Does Your Keywording Company Really Speak The Lingo?

Keywording anything more than the most basic literal terms in English requires advanced knowledge of the language - but how do you know the company you're thinking of working with really meets that standard?

Some time ago we looked at offering German keywording, something we're still considering. It was suggested that we could use English keywording, and translate automatically using software. The experiment was less than ideal as words in English have such shades of meaning that translation without full knowledge of both languages was sub-standard. We resolved at that time to only ever keyword in German with people who could really speak and write the language (we have two such people on staff). It also underlined to us how important knowledge of English was for the keywording we already did.

We've had quite a bit of feedback from clients and potential clients that suggests English skills aren't always the best amongst the keywording fraternity. These tales of woe, which brought people to our door, prompted me to think about how a photo library or photographer would be able to pick which companies possess the necessary skills.

My suggestion is that you follow these guidelines:

1. Does the company web site read like it's been written by someone with knowledge of the language? If the quality of English is poor on a public web site, what will it be like behind closed doors? In making this assessment, don't worry so much about spelling mistakes and punctuation errors - anyone can use a spellchecker - look at the way the language is used. A dead giveaway is if the sentences are technically correct but use words and terms which are particularly old-fashioned or overly formal. You know the sort of thing: "our esteemed company wishes to engage in a partnership with your corporation to facilitate the mutual enfusion of money to the benefit of all". Sounds a bit like spam, doesn't it.

2. What English qualifications do the company's keyworders have? Are they native English speakers, university graduates, or did they learn English at high school. If the latter is the case, think about a language you might have learned in high school such as French or German. Would you consider yourself qualified to keyword in those languages?

3. Speak to someone. Picking a keywording company on the basis of email alone is dangerous. Talk to someone at the company and see if they can speak English well. It's not a conclusive measure of keywording quality, but as with the web site, if the person fronting for the company isn't proficient, what is the English like elsewhere?

4. Have a detailed look at the work. When all is said and done, this is by far the most important measure. Check the concepts included and look for archaic words. If the concepts are more sparse than you expected, or confusing, that's not good. If the terminology isn't in the modern idiom you should also ask more questions. Don't restrict your quality control to the initial sample. Perhaps the company has some stars who do all the samples, and the actual production is of lesser quality.