7 Ways LSPs Can Use Industry Standards

Published on 01.09.2021

By Alaina Brandt

Standards of best practice are great resources that language service providers (LSPs) can use to decrease their learning curve when designing business practices and making recommendations to clients on the resources necessary to produce quality service products. Still, international and national standards of best practice sometimes seem like well-kept secrets of the language, translation, and localization industries despite how widely embedded they are in the everyday aspects of how we do business. For instance, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 639 Codes for the Representation of Names of languages standard outlines the 2- and 3-letter language codes upon which the entire internet runs, and the ISO 21720 XML Localisation Interchange File Format standard, better known as XLIFF, is the file format in which most translation work is done.

The standards bodies to pay attention to within a U.S. context are Technical Committee 37 on Language and Terminology of the International Organization for Standardization for international standards and ASTM Technical Committee F43 on Language Services and Products for American National Standards (ANS). When getting started reading industry standards, pay attention to the should’s and the may’s and the shall’s and the must’s. The use of shall or must indicates a requirement of the standard. The use of should or may indicates an optional recommendation of the standard. Also, keep in mind the scope of standards, as outlined in ASTM F2575-14 Standard Guide for Quality Assurance in Translation: “This guide cannot replace education or experience and should be used in conjunction with professional judgment” (1.6). That is, the true potential of standards lies in the application of them by experts within LSPs. Continue reading to learn about 7 ways that LSPs can use industry standards.

ISO 17100 – Translation Services – Requirements for translation services

1. Write the commercial terms and conditions that govern the subcontracting of work based upon Annex B – Agreements and project specifications of ISO 17100.

You’ll of course recognize ISO 17100 as fundamental to the translation and localization industry. The 3.1.3 Professional Competences of Translators and 3.1.4 Translator Qualifications sections provide important frameworks for understanding how to identify quality translation providers. Look for folks who demonstrate the following competences through post-secondary studies in translation and/or up to five years of full-time professional experience per ISO 17100: translation competence, language competence in the source and target languages, research skills, and cultural, technical, and domain competences.[1]

Beyond applying these two sections, ISO 17100 auditor David Huebel of Orion Assessment Services recommends that LSCs pay particular attention to Annex B – Agreements and project specifications. While Annex B is marked as “informative,” and therefore, is part of the optional recommendations the standard gives, the commercial terms this section outlines for definition in the terms and conditions that govern the subcontracting of work are crucial to protecting the rights and interests of language service companies (LSCs).[2] These commercial terms include confidentiality, copyright, payment terms, warranties, liability, and the methodology for resolving disputes.

Startups that need to draft the Independent Contractor Agreements that will govern the terms of contracted work can utilize the ISO 17100 standard, along with materials like ATA’s Guide to Service Agreements, to ensure that their terms are as complete as possible. Other resources that LSPs can consult include the Axial publication “9 Clauses to Include in Every NDA” and two articles by Paula Arturo: “Unraveling Translation Service Contracts” and “Terms and Conditions of Service: The Key to Future-Proofing and Protecting Your Translation Business.”[3][4][5][6] Note that these resources are not meant to replace but to complement professional legal advice. Any contracts should really be reviewed by actual lawyers, and LSPs can use resources like the ISO 17100 standard to teach lawyers about the specifics of language services and localization.

ISO 11669 – Translation projects – General Guidelines & ASTM F2575 – 14 Standard Guide for Quality Assurance in Translation

2. Design project planning processes and project specifications based upon ASTM F2575-14 and sections 6 and 7 of ISO 11669.

According to the “Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct for Localization Management,” translation and localization quality is defined as follows:

Per international standards of best practice for localization, “quality” is defined as the degree to which a language service product meets client’s expectations. Since localization managers’ clients include all project stakeholders, quality is defined as the ability to meet all stakeholders’ objectives when producing a product. The existence of quality can only be verified by measuring end products from input-process-output chains against the expectations set for a project at the start. Whether or not a quality product has been produced cannot be determined without documented pre-project expectations in the form of specifications.[7]

When documenting project plans in specifications, base your work on sections 6 Developing structured specifications for translation projects and 7 Description of translation parameters of ISO 11669 Translation projects – General guidance. These sections outline the work parameters that should be defined prior to project kickoff to ensure that quality expectations can be met.[8] These work parameters are listed and defined in “Structured Specifications and Translation Parameters (version 6.0)” and include crucial information for translation work, like the text type, audience, purpose, and degree of content correspondence.[9]

