Technical translation is a real headache when it comes to globalized business operation, but with the tips we outline here will give you the right direction.
Sooner or later, most international companies will need to translate technical documentation. Manuals, user guides, white papers, data sheets – these all need to be reproduced in foreign languages as your operation expands overseas. Technical translations are one of the more challenging aspects of global business, but the five tips we outline here will point you in the right direction.
Keep an eye on text length
The rhetorical question “How long is a piece of string?” could equally apply to written languages. No two scripts will express the same idea in the same number of words and characters. French and German, for example, can be up to 30% longer than their English equivalents, while ideographic scripts like Chinese are generally shorter.
When you translate your technical documents, prepare for expanded or contracted text blocks. Will you add extra pages to your manuals? Or shorten the text to fit your current layout? Your language service provider (LSP) is responsible for formatting the translated output – make sure they have clear instructions
Write localization-proof content
Sound terminology management is critical when translating technical documentation. The style and structure of your original text affects the quality of technical translations. Keep sentences short, clear, and to the point; avoid idioms and flowery language. Give your LSP access to your company’s style guides and official vocabularies – anything to help the linguists get a feel for how you communicate.
Automate wherever possible
Computer-assisted translation (CAT) tools will greatly improve project efficiency. If you’re translating the same technical documentation many times, with only minor changes from one version to the next, a translation memory database can automate most of the work.
When using a translation memory, the same principles of terminology management apply. Keep your grammar and sentence structures as simple as possible. Limit the use of dependent clauses, which are difficult for the software to recognize. X Creative Media will advise you on how to use these technologies.
Prepare & organize your files
Your LSP should receive all technical documents in their original, editable file formats. When original source files are unavailable, they must be recreated from scratch – an expensive and tedious process.
- Remove all unintentional and hard return spacing from your files. This includes triple and quadruple spaces, tab-space sequences, and tabs in the middle of paragraphs. Otherwise the linguists must do this themselves – a waste of their time and yours.
- Keep your file structure tidy, clearly labelled, and easy to navigate. The linguists should be able to find and replace files quickly, largely automating this task while they focus on more important things. Disorganized file structures are another major time-waster, and will ultimately add to the cost of your project.
- Finally, make sure any irrelevant content has been removed from your files before you send them off. Your LSP doesn’t need anything that isn’t directly related to the localization project – don’t bog your linguists down with unnecessary file weight.
Try before you buy
Unless you’ve got a deadline looming, try doing a sample technical translation batch with your LSP before the main work commences. Send a content sample, have it translated, then have it reviewed by your own in-country staff. This kind of trial run gives both parties the chance to identify and fix problems before investing in a major translation project.
We’re always interested to hear your perspective. Leave a comment below and tell us about your own experiences with technical document translation.