.

External, internal.


  • time investment in correction of poor translations


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Ekaterina Howard, translations from English to Russian and from German to Russian for business, marketing and real estate

Ekaterina Howard, Pinwheel Translations

English to Russian and German to Russian translator working with business, marketing and real estate materials. ATA and CATI member.