The majority of documents are still transmitted to the Translation Service on paper. The requester makes as many copies of the document as the number of translations he is requesting plus one, fills in a translation request for each language, and sends it to the group responsible for supplying his translations together with a request slip prepared using a manual typewriter. The request slip will specify, amongst other things, a date by which the requesting department would like the translation, a contact person in the requester's department, and the purpose of the document, for example if it is needed for a particular meeting on a particular day.
Some requesters make heavy use of fax transmission, perhaps, as one of the Heads of Department suspects, in order to emphasize the urgency of the request. This tends to be disliked by the recipients because of the frequency of transmission problems and the poor quality of the faxed documents. It also shifts the burden of making copies from the requesting department to the Translation Service.
One outstanding exception to this pattern has already been noticed. The Secretariat-General sends the monthly Bulletin in electronic form and also makes heavy use of electronic means for the treatment of Parliamentary questions. Another exception is the communications between D.G. V and Department F. Department F is based in Luxembourg, whilst most of its requesters are based in Brussells, and is the only group working primarily with geographically separated requesters. As we have already noticed, D.G. V is also a major consumer of translations. Thus it was perhaps natural that this communication should serve as the pilot test for the POETRY system, which encourages exchange of documents by electronic means. Even so, of the 7,696 documents sent for translation by D.G. V in 1994, only 1,118 were sent by electronic means.
It should be remembered that documents originating outside the Commission arrive almost exclusively on paper.
It is also worth jumping ahead a little at this point to remark that all translations are returned as electronic documents, no matter what form the originals were received in, partly in order to encourage the use of electronic submission. This can cause problems: some of the requesting departments are not very conversant with e-mail and its use, and it has been known for a requester to be unable to print out the urgent document he has been sent.
When a document is submitted for translation, it should be accompanied by any reference material relevant to the translation to be done. If translation is required of modifications of a previous document, the modifications should be marked and the previous document sent.
These two conditions are frequently not fulfilled. Several of the people interviewed emphasized the importance of thinking in terms of a translation dossier, rather than of a single document to be translated.
Some documents are submitted for machine translation by SYSTRAN and are not transmitted to the Translation Service at all. SYSTRAN translation is available on e-mail through a very simple procedure and is increasingly used by officials in the requesting departments for rapid translation of information-only documents. In 1994, SYSTRAN was responsible for 13,550 translation requests for a total of 140,000 pages.
Documents submitted for SYSTRAN translation are necessarily in electronic form. This leads to a limited amount of scanning-in of documents. Scanning is not otherwise used, partly because the paper originals may be not easily legible and may also contain reception stamps or other marks which complicate interpretation by scanning software. It was also remarked during the interviews that desktop publishing systems and the use of proportional fonts have made scanning a more difficult problem than it was, so that even highly legible, well-produced documents may produce unsatisfactory scanning results.
One suggestion offered was that systematically spellchecking documents before they were submitted to SYSTRAN would improve the quality of the output.
The SdT staff are not always totally comfortable about uncontrolled use of SYSTRAN. One person pointed out that it has been known for unedited raw SYSTRAN output to finish up in the Official Journal, to the embarrassment of the SdT who are perceived as being responsible for all translation.