To the email manners born. Not.

Quality markDo you ever get annoyed with your clients’ manners? I often do, for example when they don’t acknowledge, far less thank me for, a translation I’ve delivered by email. If I were to walk into the client’s office and hand over the translation in paper format, I’m sure they’d say “Thanks”. So what happens to their manners when the translation arrives via their inbox?

As it turns out, dodgy email manners aren’t all on the clients’ side. I’ve contacted fellow translators, several of them ITI members, a couple of times in the last few months to ask for a quote for a project I was coordinating. Over the same period, a non-translator friend of mine, Laura, also contacted a number of translators and agencies/companies for a project involving non-European languages. She shared the results with me.

Our email request

First, here’s an amalgam of the messages we sent:

Dear xxx,

I’d be grateful if you could send me a quote for a translation from English to Italian of the attached will. The translation is needed by lunchtime, Friday 8 November. I’m not sure right now but I may require a certified translation. Could you let me know if that would involve an additional charge, and if so, how much? By the way, I found your name in the ITI Directory.

I’d appreciate it if you could reply by return and in the meantime I look forward to hearing from you.

Many thanks and best regards,


[followed by email signature with full name, contact info and company  details]

Most of the replies were absolutely fine: courteous and providing all of the relevant pricing and timing information. But three took my breath away, and not in a good way. Here they are, exactly as we received them (but with the names/initials changed):

Translators’ replies

Reply no. 1:


Who are you? What is the name and address of the company?


[followed by email signature with full contact details]

Reply no. 2:

Unfortunately have no availability at the moment. TOD

[TOD = translator’s initials. No name or other contact details provided]

Reply no. 3:

Sorry, not possible. Regards. Fred bloggs

Sent from my iPhone

[Fred bloggs wasn’t the translator’s real name, obviously, but the name was written just like that: lower case surname. No other contact details provided]

What do you think, bearing in mind that these replies are to potential new clients? Potential new directclients, in at least one case? Potential new clients who might be sending you a lot of work in the future? Let us know in the comments.

PS I’ve put the “Q” quality mark to this post, although it’s mainly about poor quality. To my mind, anyway. Maybe I should ask Zoë to design a “Q” with a whopping great “X” through it.

Other posts you might like:

From GIGO to QIQO: The quest for quality

How to be good (1) Tips for translators

How to be good (2): Tips for clients

By Marian Dougan

Published by Marian Dougan

Marian is a translator and editor (specialising in web content) currently based in Glasgow, Scotland. Marian previously lived in Italy for over 20 years, working as a language teacher, translator and policy analyst with the British Embassy in Rome. A qualified member of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) and its Italian-language and ITI Scotnet networks, she is currently Scotnet's Convenor and Deputy Webmaster. From 2003 to 2006 Marian taught translation skills at the Italian Department of Glasgow University and now gives Master Classes as part of the new Masters in Translation Studies course. She also conducts web-writing and usability workshops to help people improve their websites and communicate more effectively with their readers, users and customers. In September 2014 Marian obtained User Experience Certification, with specialisation in Web Design, from the Nielsen Norman Group. She loves language, especially English, and is convinced that learning languages opens up people’s minds and horizons (and increases their brainpower!). To share her enthusiasm, she advises schools and educational authorities on language skills and enterprise. She gives talks to pupils on how to combine language studies with other subjects and so enhance their potential and increase their career options. Marian is an active member of organisations such as: Scottish Council Development and Industry (SCDI); Association of Scottish Businesswomen; Dunbartonshire Chamber of Commerce and the Italian Chamber of Commerce in Scotland. She also loves architecture, design, fashion (British Vogue!), cities and chocolate. She’s a great fan of Twitter and you can also find her on Linkedin.

Join the conversation


  1. This happened to me just last week. After pulling out all the stops to make sure a (new) client got their urgent translation on the agreed date, nothing. Apart from lack of courtesy, I simply wanted to be sure the translation had been received by the person who had asked for it. The following day I emailed asking for confirmation that they’d got it. This time I did get a reply: “Yes, I have received it. You’ll be paid shortly” (which to be fair, I was). As they say in Glasgow, “That was me telt”.

    1. Yes – it’s sometimes just a question of wanting to make sure that your client got the document OK. It’s not as if writing “Translation received with thanks” takes a lot of effort…

  2. This seems to be the way it works.
    P.S.: I would have liked to receive that inquiry for quotation!
    Viel Spaß & Ciao!

  3. I see nothing wrong or discourteous with examples two and three, having myself received similar responses to submissions from publishers on occasions.

    Despite being on the terse side, surely if you are trying to place a translation it is preferable to receive a brief note from the translator right away stating they are not available for (or interested in) the work than waiting two or three hours for them to sit down and respond properly (especially relevant if they are away from their desk. At least then you can strike them off the list and get on with looking for someone who is available. In fact, I know some PMs who very much appreciate such replies because it in fact makes their life easier.

    Similarly, as regards, your first point: if you were to post out a translation to a customer, would you expect them to write (or call) back to acknowledge and thank you? Obviously it is always nice to receive acknowledgement, but perhaps sometimes it’s just down to how different people perceive email. If you ordered a picture frame mail order, would you make a point of personally thanking the company that sent it? Probably not. For some customers, I think the process just stops when they have received what they’re paying for.

  4. Marian, I do so empathize with you over (shall we call it ’emailtiquette’?) good manners or, rather, the lack thereof, in the give-and-take of email exchange. It has not happened to me with colleagues, but repeatedly so with clients, whether direct or agencies. If I stay up till dawn to meet a deadline in advance, the least I expect is the courtesy of acknowledging receipt, the more so when such has been requested. Here I disagree with Fritz, because I don’t expect the client to “thank” me, but I surely will appreciate their letting me know that they have received the attachment. Once, I told an agency I used to work for “I don’t know why you never acknowledge, but since you are not screaming black murder, I assume that the translation got to your hands in time”. Upon which they answered a terse “thanks”. And even a corteous ‘thank you’ would not be so out of place. It is a business transaction, yes, but the non-answerers should learn a thing or two from such corporate giants as Amazon, for instance, who never fail to acknowledge and thank you – although you would actually not expect them to. Good manners are good manners, and bad ones are bad, however you may want to dance around the concepts.

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