Criteria for a good translation

A good translation must convey all the ideas as well as the structural and cultural characteristics of the original text. Massoud (1988) put forward the following criteria to determine a good translation:

  • A good translation is easily comprehensible.
  • A good translation is concise and coherent.
  • A good translation uses common expressions or idioms.
  • A good translation conveys, to a certain extent, the subtlety of the original.
  • A good translation is able to distinguish between metaphorical expressions and literary language.
  • A good translation renders the cultural/historical context of the original.
  • A good translation clearly translates acronyms, indefinite words and phrases, songs, and rhymes.
  • A good translation communicates as much as possible the meaning of the original text.


El Shafey, another linguist, suggested a different set of criteria for a good translation, including 3 key principles:

  • The knowledge of the source language grammar, vocabulary knowledge, and a good understanding of the original text.
  • The ability of the translator to render the text required translation (the source language text) into the target language.
  • The translation should capture the style or manner of the original text, and deliver the message of such text.

From another perspective, El Touny (2001) focused on the distinction between different types of translation. He pointed out 8 types of translations: word-for-word translation, literal translation, faithful translation, semantic translation, adaptation, free translation, idiomatic translation, and communicative translation. He supports communicative translation as it transfers the meaning in context, preserves the form and structure of the source text and is readily comprehensible to readers.

El Zeini (1994) did not seem to be satisfied with the criteria for assessing the quality of a translation. Thus, she proposed a practical and style model for assessing translation quality. She explained that the model “puts the criteria for content as well as those for style in translation of equal importance”. This model includes a set of standards divided into 2 main categories: standards related to content and standards related to form, and it is expected that by following these criteria, “translators can minimize translation errors or damage caused by such errors as well as eliminating problems of an unclear translation”.

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