Sometimes the only material a client has is a copy of the document that needs to be translated. Usually this is an electronic file (Word, PDF, scanned image) sent by e-mail, but it might also be a hard-copy document sent by fax or regular mail.
If that’s all you can send me, be prepared to answer some questions! I need to know, at minimum, the intended audience and purpose of the translated text. For instance, a medical report might concern an active illness and be needed for making treatment decisions. Or it could be one of a number of documents associated with a clinical trial. Perhaps the translation is needed for insurance reimbursement, or for use in litigation.
Is the translation to be published? If you tell me it is, I will be on the alert for copyright questions, questions of fact, and other details that could cause headaches later. Most publications have formatting requirements and style sheets that must be adhered to — if you let me know about these guidelines in the specification stage (and assuming we can get our hands on them), then I can deliver a translation that meets these requirements and save you some editing expense down the line.
If the assignment is part of a larger project, you may already know how certain terms should be translated, or there may be some key words or phrases that need to be emphasized. Ideally, you will be able to provide reference materials — previously translated documents, templates, glossaries, diagrams, etc. — that will inform my decisions, cut down on questions, and enable me to deliver a document that best serves your needs.
Please note, though, that I cannot make the document say something in English that it does not say in Bosnian, Croatian, or Serbian!