Are Stylistic Changes Purely Preferential?

When it comes time to polish a translation project before finalizing it, sometimes editors, reviewers, and clients make changes not for accuracy’s sake, but for style’s sake. Stylistic changes can impact the quality of a translation and it’s important to understand how and why these changes happen. Before we examine whether or not stylistic changes are purely preferential, let’s take a closer look at what preferential changes and stylistic changes are. 

Preferential Changes vs Stylistic Changes

Both preferential and stylistic changes are types of changes to a translation that may not seem necessary at first glance, yet both types of changes play an important role in the translation process. A preferential change is a type of alteration that corrects an element that is not necessarily wrong. Preferential changes tend to reflect the preference of the person correcting the content or the client’s preferences. Usually, these preferences are related to terminology, with a client preferring a certain term over another, even if both terms can be used correctly.

A stylistic change on the other hand is a correction that is meant to improve how the text flows and focuses on style. Stylistic changes can also reflect the style of the person doing the review or client preferences. 

Are Stylistic Changes Purely Preferential?

In the translation industry, most language service providers use a three-step process to guarantee a high-quality translation end product. This means that after the translation step, the text will be passed to both an editor and a proofreader. In some cases, the client performs their own review of the translation with their internal team, who understand their own unique style preferences. Either way, these editors and reviewers may make different changes to the text to improve the overall quality of the translation. Sometimes this is because they’ve spotted a mistake in meaning (which must be fixed), or the change is about grammar, punctuation, or other elements. 

However, there are other times when they introduce changes that are usually referred to as stylistic or preferential. These changes can generate a lot of confusion and controversy among linguists because preferential changes can involve correcting something that isn’t actually “wrong”. 

How is Quality Impacted by Stylistic and Preferential Changes?

How impactful a stylistic change is depends on the type of text and its function. If you’re translating a recognized author, are trying to persuade someone to do something, or are attempting to explain something clearly for a specific target audience (such as children), style really does matter. Finding the right style is key, so how can a linguist always approach a translation with the right style in mind? One of the best ways to start off a translation project on the right foot, is if the client can provide a style guide to the translation team. This guide should specify the tone and style the client wants their translated texts to have. Their style guide should also house specific terms that they prefer to use and any terms that need to be avoided. Following the TEP process can also help keep a translation project on track while maintaining high levels of accuracy.


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