The ASTM F2575-14 Standard Guide for Quality Assurance in Translation is a concise document that outlines proper planning and documentation for translation and localization projects too. The document gives guidelines for selecting TSPs, defining work parameters in specifications, and passing work through production phases. The standard addresses the use of technology in translation too.[10] See an application of ISO 11669 and ASTM F2575-14 in the creation of localization-specific specifications via https://www.l10nresearch.com/loc-specs.[11]

ASTM F3130 – 18 – Standard Practice for Language Service Companies

3. When contracting with LSCs, require ASTM F3130-18 compliance if not certification.

International standards, such as ISO 17100 must be broad to account for the wide variety of international practices that the document describes. Dr. Sue Ellen Wright notes that when first drafting the ISO 17100 standard, some wanted the standard to require formal translation studies for translators. However, since translation programs are rare if not nonexistent in many countries, the standard needed to be broadened to count experience as a qualification that points to the professionalism of translators.[12] Because the ASTM F3130-18 standard is an American National Standard, it can be more specific than the ISO 17100 standard. The ANS (American National Standard), therefore, adds detailed requirements to the broad ISO 17100 standard.

The F3130-18 standard is essentially a seven-page blueprint outlining the minimal characteristics of language service companies (LSCs). The distinction between LSCs and LSPs is important in an industry that per Dr. Bill Rivers consists of 6000-8000 LSPs.[13] The term “LSP” encompasses so many types of providers: individuals, translation cooperatives, single-language vendors, multi-language vendors, and localization departments, along with full-fledged LSCs. Per F3130-18, the characteristics of an LSC include continuous operation for three years at $100,000 USD/year (5.1.1 – 5.1.3), the ability to recruit and manage both employees and independent contractors (5.2.1-5.2.3), IT capabilities (5.3.3), up-to-date financial records (5.4), liability insurance (5.5.2-5.5.3), the ability to comply with laws (5.6), customer service (5.7.2), quality management systems (QMS) (5.8.1-5.8.4), and resource acquisition abilities (5.9.2).[14]

The Association of Language Companies recently announced F3130-18 certification in their April 8, 2021 webinar titled “Certification to ASTM F3130-18, Standard Practice for LSCs.” This certification would allow those who contract with LSCs to more easily identify suitable partners to participate in long RFP (Request for Proposals) processes.[15] Dr. Bill Rivers is also currently lobbying the U.S. government to begin prioritizing those with F3130-18 certification when awarding U.S. contracts. Per Rivers, the US government is the largest purchaser of language services and the prices at which the government purchases these services essentially set the prices for localization services across the entire market. A US market shift to increased rates for services should, therefore, coincide with the US government’s adoption of the requirement of F3130-18 certification in the long term since companies that cut corners to offer lower rates would not be eligible to participate in RFPs for US government contracts.[16]

ISO 27001 – Information technology – Security Techniques–Information security management systems – Requirements

4. Follow the roadmap in Annex A of ISO 27001 to identify and mitigate the data security risks associated with operating any organization.

According to David Heubel of Orion Assessment Services (ISO auditor), ISO 27001 is an increasingly sought-after certification as organizations outside of domains governed by HIPAA-compliance rules face greater restrictions in how they are required to manage users’ personal data.[17] Even if an organization does not have ISO 27001 certification, being ISO 27001 compliant is an important characteristic of sound data practices for international business conducted in the digital age. Annex A of ISO 27001 contains a checklist of required information security features of compliant organizations, including information security policies, management of onsite and remote devices, human resources management,

asset control, use and disposal of assets, control over access and deregistering processes, security procedures like encryption and secure log-on, and securing equipment, operations, and the work environment, among many other items.[18] When running an LSP, an important component of business management is keeping an organization’s privacy policy up to date, to prevent adverse impacts of being found to be in breach of regulations like the California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018 and Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation. The ISO 27001 standard can be used in conjunction with many other resources to systematically map the data transfers taking place in business processes, to identify and mitigate risks in business structures, and to appropriately report on data being collected and how that data is protected in an organization’s privacy policy. For LSPs that work with Europe, the “Data protection” page of the European Commission website is a great source for learning about the rules surrounding data protection in Europe, and the “Controllers checklist” of the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office can be used to determine the work structures that need to be put into place for LSPs to be GDPR compliant.[19][20] Corresponding institutional resources should be consulted when drafting privacy policies that cover work within other geographical regions.

