Translation is a type of content. If you can translate a text, it’s because someone else wrote it in the first place. Therefore, as an expert in your own niche, you can both write and translate that content. The similarities between writers and translators don’t end there, however. To get to the bottom of this, you just need to think of the reason you became a translator in the first place — a profound love for writing, language, and communication. Translation is not, after all, a mechanical process of transferring a text word-for-word. It’s a means of reconstructing content into a totally different context. Here are seven ways translators and writers are like kindred spirits.
7 ways translators are like writers
1. Translators and writers are one-person, location independent businesses.
Creativity aside, we also have to deal with the nitty-gritty of setting up a business. You know the drill…Buy a computer, get a website, create online profiles, design business cards, find clients, sign NDAs, issue invoices, etc. But there are so many rewards too. We can work from home, a hot desk, a plane, or the beach. Location is not paramount to our success provided we have access to a computer and an internet connection.
2. Translators and writers specialize in one or a few niches.
One of the first things you will have heard as a translator or writer is that you need to pick a niche fast. It is ok to start as a generalist at the beginning but choosing a niche will allow you to find better clients, get referrals quicker, and charge more. To choose your niche, consider your:
a) educational background
b) working experience
c) interests or hobbies
3. Translators and writers are masters of language who love CPD.
Writers and translators are linguistic perfectionists who love working with texts. The internet is aplenty with memes of hard-working translators and writers toiling away at their work. All these skills require honing, however, so continuous education and courses on editing, proofreading, SEO writing, terminology, etc. are part and parcel of the profession.
4. Translators research terms; writers research keywords.
Whether you translate a text or write it from scratch, research is your sharpest tool in the box. Translators search for terms that will make a text sound natural in the target language and writers search for the right keywords that will propel their articles to the top echelons of Google SERPs.
5. Translators and writers use software to help them with their work.
If you are a purist, look away now! Although software is often seen as the ultimate barrier between your work and your creativity, CAT tools and content management systems (CMSs) exist to make our lives easier. CAT tools increase quality and consistency, reduce turnaround times, and can align content to create translation memories which can be used again and again in future projects. Content management systems, on the other hand, help manage and schedule content effectively. A lot of SEO writers work with SEO tools such as Google Ads Keyword Planner, Ahrefs, SEMrush, KWFinder, and Moz.
6. Translators and writers work with agencies and direct clients.
Finding jobs works pretty much the same way whether you are a translator or a writer. You’ll either work with agencies, direct clients, or both. If you are a translator, you’ll gravitate towards translation agencies and if you are a content writer your best bet will be to contact digital marketing agencies or content marketing agencies. There are also various job boards such as ProZ.com and TranslatorsCafe.com for translators, and ProBlogger or freelancewriting.com for writers. But the best and most lucrative clients don’t advertise anywhere so you’ll need to seek them out directly. Luckily, LinkedIn is the best database when it comes to contacting localization managers, content managers, and editors.
7. Translators and writers work with international clients.
One of the best things about being a translator or a writer is that you work in a truly global profession and that’s because content — in any language — is so powerful that an entire industry has been built on it. Your clientele can easily span all continents.
If you work in the content industry, therefore, you should know that no matter what your educational background is, no matter what your professional background or your personal interests and hobbies are, there are companies that sell products and services in that space and are in need of good content. And, as a lot of companies operate in international markets, this means there is an ever-increasing need for content to span borders too.
Now that we’ve talked about all the ways translators and writers are alike, here are seven ways translators are different from writers.
7 ways translators are different from writers
1. Translators reproduce someone else’s voice; writers write in their own voice.
Both writers and translators follow specific project instructions but while translators need to translate someone else’s voice and ideas, writers are free to choose their own words and voice. Writers may still be required to include certain points and keywords, but they can more or less shape their own texts.
2. Translators cannot create work for themselves; writers can.
A translator going through a dry patch can send their CV to agencies, establish contacts with direct clients, or visit job boards, but if a translation job has not been commissioned yet, they cannot magically create one out of nothing. Writers can. They can send an article idea to a new or existing client, and if they’ve properly done their research, they can bag themselves a new assignment out of nowhere. Just for this perk alone, writing is a string worth adding to your freelance bow.
3. Translators send CVs; writers don’t.
It is common practice for translators to send a cover letter and a CV with details about their education, working experience, language pairs, etc. but none of that really matters when you approach an editor or a content manager. As a writer, you need to be able to write a strong LOI (letter of introduction) demonstrating your understanding of the industry and how you can bring value to the business. Include a killer article idea and a link to your writing portfolio, and you are good to go. Also, make sure that your cover letters or letters of introduction are addressed to someone personally.
4. Translators charge by the word; writers charge per hour or per project.
It is common to see translators charging by the word but this is generally dictated by the fact that translation agencies charge their own clients by the word. This may change if you work with direct clients who prefer you to charge by the hour. Writers usually charge either per hour or per project.
5. Translators work to strict deadlines; writers have more time.
This very much depends on the project and the client but only in translation have I been asked to submit work within 24 hours and sometimes on the same day. Agencies put a lot more pressure on faster turnarounds than direct clients. When it comes to writing, it very much depends on the project’s circumstances and the type of writing. Deadlines for magazine submissions, for example, can span several weeks away.
6. Translators don’t always get credit for their work; writers may get a byline.
There’s nothing more satisfactory than seeing your name in print but this rarely happens in the translation industry. Although I've translated more blog posts and articles into Greek than I can count, I’ve never ever received any credit for my translated words. This may be different if you work with a direct client. Writing is a different kettle of fish and one that I definitely prefer when it comes to credit attribution. Writers receive bylines which allow them to build a writing portfolio.
7. Translation is a lonely profession; writers sometimes work on location.
One of my biggest regrets as a translator is that I’ve never been asked to travel or work on location for a project. As a writer it is also possible to work 100% online by doing online research and even interviewing experts via Skype, but writing also opens doors to paid travel, event passes, and other trip opportunities, and believe me, once you’ve experienced that, you never go back.
As you can see there are a lot of similarities, and some differences, between the two professions, which is why translators can easily branch out or even transition to becoming a writer. When it comes to finding your feet in the industry, the only question you should be asking yourself is…are you creating or re-creating content?