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Translation practice is a purposeful activity requiring constant decision making. The decision making process however, won’t ultimately lead to success unless accompanied by a proper management tool. This tool which has been rapidly developing and actively used in many disciplines, organizations and industries is Risk Management. In recent years, translation has turned into a flourishing industry and appropriately opened its way into the market. Thus like other successful industries, to keep flourishing and successfully dealing with all associated risks of the market, it needs to implement risk management processes. The business side of the translation industry however, is not the only side in need of risk management. In fact, risk management needs to be implemented into the actual translation production process too, because the key to a successful business and industry is through a successful product.


Risk Management is the process of managing the risks involved in various activities. It is, in fact, a “rapidly developing discipline” which applies to “any activity whether short or long term” (IRM, AIRMIC, and ALARM, 2002: 1). Risk Management is being increasingly implemented in various disciplines, organizations and industries to minimize negative impacts and form a sound basis in decision making (Stoneburner, Goguen, and Feringa, 2002). Translation practice and industry, however, seems to be rather uninformed of the potentials Risk Management has to offer to it.

This article, in fact, tries to develop the idea of risk management in translation and design a proper risk management plan for translation practice and industry based on ISO/DIS 31000 (2009) and the Risk Management Standard (2002) which is the result of the cooperation among the Institute of Risk Management (IRM), the Association of Insurance and Risk Managers (AIRMIC) and ALARM the National Forum for Risk Management in the Public Sector. It is also worth mentioning that the current article is in fact an excerpt from the author's undergoing PhD research.


Translation practice is a purposeful activity requiring constant decision making. However, decisions cannot be made without considering the requirements of the job at hand, the client, the governing law, market, recipients, norms, culture, budget and other factors. Looking at the translation industry, we can also trace a broad range of responsibilities and decision making situations which translation service providers and outsourcers are faced with and must handle every day.

When the factors affecting the decision making process increase just like above, it becomes really difficult to take into account and manage all of them in an all-inclusive manner. Without a proper risk management scheme, handling this extensive range of decision making situations and risks and taking into account all issues affecting and resulting from the decisions can turn into a laborious task.

Also, in the current competitive market which more often than not, role players prefer not to share their management plans and experiences with others, it is even harder and more exhaustive for the beginners to survive. They, in fact, have to pass through a long term trial and error to learn how to make proper decisions. This inevitably involves frustration, unexpected failure and profit loss before they can gain some experience to come up with a proper scheme. That is all because, they have not been taught how to deal with decision making situations and risks involved in translation practice and industry during their education. Perhaps it is better to say, there has been no risk management guideline, scheme, or policy in the first place to be incorporated into translator training programs.

It can be claimed that the process of risk management has always been there in translation practice and industry in the sense that translators and project managers in translation companies have always been subconsciously trying to control the risks pertinent to their activities. This is in fact what Pym has been trying to prove by interpreting the results of other researchers’ investigations in terms of risk management (Pym 2007; 2008). However, it is argued here that even if the claim is true, subconscious risk management cannot do more than what we see in the current situation and we need to move from subconscious to conscious risk management to be able to benefit from the risk management process.


Risk management here can be defined as the process whereby role players in translation practice and industry systematically address the risks attached to their activities with the goal of achieving success within each activity and across the portfolio of all activities. According to IRM et al (2002: 2), “The focus of good risk management is the identification and treatment of these risks” and “It increases the probability of success, and reduces … the probability of failure ….”.


The purpose in translation practice and industry is to achieve success in general.  Success is, in fact, the “reward” (Pym, 2008) role players achieve when they handle their job properly. Here are some examples of reward: self satisfaction, financial reward in forms of monthly salary, bonus or a raise in the salary, successful communication, avoidance of criticism, getting published, being well received by the society, etc. Therefore, reward can be defined as what the role players in translation practice and industry expect to achieve from doing their activities. It is also worth mentioning that rewards can fall under various categories, three of which have been pointed out by Pym (2008) as financial, symbolic or social. As you can see, success is mostly mutual, meaning that you benefit from your work if your recipients who can be your manager, your client, or the public are satisfied with your work.

Risk in translation practice and industry, is better realized when in correlation with success. Therefore, risk would be the potential for events, decisions and consequences in translation practice and industry which constitute opportunities or threats to success. Risk itself can be divided into three categories of low, medium and high based on the probability or frequency of occurrence and the impact of occurrence. Also factors resulting in risks or “drivers of risks” (IRM et al, 2002) can be internal or external to translation activity or a mixture of both. There are five major risks which role players in translation practice and industry have to constantly deal with considering the types of activities they are engaged in: market risks, financial risks, project risks, production process risks, and product risks.