Quality Management Standards like ISO 9001 and Forthcoming ASTM F43 MQM and H-Quest Standards

5. Develop contractors’ understanding of your LSP’s quality expectations following methodologies outlined in quality standards.

ISO 9001 is a well-recognized certification within the localization industry, even if it is not specific to localization. The ISO 9001:2015 Quality Management Systems standard gives broad leadership guidelines for achieving continuous improvement in organizations through ongoing cycles of Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA).[21] When contracting with organizations that are ISO 9001 certified, it is important to understand the scope of the certification. Those electing to get certified can choose to certify their entire business or only a specific line of business. When advertising ISO 9001 certification, disclosures on the scope of the certification should be made.[22]

ASTM F43 on Language Services and Products is developing two American National Standards on the evaluation of translation quality too. The first— WK46396 New Practice for Analytic Evaluation of Translation Quality, aka MQM—focuses on the identification and weighting of individual errors within translations. The second—WK54884 New Practice for Holistic Quality Evaluation System for Translation, aka H-Quest—focuses on the evaluation of the quality of the translated text as a whole, cohesive unit. Consider first the forthcoming H-Quest standard. H-Quest outlines a methodology for analyzing the level of quality of a translation in terms of correspondence and readability on a holistic level. The holistic evaluation can be designed to complement or entirely replace an analytic (individual error) evaluation, in cases in which a translation is deemed through a holistic review to be of such high quality or such low quality that an analytic review would be inefficient.[23]

The MQM standard outlines a methodology for acclimating translators to the quality expectations of LSCs and gives LSCs a framework for identifying patterns and root causes for quality issues that can then be flagged for quality improvement. According to the MQM standard, the Multidimensional Quality Metrics (MQM) is an error typology that defines a “hierarchical catalog of error types, from which implementers can select a subset relevant to the evaluation of translations of various types of content as defined by stakeholders” in implicit and explicit specifications.[24] The full MQM typology contains over 125 error types categorized under seven dimensions.[25] Quality managers select a subset of errors from the full MQM typology for evaluators to review translations against. See the October 2020 subset recommended by MQM.[26]

To set new translators up for success, define quality expectations in explicit specifications, and reinforce expectations by providing feedback from holistic and analytic quality evaluations of their work. For any first projects, including the translation test, be aware that the conceptualization of a translation error is subjective and specific to each organization. Translators need to be taught what translation errors mean in your environment using a system like MQM. Throughout each new translator’s probationary period, provide consistent and comprehensive feedback on their work so they become aware of and learn to avoid recurring errors. Eventually translators will not need to be provided with feedback from the editing that takes place over their work. Indeed, providing feedback in this comprehensive way for every translator on every job is impractical. It is much too expensive. By communicating about quality expectations in a standardized way based upon quality standards early on, you can acclimate third-party partners to your definition of translation quality. Once fully acclimated, translators can be marked in talent databases as trusted providers.

Quality Language Access Advocacy in the United States

6. Use standards when advocating for quality language access in the United States.

Misconceptions about language services abound in the U.S. market and globally, and standards are authoritative documents that aid in translation and localization advocacy. The documents produced by standards organizations resonate particularly with U.S. government officials. When advocating with government officials on the necessary characteristics of professional interpreting, translation, and localization work, it can be helpful to reference Circular No. A-119 Revised by President Barack Obama’s White House, which encourages heads of executive departments and agencies to adopt the best practices set forth in consensus-based standards, like the standards under the domains of ASTM F43 and ISO TC37, rather than write regulations from scratch.[27]

Interpreters within ASTM F43 anecdotally have recounted instances in which their advocacy for the necessary work conditions for providing sound interpreting services for limited-English-proficient (LEP) people were more successful when federal and state judges were respectfully informed of how best practices are outlined in F2089-15 Standard Practice for Language Interpreting, for example. When advocacy efforts are based upon consensus-based standards, you can back your recommendations as a professional with the expertise that goes into drafting and maintaining American national and international standards of best practice.

