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Do you Poka Yoke?

Poka yoke: from floppy disk to translationPoka yoke (pronounced "POH-kah YOH-keh") is finding its way into the language business. Japanese for "error-proofing", these safeguards were introduced during manufacturing processes to avoid the possibility of mistake. Wikipedia has some great examples of poka yoke, including how 3.5-inch floppy disks had the top-right corner shaped in a certain way so that the disk couldn't be inserted upside-down.

As John Smart points out in Avoiding the top 20 global documentation errors, there is a definite role for poka yoke in medical translation. And it starts at source.

He gives some great real-world examples:

  • Sentences like "You cannot remove the Cluster service, but you can return it to an unconfigured state" get to be edited for brevity and clarity.
  • Avoid the -ing gerund aids in understanding, e.g., "How to install the software" instead of "Installing the software".
  • Ban all contractions (see this funny example of why not to use contractions) and possessive 's ("the device's packaging"), and you avoid errors in languages that do not have these forms.
  • Remove unnecessary words (for example, "The manual has relevant data" - would you put irrelevant data in the manual?) to eliminate the possibility of error.
If you address these kinds of issues at the source, you don't just reduce the chance of translation mistakes, you fool-proof it.

Of course, not all translation problems are due to incorrect or confusing source-language text. But my removing ambiguities in the source, linguists have more time to focus on the quality of the translated text.

For more information, check out Zero Quality Control: Source Inspection and the Poka-Yoke System.


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