Market risks can be defined as those risks in the market which can positively or negatively affect the translation practice and industry and include among others market fluctuations and rivals. Financial risks are those risks which can affect the profitability of translation activity or translation companies in a positive or negative way. One example can be the current ups and downs in foreign exchange rates which may cause freelance translators and translation companies to revise the foreign currencies they accept either to benefit from what may appear to them as opportunity or prevent loss. Project risks refer to the risks each new project brings with it which can affect the profitability of the translation activity or company, the production process and the final product of translation activity in a positive or negative way. Project risks include those risks regarding the clients’ reliability, project difficulty, software needed for the project, word count, deadline, human resources and the like. It might be argued that the remaining two categories can fall under the project risks category; however as you will see, due to their importance and different nature, production process risks and product risks have each formed a category, quite separate from the project risks category. By production process, the author is referring to the actual act of translation; thus, production process risks would be those risks which role players constantly face during the process of translation and the way they treat such risks may ultimately bring about success or failure for them. Finally product risks are those risks which can positively or negatively affect the success of the final product of the translation process. Risks related to the acceptability, formatting and DTP issues of the translation product can be categorized under the product related risks.

From the definitions provided above, we can categorize market, financial, and project risks as externally driven risks and production process and product risks as internally driven risks. It is important to note that according to the definitions provided above, risks are not always considered as threats and they may ultimately constitute an opportunity for benefit and success. Furthermore, as you can see these risks can be interrelated and the occurrence of one can intensify the occurrence and impact of another.


In order for role players in translation practice and industry to successfully manage risks, they must go through a series of risk management processes. Close adherence and follow up of these processes, which are briefly described below, is crucial to the achievement of success.


Risk Assessment is defined by the ISO/IEC Guide 73 as the overall process of risk analysis and risk evaluation.


According to ISO/DIS 31000 (2009), Risk analysis is performed through:

  • Risk Identification

  • Risk Description

  • Risk Estimation

Risk Identification helps the role players in translation practice and industry find out their “exposure to uncertainty” (IRM et al, 2002: 5). To successfully identify possible risks, role players need to have professional knowledge of their job, be aware of the market condition and requirements, and know the legal, social, political and cultural environment in which they are working.

Risk Description is meant to display the identified risks in translation practice and industry in a structured format which explains the name, scope, nature, and significance of the risk along with the role player's risk tolerance and control mechanism.

Finally, Risk Estimation is made in terms of the probability of occurrence and the possible consequence of the risks in translation practice and industry. Role players need to use the result of the risk analysis process to produce a risk profile which gives a significance rating to each risk and provides a tool for prioritizing risk treatment efforts.


Risk evaluation is used to make decisions about the significance of risks to translation practice and industry and whether each specific risk should be accepted or treated. The decision needs to be made based on the risk criteria which can include associated costs and benefits, and legal requirements of dealing with each risk.


Risk reporting and communication needs to be done at two levels: Internal and External. Internal reporting and communication involves publishing a clear risk management policy by the freelance translator or the manager of the translation company to be used when facing a risk.

External reporting works on a bigger scale and can target the publication industry, organizations, and ministries governing education and publication. Translation companies and translation departments of universities can report and publish their risk management policies and their effectiveness in achieving objectives on a regular basis and actively take part in producing and updating risk management policies for translation practice and industry.


According to IRM et al (ibid), “risk treatment is the process of selecting and implementing measures to modify the risk”. An important fact role players in translation practice and industry need to keep in mind is that risk treatment actions must be financially justifiable, meaning that they must be cost effective.

Risk treatment actions in translation practice and industry need to be prioritized in terms of their potential to success and reward achievement and as mentioned earlier, they must be concerned with both positive and negative aspects of risk. Pym (2008, p. 20) has acknowledged the importance of such an approach in his law like formulation about how translators translate: “Translators will tend to avoid risk by standardizing language and/or channeling interference, if and when there are no rewards for them to do otherwise”. Four major strategies role players can implement in order to successfully manage risks in the translation practice and industry, are explained below with an example for each of them.

  • Risk Avoidance (avoiding or eliminating the risk): e.g. during the process of translation, you come across a complex sentence and there is the fear that some part of the meaning implicit in the original text might be lost or the reader would not be able to understand the meaning if the sentence is translated as a complex sentence. Therefore, you decide to avoid the risk by breaking the original sentence and translating it into a compound sentence. One possible reward: avoiding misunderstanding, or achieving communication! What explained is called “explicitation” according to Baker (1996, p.180) and is one of Baker’s proposed universals. However, bear in mind that explicitation is not exclusive to risk avoidance and may be used as a risk reduction strategy in another context.

  • Risk Reduction/Mitigation (reducing or mitigating the risk): e.g. while translating, you come across a term which does not have any equivalence in the target language and its translation turns into an awkward phrase. To reduce the risk of miscommunication, you may resort to transliteration. One possible reward: achieving communication!

  • Risk Transfer (outsourcing or transferring the risk): e.g. you have translated a book but you are not sure about the market response and don’t want to budget for the publication. Therefore you would try to transfer the risk by managing to convince a publication company to publish the translation and pay for the publication expenses and in return you revoke your request for royalty. One possible reward: you get published!

  • Risk Retention (accepting the risk and budgeting for it): e.g. the publication company you work with, does not accept to pay for the publication of a book you have chosen to translate or have already translated; however for some reason, you are determined to translate and publish the book and decide to take the risk and pay for the publication expenses. One possible reward: self satisfaction perhaps! Also you get published!)

