Tips to my fellow translators for vision preservation, comfort, productivity.

The following is an adaptation of content I gave during training sessions between 1999 and now.
Disclaimer: this article is offered as practical guidance, and does not constitute medical advice.
You are welcome to repost, crosspost, copy, rip, quote: I do not care for copyright when health is at stake.

What is the optimal zoom factor for my screen?

Ophtalmologists recommend the following standard: from your usual viewing distance (do not get near the screen to perform this), gradually reduce your zoom factor down to the smallest text you can read, a size where you can just recognize glyphs (if smaller, text would be impossible to read). The recommended zoom factor is three times that strong.


On my 21-inch monitor right now, sitting ~ 20 inches (~ 50 cm) away, with text that's a default 10 points, the smallest zoom factor at which I can still read is 50%. Thus, comfortable reading would be achieved at a 3 x 50% = 150% zoom factor.

For some reason, my high-mileage eyes find 130% to be fine. Life is good.

Note: we are dealing with a zoom factor (a ratio), not a font size (an absolute value). The above discussion assumes text with a 10-point font size. Documents rarely use fonts under 10, or over 12 points, for the document's body. Make the necessary adjustments.

What is the optimal brightness level?

This setting is as important as the proper zoom factor. Too much brightness can permanently hurt the eye. Too little brightness forces the eye and brain to work more to guess-read, recognize letters. That effort is largely unconscious, so the damages appear too late, near retirement age ("loss of intellectual acumen", a polite way of describing scarier conditions).

The brightness level depends on your immediate environment.

Your monitor should feel like you're looking at a sheet of white paper, with perhaps 10 to 15% more brightness - not more. The way a sheet of white paper reflects light depends on your environment, so only you can decide that.


Give it a go for a day at least.

Bottom line: modern monitors have a maximum brightness designed to work in a brightly lit room, for example, an open space with large windows on the sunny side of life.
In a moderately lit room, a safe brightness level should be 50-75%. More is not better. 100% brightness in a closed room is visual suicide.
Too much brightness can accelerate or worsen macular degeneration, a condition that is difficult to treat. Granted, too little brightness can be detrimental too, so finding the correct balance is necessary; however, too much is worse than too little.

Bad habit: not changing brightness level when night arrives, working in a dark office staring at a day-level monitor. Translators on a deadline (rather, always on a deadline?) are night owls. Owls are cute, blind owls are miserable. Check whether your monitor can adapt to ambient light. Mine can, but it seems I don't see the difference, which is normal: you should not feel a difference with a high brightness level day-time, compared to reduced brightness at night.

Keep one or two lights of medium intensity in your office at night. But

That calls for your sense of geometry. Free the inner Euclide.
Do not worry for the planet: with the advent of LED, lighting is a small fraction of the power draw. A few watts. Heating/AC, or your kettle, or your Tesla, those go by the kilowatts.

If you work on a laptop, I advise attaching an external monitor and an external keyboard when at home. Using a bare laptop as workhorse is not a good idea. If you don't agree, you're probably still young!

External keyboards offer dedicated Home, End, PageUp, PageDown keys, which are crucial to text navigation. Not having those navigation keys really hurts productivity, forcing you to use 2-key shortcuts, or the mouse, all the time.

What is the optimal geometry?

Humans have a wide field of view (FOV) of approximately 180° x 180°. That's for escaping predators, and staying on alert.
Humans are blessed with another FOV: that of a predator. Granted, we do not hunt for food anymore - we hunt for translation jobs, and once secured, we're glued to a screen for days. Said shortly, our distant ancestors used the predation vision mode a few hours a week - and mostly males. Today, it can be 12 hours a day, and it's unisex. Obviously, a few adjustments need to be made.
When reading and paying attention to minute details for long periods of time, we use the predator's FOV - a high-intensity, narrower FOV, used to focus. Eye and head movement are minimal.

Two simple exercises to alleviate early presbytia

You may have seen those exercises all over the place, wondering "Is preventing presbytia that easy?"
Good news: yes those exercises actually work.
Caveat: if your DNA doesn't agree... those exercises will only alleviate the problem.

I learned the following exercise 30 years ago from a top gun of the air force:

  1. Hold a pencil in front of your eyes at about 30-50 cm. Focus on it for 10 seconds.
  2. Remove the pencil, focus at the end of the room, or away, for ten seconds.

Repeat 10 times. Complicated, uh?

That Top Gun had other advices, such as "eat bilberry/blueberry". As well as a chuckled "rinse your eye often. See what I mean, chum?".
I still don't get what he meant. Eye drops, probably.

Now I'm going to go insane and link to a youtube clip on a dissertation about... eye health.

Here is a youtube demonstration that goes further.

Associate that to the 4-7-8 breathing, as taught by Santa Claus in person..

Setting up Ms-Word's View setting for better eye health, less brain drain, more focus.

Ms-Word has a "View" tab in the ribbon that offers, among others, two fundamental modes: "Print" (aka "Page", or WYSIWYG mode), and "Draft" (aka "Normal") view.

Draft is the recommended setting for translation.

If layout and the final look are important, and they usually are, temporarily shift to Page/WYSIWYG view during proofreading. "Draft" view is best for translation, focusing on meaning. Rare exceptions arise when form is an integral part of meaning.

