ISO 9002 – Translation Standard?

Translators may be aware of the ISO 9002 standard often used in the quality assurance of translation work. However, several questions need to be asked in the analysis of this standard within the field of translation:

  1. Is this standard necessary?
  2. Does this standard cover all the intricacies of translation?
  3. Can quality in any way be assured (and measured)?

To (very) briefly summarise, the standard (also ISO 9001 2008) sets out the requirements for quality management in a variety of systems, not only translation therefore it is, by its very nature, a general set of requirements. The ISO revolves around the need to create a Quality Management System which enables people in an organisation to control, monitor and improve quality in the entire process. In order to achieve this, every organisation must see to it that the relevant documentation is in place which controls the quality management system. The process begins with the establishment of customer requirements and the general quality policy of the organisation through the establishment of quality objectives.

Although the above summary is (necessarily) brief it shows the very general nature of the ISO. To answer the first question, yes, quality standards are necessary for the translation process and product as they are for every field. The second question: does this standard cover all the intricacies of translation? Due to the fact that the ISO is so general it could in theory cover all the delicacies of the translation process, although it must be clear that the ISO suits better the work of translation agencies and companies rather than the individual freelancer working from home. The final question: can quality in any way be assured (and measured)? A previous post also dealt with this subject. The answer most certainly lies in the affirmative, although this is both a difficult and burdensome process as any quality assurance manager in any field may tell you.

It might be interesting for the translator and translation quality manager to consider two other methods of quality assurance/improvement that could be useful in the process of self-betterment:

Kaizen, a Japanese methodology/philosphy which is in essence the striving for continual improvement through the elimination of wasteful working practices and an openness to experimentation and change.

PDCA, essentially the Scientific Method as developed by Francis Bacon but revolving around quality improvement through the following stages: plan, do, check, act.

Although all of these are valuable tools for the translator, translator trainer and transltion quality manager, one cannot fail to take into consideration Katharina Reiss’ 1971 opus: Translation Criticism – The Potentials and Limitations. In it, Reiss formulates what is essential for Translation Quality Assessment. Even though this is not a ‘prefect’ solution it does go a long way in defining the problem. Perhaps, one possible solution for translation quality assessment would be to harness all the above methods in order to form one approach.


12 thoughts on “ISO 9002 – Translation Standard?

  1. I wouldn’t have thought the big ISO standard was much use to freelance translators? The standard itself is largely pointless and open to interpretation.

    But what about EN_15038? Anyone use it/care about it/tried to install it?

  2. Agreed. The ISO doesn’t seem to be much help for freelancers, although it is a must for agencies. On the other hand, the EN_15038 seems a useful tool, although I don’t know anyone that uses it. Ho hum…

  3. Yeah… we use the standard as a starting point for developing procedures/policies – but as different clients want (sometimes very) different things then we find its difficult to develop a ‘one procedure for all’ policy. So we split the operations into business units (which the British Standard people hate).

    Our large clients still audit us against our written procedures, even though we are audited by Lloyds every year – which makes me wonder why we pay them :-)… but without the standards we don’t get the opportunity to acquire new business, so I see them now as a hygiene factor (i.e. if we didn’t have it we would know about it).

    What I think will happen (as happened to BSI5750 (I used to be an engineer)) is that all 20 ish translation quality standards will be consolidated into one uber standard by the ISO people and we’ll all have to work to that. Common Sense Research do a brilliant presentation about the 20(ish) quality standards for translation companies.

    So… yes we use the standard (along with loads of others) but we don’t see it as a source of competitive advantage or the answer to all the problems that occur with a translation company.

    Merry Xmas all! and all the best for 2009 – lets hope we all stay busy 🙂

  4. Bloglingua,

    Many many thanks for your enlightening post. Really. It seems that many of us work within a web of competing standards often bouncing between one and the other depending on clients. Your belief that the standard is more of a “hygiene factor” is an interesting thought and makes me wonder if that actually is (or should be) the purpose of a standard. Your comments are much appreciated. Thank you. All the best for New Year.

  5. Very good post, I was really searching for this topic, as I wanted this topic to understand completely and it is also very rare in internet, that is why it was very difficult to understand.

    Thank you for sharing this.

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