Structured Specifications and
Translation Parameters (version 6.0)


Translation parameters are factors relevant to translation projects. A structured set of 21 parameters has been developed to aid in describing and organizing a translation project. Each of these parameters should be given a value, called a specification, before the production phase of a translation project begins. In some cases, a specification will be flexible, for example, “workplace to be determined by the translation service provider.” In other cases, a specification will be rigid, for example, “translate into French tailored to the Quebec region of Canada.” The approach described here—namely, using predetermined and hierarchical parameters and corresponding project-specific values—results in structured specifications.

The structured specification approach and its formalized parameters were first published in the 2006 ATSM Standard Guide for Quality Assurance in Translation (ASTM F2575-06). Previous references to translation specifications include Melby (1990), which paralleled work on Skopos theory and the translation brief, and Nord’s extension of Skopos theory (1997) that is known as Functionalism in translation theory and practice, an approach that is compatible with structured specifications. The American Translators Association (ATA) has made freely available a brochure titled “Translation: Buying a Non-commodity” (2008) to introduce the concept of specifications. Structured specifications also constitute much of the basis of an ISO translation guidance document currently in development (ISO/DTS 11669).

The 21 parameters can be represented in a concept system called a translation parameter tree, which is central to Linport, a project to develop a universal translation “package” called a portfolio.

The details of the parameters are periodically revised. The exact names of the parameters and their categories may vary among the many projects that utilize this approach. This webpage presents an up-to-date and continually updated overview of the parameters as they develop.

Parameter Categories

For convenience, the parameters are organized into four main categories, with two subcategories:

  1. Linguistic [1-13]: Parameters that describe the translation source and product. This category is further split into two groups:
    1. Source content [1-5]: Parameters that describe the source content.
    2. Target content [6-13]: Parameters that describe the target content.
  2. Production tasks [14-15]: Parameters that detail the production aspects of the project.
  3. Environment [16-18]: Parameters that describe where and with what tools the translation will take place.
  4. Relationships [19-21]: Parameters that enumerate deadlines, delivery, compensation, and other aspects of the project.

List of Parameters

Below is a list of the 21 parameters. The outline can be viewed as hierarchical. Note the following divisions:

Clicking on the name of a parameter or subparameter will take you to its description in the table below.

A. Linguistic [1–13]

Source-content information [1–5]

[1]    textual characteristics

a)    source language

b)    text type

c)    audience

d)    purpose

[2]    specialized language

a)    subject field

b)    terminology

[3]    volume

[4]    complexity

[5]    origin

Target content information [6–13]

[6]    target language information

a)    target language

b)    target terminology

[7]    audience

[8]    purpose

[9]    content correspondence

[10]    register

[11]    file format

[12]    style

a)    style guide

b)    style relevance

[13]    layout

B. Production tasks [14–15]

[14]    typical production tasks

a)    preparation

b)    initial translation

c)    in-process quality assurance

[15]    additional tasks

C.    Environment [16–18]

[16]    technology

[17]    reference materials

[18]    workplace requirements

D.    Relationships [19–21]

[19]    permissions

a)    copyright

b)    recognition

c)    restrictions

[20]    submissions

a)    qualifications

b)    deliverables

c)    delivery

d)    deadline

[21]    expectations

a)    compensation

b)    communication

Descriptions of the Parameters

This section provides a summary of the parameters. (Note: the following table is sorted alphabetically by the main parameter name.)

Parameter Sub-parameter Number Description
additional tasks [15]
Any other tasks to be performed for the project not covered in the other parameters
This parameter is to be used for requests that are not commonly applied to translation projects, but which may apply in specific circumstances
  • back translation
  • user acceptance testing
  • quality control on samples of the finished translation
audience [7]
The project’s target audience
The audience should be described or defined as precisely as possible without being too restrictive
  • business analysts with a background in Russian mineral exploration activity
  • teenage users of tablet computers
complexity [4]
information concerning the complexity of the source content
There are many ways to assess complexity. This parameter can be used to note specific challenges that the text may pose to the translator
  • Kincaid-Flesch reading level: 15
  • portions of the text are in an uncommon dialect
  • the author uses many literary allusions
  • the text uses complex grammatical subordination and extremely long sentences, making it very difficult to read and understand
content correspondence [9]
Specifies how the content is to be translated
The default assumption is that text is to be fully translated and adapted to the target locale (a covert, localized translation). In some instances, requesters may ask for partial or summary translations
  • a British English text should be fully translated into German but all prices should be left in pounds sterling rather than converted to euros
  • a marketing text should be heavily adapted to match target language conventions, with the translator free to rewrite portions as needed to appeal to the audience
  • the text should be translated as a summary that presents the main points but leaves out details
expectations [21]

