Lesson 110: Codes of conduct: more paperwork or a backbone of a freelance translator?

Lesson 110: Codes of conduct: more paperwork or a backbone of a freelance translator?

Joining just about any translation or interpreting organisation means that you have to sign a copy of its code of conduct to confirm you’re going to run your business in line with the provisions. A careful professional, or maybe a novice joining their first organisation, will read every point and analyse the details. But with time, and I’ve become guilty of that, too, we just assume that codes of conduct of the majority of organisations are similar. And to a large extent they are, but what I’ve noticed is that my attitude towards the codes has become pretty much indifferent, just browsing through them and signing. It’s easy to think they’re just a pile of paperwork.

However, a few years back I changed my approach to the way I look at codes of conduct but also to their role in my business. Looking at the very definition, a code of conduct is a set of rules outlining the responsibilities and best practice of an individual or a business.

Analysing in detail the Code of Conduct that the Chartered Institute of Linguists has proposed, you’ll see that it’s a very sound document, indeed. Especially the part on over-arching principles holds some provisions the enforcement of which would make the industry a much nicer place (in particular: 3.4 Practitioners shall not knowingly or negligently act in a way that is likely to be detrimental to the profession of linguist.). Apart from this set of general principles, the code also sets out some important points when comes to obligations to clients, and proposes more specific provisions for translators, interpreters, public service interpreters, teachers, trainers, lecturers and practitioners in business, professions and government.

Of course, the CIOL’s Code of Professional Conduct is just one example. But when was the last time you read the code of conduct that you’ve signed?

What I’d like to argue in this article is that Codes of Conduct provide a number of benefits to practitioners, and in fact perhaps form the foundation of business of a freelance translator or interpreter business.


Having a Code of Conduct that you’re abiding by lends a lot of professionalism to your business – starting from your own perspective on it. To me, it feels a bit like having a structure, a set of guidelines that make a good translator or interpreter, or even like holding a few pages that set the best standard for work.

Basic terms and conditions

Every Code of Conduct I came across sets out some basic T&Cs for your business, especially in relation to how you’re supposed to act towards your clients.


Something I experienced personally as an interpreter is related to the protection I could find in my Code of Conduct. If a client would ask for something ethically or morally unacceptable, I could always say that I can’t do it in line with my Code of Conduct. The same applies to translation, when the client objects to questions being asked or pointing out mistakes in the source text.


Codes of Conduct are also, believe it or not, a good marketing tool. If you tell your client you have to abide by this and this code of conduct, referring them the the whole text, they’re more likely to find you professional and trustworthy. Codes also do great when comes to client education: many clients may not realise that our work is regulated and structured.


Codes of Conduct, and in my case especially the code of the National Register of Public Service Interpreters, are great irreplaceable guides whenever I’m in doubt or coming across ethical dilemmas. If I don’t know if something is appropriate or allowed, I can always refer to the Code of Conduct.

What do you think? Did you find codes of conduct useful in your career?


  1. Allison Wright , on Dec 1, 2014 at 18:49 Reply

    I found these codes of conduct useful when I drafted my very first website. I used them as a kind of checklist. I specifically included a statement regarding codes of conduct on my website for the reasons you mention: professionalism, marketing, and protection/inclusion in terms and conditions.
    Were I ever to find myself in a situation where my work had to go to arbitration (God forbid!), I would not hesitate to use anything in those codes of conduct in my defense, or involve the national translation institute of which I am a member, for that matter.
    We do have a lot of fun in our work, but translation is a serious business, like any other.

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