Sunday, 27 January 2019

Avoiding writing mistakes by concentration span management

As I was rereading an email which I’d sent to a friend in Germany on her birthday recently, I noticed a stupid comma mistake in my writing. As a translator I’m extremely sensitive to even the smallest of writing errors, but in this situation I didn’t mind. But why?

If this had happened to me in my translation work, it would have caused a lot of distress. If I had delivered a translation to a client with a stupid mistake in it, it would have been upsetting – both for the client and for myself. Blunders can easily turn a translation into substandard work.


The mental resources available to us in a day are finite, so we should use them wisely.

Mistakes in professional translations and professional writing can and do happen, which is why good translators put bespoke quality assurance measures in place to prevent them. Since the mental resources that are available to us in a day are finite, it makes sense to use them wisely and effectively, i.e. to “manage” them. This often means: first things first!

I could, of course, have written to my friend first thing in the morning, straight after the notification on my phone had popped up reminding me of her birthday. But I’d deliberately put it off till late in the afternoon, although I’d been well aware that my mental resources, after a day’s translation work, would be almost depleted by then.

Writing to my friend first thing would already have taken a chunk out of the mental resources so badly needed for the day‘s translation assignments. I knew that it wouldn’t really matter (much) to her that my writing was most likely going to be suboptimal. That she wouldn’t mind the odd punctuation mistake or typo. That my email would perhaps even be a bit incoherent. Writing to her on her birthday mattered more than the writing itself.

First things first! Since our concentration span in a day is limited, it makes sense to implement measures to plan our days ahead in a way to prevent careless writing mistakes.


Note: A German translation of this blog article can be found here.