It is still possible to use the WYSIWYG "Page" view at translation time for short documents (less than ~20 pages) that do not have a rich or complex layout. WYSIWYG "Page" view generates frequent flicker, due to Ms-Word redrawing the page as you type. On large or complex documents, constant flicker not only hurts the eyes, it also seriously hampers productivity. This is why the "Print" or "Page" mode should be left to the proofreading stage. Bottom line: translation is not authoring, "Page", or WYSIWYG view look beautiful, as false friends do. Draft view is rock stable, easily zoomed to fit the screen, scrolls smoothly, wastes less space. All of that contributes to better legibility and focus.

Page view forces Microsoft Word to constantly repaginate in order to draw a visually correct page. In large and complex documents, Page view combined with spellchecking can exhaust Ms-Word's resources, leading to catatrophic failures.

Adapting Ms-Word's View/Zoom factor

This part uses Wordfast Classic as an illustration, but is essentially Ms-Word wisdom for translators on any CAT tool.

The zoom factor is important for productivity. It impacts legibility. A bad zoom factor can dramatically increase errors. Here, comfort means quality.

Before you set it using the "View" tab in the ribbon, try to have Word occupy sufficient space on your desktop - without necessarily maximizing Word's window.

In Draft view, adjust the zoom factor to have a comfortable text size. Ideally, there should be a couple lines of text before (atop) and after (beneath) the segment, for context.

This is easy to achieve on a large monitor, but is difficult, and critical, on small or medium-sized laptops.

Once this is done, make sure that on long sentences, text wraps, instead of disappearing beyond Word's right border.

Microsoft Word has a setting that's so crucial for translators, but is so difficult to find.
I recognize that Microsoft Word is for authoring. Translating never was the priority.

Word has no less than 4 different places to tweak display (or "view") options:

Wordfast Classic users: Note there is a setting under Setup / View to make sure that text wraps. Check that option, even if you don't check Start translation in Draft mode.

With tables or textboxes, and other objects, these settings are important. Here are two examples of bad zoom factors (too strong) that will result in constant horizontal scrolling and jitter:

Here are the correct zoom factors that avoid horizontal scrolling, associated with a checked File/Options > "Advanced" > "Show document content":

Notes about the two examples above:

Ms-Word Accessories

Rulers. For us translators, rulers are rarely necessary. Rulers are for authors, who also rarely use them. On a laptop, they consume precious visual real estate. Turn them off unless you have a good reason to keep them. Use the ribbon's "View" tab.

Status bar. The status bar, if visible, is at the bottom of the document window. Keep it visible: WFC occasionally uses it for messages.

Side panes, anchored or floating. Ms-Word may open various panes, such as the search pane, the "Editor", or spell-check pane, a floating or fixed style pane, etc. Only keep them opened on really large monitors. On a laptop, those must be closed after use with their little "Close" button.

The following section concerns Wordfast Classic users only.

WFC shortcuts

WFC shortcuts are better than the mouse - at all times. Memorizing essential shortcuts is essential to productivity - unless you're paid by the hour.

See this chapter for a complete list of shortcuts.

The arch-essential shortcuts are:

Start translation / Next segment
Alt+UpPrevious segment
Alt+EndClose segment / End translation
Copy source  Mac: Ctrl+S
Alt+DeleteRestore (un-segment) a segment
Ctrl+Alt+XClear the target segment (delete target text)

Those are shortcuts you cannot afford to ignore. If you find that you frequently use the mouse for a certain type of action, learn the associated shortcut. Ms-Word and Wordfast Classic have shortcuts for most actions. Want to be convinced? Open two (or more) documents in Ms-Word, play with Ctrl+F6. Need more convincing? On Windows, press Alt+PrintScreen (little PrnScrn key, top right of the keyboard, the Mac has another technique). In an email, press Ctrl+V, (Command+V on a Mac). You've included a screenshot in an email in seconds rather than minutes. Now you can give Ted talks on productivity.

Wordfast Classic translation on small screens

Rambling translators, digital nomads, have to deal with really small screens. WFC tries to accomodate even the smallest devices.

There is a dedicated option under Setup > View for small laptop screens, which keeps segments down to a minimalist view mode without much sacrifice on the feature set.

Use this mode in combination with a shrunk Word ribbon (Ctrl+F1), no rulers, a draft view mode, a proper zoom factor, and you're good to go!

Note: there are options under Setup > View to use lighter shades for an opened segment, or no shades at all. I've done decades of translation on blurry 13-inch passive-matrix displays, last century, and this century. You should be fine with a few precautions. I can still (proof)read a document from a foot away and spot it's typos. Pun intended. A tip for night owls: when the chin hits the spacebar, time to go to bed.

That may also come in handy in strong sunshine, poolside translation, space tourism, or cast away on a desert island.

Two setup examples

Laptop with a "very small" LCD screen (11-inch), Ms-Word 2019, shrunk ribbon, no rulers, Draft view, Minimalist segment enabled under Setup > View, toolbar set as Mini:


Fragment from a large monitor (21-inch; other applications running on the same monitor), the mighty Ms-Word 2019 with deployed ribbon, complete segment with the TM's detail above it, AutoSuggest underneath, document context above and below - the whole shebang:



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Ms-Word, Excel, Acces, PowerPoint are trademarks of Microsoft Corp.

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