How to create an effective translation portfolio

What’s a translation portfolio good for?

For translators, a strong portfolio can result in increased credibility when marketing their services to translation agencies and direct clients alike.

Would a portfolio make all requests for (free) tests disappear? No – even though it could save you a freebie or two. Still, providing evidence of the level of service you deliver – and presenting such evidence with sense and structure – is a great way to highlight the perks of working with you while showcasing some of your best work and achievements.

Portfolio basics: consider your audience and goals

If you look at portfolios as marketing tools, considering your audience comes naturally. You might boast excellent credentials, a number of translation prizes and top testimonials… but you have to “sell it” in a way that makes sense for your audience.

Many translators opt for a general portfolio, with samples that span across different language combinations and subject areas. While this solution works well for junior professionals, it’s not ideal for more experienced translators who want to be perceived as experts in specific niches.

Other drawbacks of all-purpose documents are the excessive length, and lack of focus. And we all know that content-heavy documents are more likely to be pushed aside.

That’s why I recommend crafting multiple smaller portfolios instead.
Depending on your expertise and unique profiles, you can sort translation samples by e.g.

  • Source language or target language
  • Service types (e.g. editorial translation, subtitling, transcreation, …)
  • Specialisation and knowledge areas (e.g. tourism, patents, medicine, …).

Niching down your portfolios helps you provide prospects with translation samples that resonate with their scenario and context – and supports your unique selling points.

Create a smart layout to improve readability

To be effective, your translation portfolio should be easy to scan and read. No one will read through all of your blurb: prospects will naturally browse on the lookout for “something” that takes their fancy. With a smart layout, you can avoid the TL;DR effect.

Two-column layouts work well with translation samples. To make sure each piece (and relevant info) stays on one page, limit the length of your samples (source) to approx. 200 words.

Personalization options (colours, fonts, frames etcetera) should be used sparingly. While some eye candy can enhance the feel of your portfolio, this isn’t a beauty contest. A good rule of thumb? Select up to 2 colours (sourced from your brand palette where available) and a maximum of 2 fonts. No page frames to avoid cluttering and wasting valuable space.

To wrap it up nicely, create a letterhead with your logo, slogan and contact details.

How to select and contextualise your translation samples

Your translation portfolio aims at providing tangible proof of your skills and expertise. That’s why the quality and relevance of samples wins over quantity.

While there are no specific recommendations on the ideal length of a portfolio for translators, including up to 10 samples should be enough to please even the most sophisticated prospects.

As for the quality of samples, I recommend creating a checklist of inclusion criteria. This will help you assess the relevance of your works based on the narrower focus of the portfolio.

Here are some inclusion criteria to consider:

  • Density of technical jargon
  • Level of text complexity
  • Presence of critical issues (e.g. terminology, culture-specific concepts)
  • Appeal of the sample (e.g. abstracts from published work)

For language professionals, identifying the peculiarities of a text is second nature. Prospects might find it harder – especially when dealing with small excerpts.

Providing information about the context and scope of your samples can help your prospects understand the added value of your work.

To contextualise your samples, consider including some of the following:

  • Knowledge area/domain (e.g. Engineering – solar energy production)
  • Document type (e.g. marketing brochure, user’s manual)
  • Customer type / industry (e.g. tourism information centre, footwear retailers)
  • Target audience (e.g. winter sports fans, small business owners)
  • Web links to the source of the sample (where applicable).

Did you include web links to your translation samples? Check them regularly.

Want to add a finishing touch? Add a brief introduction to summarise key general information and highlight your expertise, a snappy comments section to clarify the peculiarities of the samples or client testimonials.

Notes on ethics: copyright and confidentiality

As service providers, protecting our customer’s privacy is a must. And your portfolio is the perfect way to show customers that you care about the confidentiality of their documents.

First things first: your samples should include no sensitive or personal data. Client names are OK, provided that the client has explicitly agreed to the use of their brand, name or material in your portfolio. But even in such cases, you should pay attention to protecting confidentiality.

Moreover: if you completed the project via a translation agency, then it is the agency you should refer to as your client – not the end customer. Including client names in your portfolio can be tempting – especially when a “big brand” or market leader is involved. But you MUST make sure that this won’t breach any non-disclosure agreements, vendor agreements or privacy policies. When in doubt, double-check with the LSP that entrusted the project to you.

Also, you shall avoid copyright infringement at all costs.

What if you don’t have much experience yet?

I hear you, we’ve all been there. How can you create a portfolio of translation samples when you’re starting out? Is that even possible?

Portfolios aren’t just for established translators. If you’re new in business, you can still source samples from books, magazines or documents from around the web. You will still need to pay attention to usage rights and copyright requirements – but there are a few options:

  • Search for documents distributed under a CC0 license
  • Look for works in the public domain on Project Gutenberg or similar repositories. You can find both fiction and non-fiction books and select sample sources that match your specializations.
  • Browse industry magazines and content platform. In most cases, you would only need to credit the source of your samples with a link or citation.

Finally, your translation portfolio might also include abstracts from pro-bono projects – e.g. contributions to Global Voices, TED, Translators Without Borders or translations you provide for local charities or causes.

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