Explains any additional requirements and clarifies any points not addressed elsewhere.

compensation [21]a
The compensation to be provided to the translator
Generally provided as a per-word rate, but may be defined on a per-project, per-page basis, or in some other fashion
  • the translator is to receive €0.12/source word
  • the translator is to receive 50% of all sales of the translated version
communication [21]b
The process for addressing any questions
Sets forth contact points and processes to be used in the case of questions regarding the parameters and/or the project itself
  • an email address for questions regarding the source text terminology
  • contact for the requester’s project manager to clarify any issues regarding the project specifications
file format [11]
the file format(s) in which the translated content is to be delivered
It is quite common for the target file format to differ from the source file format
  • the translator is asked to translate a text in an InDesign file but to return the translation as an RTF text
  • the translator is to return text in Microsoft Word (.docx) format and graphics in layered TIFF format
layout [13]
describes the formatting requirements (if any) for the target document
Depending on the services contracted for, these requirements range from very simple (e.g., 2.5 cm margins) to extremely complex (full desk-top publishing requirements)
  • the translator is to return the translation in a specific Microsoft word template
  • all text to be used in tables should be formatted with a single tab between cell contents
origin [5]
any information about the provenance (source or origin) of the source content
This parameter is useful in terminology research and many other aspects of translation where knowledge about provenance will aid the translator in making appropriate decisions
  • the text is from an article published in the Journal of American Folklore (and should thus be translated in a style appropriate for a comparable journal in the target language)
  • the source text is an English translation of a Japanese original
permissions [19]

Describes any legal/ethical issues or restrictions

copyright [19]a
What party controls the copyright
Generally a technical translation is considered a work for hire, but literary translations are often owned by the translator
  • the publisher of a software manual is to retain all rights to the translated text
  • the translator will own copyright on her work but the requester will have an exclusive license to publish the work for seven years
recognition [19]b
Specifies what recognition is to be given to the translator in the translated work
Conventions regarding recognition vary by translation type
  • the translator’s name will appear on the front cover beneath the author’s name
  • credit will be given in a notes section on the back of the inside title page
restrictions [19]c
Restrictions that apply to project resources (files, translation memory databases, terminology, etc.)
This parameter may call for legally binding documents in some cases
  • any translation memory or terminology resources created in the course of the project must be provided to the requester and the translator must erase all local copies
  • the translator is free to use the translation memory in the future for any project
purpose [8]
statement of the purpose or intended use of the translation
This information is useful in helping the translator decide the appropriate manner in which to translate the text. In some cases the purpose of the translation may differ significantly from the purpose of the source text.
  • the text is intended for entertainment, to transmit information, or to persuade an audience of a political point
  • the source text was written to convince youth to join a political movement but the translation is to used by foreign journalists to help them understand the goals of this political movement
reference materials [17]
Any reference materials to be used in the translation
References are understood to incude both those intended for human consumption and those to be used in machine processing steps of the translation process
  • the requester includes links to a number of web pages with background reading that will help the translator understand the specific topic of the source text
  • the translator is to use a provided translation memory file
register [10]
Description of the linguistic register to be used in the target language
Register is often difficult to infer from the source text and must be defined on a per-language basis
  • the text is an informal conversation between friends and should be translated in German using the du form
  • the text is a formal letter to the Hungarian ambassador and should be translated using the Őn pronouns and very formal honorifics, salutations, and grammatical structures
specialized language [2]

A description of any domain-specific language user in the source content

subject field [2]a
Subject field(s) (domain(s)) of the source text
This information should be as specific as possible to assist translation providers in finding the best translators for the job
  • the text is a specialized text dealing with meteorological science
  • the text is a sixteenth-century legal text regarding fishing rights in the North Sea
teminology [2]b
Monolingual list of terms in the source content
These terms are domain- or project-specific ones that have been identified by the requester in the source text
  • the requester provides instructions to see a website that defines many of the domain-specific terms in the project
style [12]

Information about the target document’s style. NB: For information about terminology style, see parameter [6]c.

style guide [12]a
Style guide to be used in translation
The style guide may be a recognized standard or a project-specific guide provided by the requester
  • the translator is to use a provided style guide (style.doc)
  • the translated text is to conform to the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, sixth edition.
style relevance [12]b
Importance of style to the project
  • stylistic requirements are not important for a particular information-only translation project
  • it is critical that all bibliographic references match the specified style guideline
  • preserving corporate style is more important than accuracy in a project
submissions [20]