ASTM F43 on Language Services and Products

7. Join ASTM F43 to have your say about translation and localization standards.

As discussed in a MIMUG talk by Dr. Bill Rivers, the localization industry is a $56.2 billion USD/ year industry comprised of 250,000 specialists who are highly educated and qualified.[28] While the work of ASTM F43 is not widely known, the technical committee consists of only 100 members who write, comment on, and vote upon the American National Standards that guide practice in the $56.2 billion/year industry both in America, and internationally, since the American market is so dominant internationally. ASTM F43 is made up of diverse interest groups, including TSPs and LSCs, educational institutions spanning from primary to university education, local and national governmental organizations, and technology and research firms.[29] This characteristic is important in allowing ASTM F43 to achieve its aims of balance, lack of dominance, and consensus.[30] Membership within ASTM F43 gives many benefits beyond the responsibility for voting upon American National Standards to ensure that they accurately reflect the realities of the language industry. Members of ASTM F43 benefit the industry by working alongside other experts dedicated to taming the wild, wild west of the language, translation, and localization industries. Working alongside the many other dedicated experts in the group also allows members to stay current on the state of the art of our fields.

After reading about 7 ways that your LSP can use industry standards, are you interested in joining in on the work of ASTM F43 and ISO TC37? If so, you are most welcome. See the flyer “Joining ASTM F43 v.4a” for more information about membership, and contact Alaina Brandt – Membership Secretary ([email protected]), Ashley Wiand–ASTM Technical Committee Operations Manager ([email protected]), or any other member of ASTM F43 for more information about joining.[31]

About the author:

Alaina Brandt (she/her/they) is Assistant Professor of Professional Practice in the Translation and Localization Management program of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. She is a director on board of the ATA. She serves as membership secretary of ASTM Technical Committee F43 on Language Services and Products. She is an expert within ISO Technical Committee 37 on Language and Terminology. Contact: [email protected]


  • [1] “ISO 17100: 2015(E) Translation services – Requirements for translation services.” International Organization for Standardization.
  • [2] Huebel, David. Personal Interview. 2021 Mar. 2.
  • [3] “Services Agreements and Contracts.” American Translators Association, 2021, https://www.atanet.org/career-education/business-strategies/contracts/. Accessed 2021 May 5.
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  • [5] Arturo, Paula. “Unraveling Translation Service Contracts.” The Savvy Newcomer, American Translators Association, 2017 Dec. 26, https://atasavvynewcomer.org/2017/12/26/unraveling-translation-service-contracts/. Accessed 2021 May 5.
  • [6] Arturo, Paula. “Terms and Conditions of Service: The Key to Future-Proofing and Protecting Your Translation Business.” The ATA Chronicle, American Translators Association, Mar/Apr 2021, 50:2, https://www.ata-chronicle.
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  • [20] “Controllers checklist.” Information Commissioner’s Office, https://ico.org.uk/for-organisations/sme-web-hub/checklists/data-protection-self-assessment/controllers-checklist/. Accessed 2021 May 5.
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  • [23] ASTM WK54884 Holistic Quality Evaluation System for Translation, ASTM International, West Conshohocken, PA, 2020-10-10, www.astm.org. Draft American National Standard v.35.
  • [24] ASTM WK46396 New Practice for Analytic Evaluation of Translation Quality, ASTM International, West Conshohocken, PA, 2021-01-21, www.astm.org. Draft American National Standard v3.
  • [25] “Multidimensional Quality Metrics (MQM) Issue Types: DRAFT 2018-10-04.” W3C, 2021, https://www.w3.org/community/mqmcg/2018/10/04/draft-2018-10-04/. Accessed 2021 Apr 6.
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  • [27] “This Circular establishes policies to improve the internal management of the Executive Branch. Consistent with Section 12(d) of P.L. 104-113, the “National Technology Transfer and Advancement Act of 1995” (hereinafter “the Act”), this Circular directs agencies to use voluntary consensus standards in lieu of government-unique standards except where inconsistent with law or otherwise impractical.” (Circular No. A-119 Revised, Office of Management and Budget, White House, President Barack Obama, 1998-02-10, https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/omb/circulars_a119. Accessed 2021-07-13.)
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