Keeping a Translator's Journal

Journaling is often described as the practice of keeping a written record of your thoughts and feelings regarding events in your life. Some of the benefits associated with journaling are reflection, a chance to process events and your reactions to it. It can also help you keep your thoughts organized, set goals, write down ideas.

Awhile back I was introduced to the idea of a developer's journal. I've been a software developer for several years. It looked like a useful way of writing down various problems the developer encountered, and documenting them. This can serve as a useful reference should one encounter similar problems again. It's a lot better than rifling through old documentation and code for the details of that absolutely brilliant thing I'm sure I did three projects ago.

Once I've seen the usefulness of this practice, the next step was to see whether it can be just as useful to me in my translation work.

One use I can see is setting goals and documenting achievements. When working on a translation project, I can start the day by setting myself a target, such as how many words I would like to get through today, and at the end of day record the actual number.

Something I see sometimes on FB groups is questions of the type "does anyone remember how to do X? I did it once and forgot. " – That's exactly the kind of preservation of knowledge that a journal is very useful for. There is a task you need to perform using your word processor, or your TM tool. You look it up, or ask around, you manage to do it. The next thing should be recording it in your work journal for future reference.

Experienced translators collect all sorts of resources over the years, and also learn strategies how to use those resources in their work, and solve various translation issues. Recording specific translation issues, and how we resolved them not only provides us with a useful reference, should we encounter a similar problem again, but also provides context for the resources. How we used them to resolve that particular issue. For example, , when translating a text about art exhibitions, I looked up some terms and phrases in a set of publications. I checked names of art and artworks in a database I trust for this. I consulted. For technical translation I might make note of specs and standard I used to find or verify the correct context for the text I'm translating.

Providing context for resources enables me to search them more efficiently in the future, when I translate texts in the same field, and encounter similar issues.

Journaling doesn't require a specific kind of application. There are various applications for journaling, some for the desktop, some mobile, some online. The latter may provide both mobile and desktop browser interfaces. Some journaling apps are geared toward personal journaling and prompt the user. Unless you can customize the prompt, they might not be very useful for a professional journal.

Whatever journaling tool you end up using, there are a few important considerations. First, it should be simple to use. Simple enough that you can easily integrate it into your workflow. Otherwise, you will just forego using it. If you're using an online tool, or a dedicated journaling tool, you should verify that the information is exportable. It doesn't do any good to preserve your knowledge in dozens of journal entries, only to discover one day that they're not accessible to you. The information should be easily searchable. Tags are helpful. When you write a journal entry, the title of the specific entry should describe the problem, not the solution – because when looking for it at some later date, that's what you'll be looking for – did I encounter that problem before? And that in turn leads you to the entry that tells you what you did in that previous instance.

The knowledge collected this way can also be leveraged in other ways. For example, a journal entry about solving some translation issue, or about successful marketing, can be used as a basis for a blog post, or for a conference talk.

Various journaling tools, and untools, that is, journaling with apps and tools that were not originally intended for journaling, deserve a separate post.

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