Any information relevant to preparing and submitting the completed project

qualifications [20]a
Qualifications required of any translator or translation service provider (TSP) working on the project
  • The TSP must be EN15038 certified
  • All translators must be ATA certified or have an equivalent certification from their relevant national translators’ association.
  • The TSP must be on a list of government-approved translators and all translators must have a minimum of secret-level security clearance.
deliverables [20]b
All items that must be delivered with the final product
This parameter frequently includes a detailed list of files or expectations about working files
  • the final translation is to have embedded GIF graphics but the translator is to return layered Photoshop files to the requester for all embedded graphics
  • final delivery is to include TMX-format translation memory databases
delivery [20]c
Any instructions for delivery of the final materials
  • all files are to be uploaded to an FTP server with a backup mailed on CD to the requester’s project manager
  • publication-ready files are to be sent to a printer with whom the requester has partnered
  • a notarized paper copy must be hand delivered by bonded courier to corporate headquarters
deadline [20]d
Any requirements regarding delivery deadlines
Generally specified as a date and time
  • files must be delivered by close of business on November 17, 2012
target language information [6]

Information about the language to be used in the target language

target language [6]a
The language into which the text is to be translated
This parameter should specify geographical language variants where appropriate.
  • the text is to be translated into Swiss German (de-CH)
  • the text is to be translated into Cantonese as spoken in Hong Kong using Traditional Chinese characters (zh-HK-Hant)
target terminology [6]b
How target-language terminology is to be treated
Includes information on bilingual terminology or processes to be followed
  • the translator is to translate terms to match a provided termbase
  • the translator should engage in a formal term “mining process” and document all terminology and its translation in a termbase
technology [16]
Any technology or software to be used in the translation process
May be generic or specific as to particular translation tools
  • the project is to be completed using a translation memory tool of the translator’s choice
  • the translation must use TTC TermBase v3
textual characteristics [1]

Details about the source content

source language [1]a
Language and (optional) geographic region in which the source content is written
Needed to locate resources with the appropriate linguistic skills. For example, a skilled translator who specializes in French to German translation will generally be unable to translate from Basque to German.
  • French as spoken in Canada (fr-CA)
  • Dutch as spoken in Curaçao (nl-CW)
text type [1]b
The type and genre of the source content
Needed to locate resources with the appropriate linguistic skills. For example, a translator who specializes in technical translations may not be ideal to translate a compilation of 12th-century religious poems.
  • user manual
  • literary novel set in medieval Ireland
audience [1]c
Intended audience for the source content
Needed to ensure that the translation matches the expectations of the audience. Note that in some cases the audience for the source text and taget text may differ, e.g., the source text was an internal military memo but the audience consists of defense analysts in another country.
  • users of a Model 2934x washing machine
  • high school environmental science students
purpose [1]d
Intended purpose of the source content
May not match the purpose of the translation
  • the text to be translated is an brochure designed to convince tourists to visit a particular resort
  • the text is intended to help university students learn about world literature
typical production tasks [14]

Description of tasks to be undertaken during the translation process. NB: Due to variation between projects, none of the tasks listed in this parameter are to be considered mandatory.

preparation [14]a
Any tasks to be completed prior to translation
Typical tasks included those listed below.
  • terminology work: Using terminology software and verifying identified terms against provided terminology.
  • verification of resource availability: Ascertaining that all needed resources are accessible.
  • specification validation: Ensuring that all parameters have been given specifications and that the specifications are appropriate for the project.
initial translation [14]b
Initial translation of the source content.
Various processes could be used. For example, a process might specify that machine translation is acceptable for the initial translation.
in-process quality assurance [14]c
processes or tasks to be used to used in ensuring the quality of the translated content
A typical definition of quality assurance involves the five steps listed below.
  1. self-checking: The translator reviews his or her work, or post-edits the product of machine translation.
  2. revision: A bilingual reviser revises the translator’s work, typically performing the following checks: accuracy, completeness, and terminology.
  3. review: A reviewer reviews and edits the translation (in the target language) with respect to the conventions of the relevant subject field(s) and language.
  4. final formatting: The final target document is formatted or compiled.
  5. proofreading: The final target document is proofread for accuracy and mechanics.
volume [3]
The quantity of the source text
Usually defined in words, but alternatives exist, such as page counts. In general the units used to define volume should match those used to determine compensation ([21]a). Because of variations in in the method of counting words, use of the GMX-V tool is recommended.
  • the text to be translated is 10,500 words (GMX-V count)
  • the text is 230 standard pages in length
workplace requirements [18]
Requirements for where work will take place and any special requirements concerning confidentiality
  • work must be completed in a secure government facility
  • the translator may not subcontract any portion of the work and may not show any product documents to other individuals

References related to translation parameters and specifications


Feedback is requested. Please contact Alan K. Melby at the Brigham Young University (BYU) Translation Research Group (TRG) at: akmtrg –at– byu –dot– edu with “Translation Specifications” at the beginning of the subject line.

This page was last updated 25 January 2012.

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