These strategies can be used separately or in combination based on the freelance translators and translation companies’ risk management plan.


As mentioned earlier, in order for risk management to be effective, we need “a reporting and review structure to ensure that risks are effectively identified and assessed and that appropriate controls and responses are in place” (IRM et al, 2002: 11). Implementation of this stage also ensures that our risk management plan is up-to-date and in consistent with current translation market situation.


In order to show how risk management can be implemented into translation practice and industry, a case scenario is created in which a financial risk is raised. The project manager of a translation company has received an offer for a translation job. After checking issues such as client reliability, job difficulty, word count, and deadline of the project, the project manager is now considering the rate suggested by the client. The following table represents the project description:

Table 1 Project description


Mr. X, returning client, reliable

Project Name

Bus manual

Service needed


Source text difficulty

Difficult; Technical

Word count

30000 words


Tight; 10 days

Software need

SDL Trados


Not provided

Client’s suggested rate

0.06 USD per word

Company’s ideal rate for such job based on Market rates

0.08 USD per word

Rate usually paid to translator(s) of the company for such job

0.04 USD per word

Other costs

0.005 USD per word

In order to make a proper decision, the project manager must go through the risk management processes which were explained earlier. These processes are summarized into table 2 to have a better and more organized view. The table can be prepared by the manager of the company or the project manager. It is better to prepare the table in the form of a template for example in Microsoft Excel, so that the table design process will not have to be repeated for each new project.

Table 2 Financial risk profile

Financial risk profile

The project manager passes through a number of stages to decide over the suggested rate. These stages are presented in the following model. At each stage, decision must be made with reference to the above table. As you have noticed in the table, although the rival risk is present, the project manager has decided to avoid the financial risk since taking the risk is not cost effective without the cooperation of the translator (risk transfer).

Figure 1 Financial risk management model

Financial risk management model


It is quite obvious that both students of translation and professional role players in the translation industry can benefit from the integration of a systematic and comprehensive risk management plan into translator training programs, translation practice, and translation industry; students will become familiar with the market environment, will be prepared for their future professional prospects and will enter the industry with more knowledge and self confidence while professional role players will save time and energy in handling everyday risks of the activity and increase their productivity and profitability. Such integration also alleviates the stress and tension both may encounter in handling risks of the practice and industry.


Baker, Mona. (1996). Corpus-based Translation Studies: The challenge that lie ahead. In Somers, H. (Ed.) Terminology, LSP and Translation: studies in language engineering, in honor of Juan C. Sager .Amsterdam: John Benjamins, pp. 175-186.

IRM, AIRMIC, ALARM (2002). A Risk Management Standard. London: Institute of Risk Management. Available online: http://www.theirm.org/publications/PUstandard.html.

ISO/IEC Guide 73:2002 (2002). Risk management -- Vocabulary -- Guidelines for use in standards. International Organization for Standardization. Available online: http://www.iso.org/iso/catalogue_detail?csnumber=34998.

ISO/DIS 31000 (2009). Risk management -- Principles and guidelines on implementation. International Organization for Standardization. Available online: http://www.iso.org/.

Pym, A. (2007). On Shlesinger’s proposed equalizing universal for interpreting. In F. Pöchhacker, A. L. Jakobsen, and I. M. Mees. (Eds.) Interpreting Studies and Beyond: A Tribute to Miriam Shlesinger. Copenhagen: Samfundslitteratur Press, pp. 175-190.

Pym, A. (2008). On Toury’s laws of how translators translate. In Pym, A., Schlesinger, M. & Simeoni, D. (Eds.) Beyond descriptive translation studies: Investigations in homage to Gideon Toury. Amsterdam: Benjamins, pp. 311-328.

Stoneburner, Gary; Goguen, Alice & Feringa, Alexis. (2002). Risk Management Guide for Information Technology Systems. Gaithersburg, MD: National Institute of Standards and Technology. Available online: http://csrc.nist.gov/publications/nistpubs/800-30/sp800-30.pdf.

Ward, Dan & Quaid, Chris. (2007). "The Pursuit of Courage, Judgment and Luck". Defense AT&L (Defense Acquisition University): 28–30. Available online: http://www.dau.mil/pubs/dam/03_04_2007/war_ma07.pdf. Retrieved on 2008-05-26.


Akbari, M. (2009) ‘Risk Management in Translation’, in H. Che Omar, H. Haroon & A. Abd. Ghani (eds) The Sustainability of The Translation Field: The 12th International Conference on Translation, Kula Lumpur: Malaysian Translators Association, pp. 209-218.

Bio Data:

I am a full time PhD student of Translation Studies at University of Science Malaysia (USM) and I am working on Risk Management in Translation for my thesis. I got my MA in Translation Studies from Allameh Tabatabai’ University in Iran. Currently, I am a research assistant in a university project on building an English-Malay translation memory and dictionary of legal texts. My academic interests include Risk Management, Machine Translation and Corpus-based Translation Studies.

Published - October 2009

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