Language is more than just a series of words. It connects people through common ideas, and translation is the magic ticket that helps it to cross foreign borders. Technical documentation translation takes the challenge to an entirely new level, demanding a degree of accuracy that few other niches require.
That is further complicated by the need to find the correct terminology management that is industry-appropriate and specific to the organization.
The term “technical documentation” has a wide berth. The term applies to technical documents in a huge range of industries, from instructional manuals of kitchen appliances to software user guides, engineering operation and maintenance manuals for heavy machinery, advisory services reports, and proposals, to name a few. In engineering, it covers the functionality and architecture of a piece of technology. In the pharmaceutical industry, it refers to the assembly, safety, and efficacy of medications.
Some must appeal to industry equals, while others need enough clarity to reach across sectors. That makes translating technical documents particularly challenging. To complicate the matter further, such manuals often take the form of image-rich handbooks with complex structures and formatting.
Tips to Translate Technical Documents Stress-Free
Multilingual technical documentation must penetrate new markets and meet the challenges of niche industries without disrespecting cultural differences. If that is not challenging enough, document formatting must remain consistent despite a 10 to 30% text expansion that sends your pagination off balance.
Let’s look at a few tips for coaxing accuracy out of the toughest documents and ensuring your technical documentation translation goes on as smoothly as possible.
Keep Your Technical Documentation Translation Simple
Technical writers are sometimes prone to complicated sentences and fancy wording. The translator’s job is to smooth out those sentences to achieve sharp, clear statements. Limiting dependent clauses and idiomatic expressions goes far in avoiding misinterpretation.
The outcome of technical documentation translation will be best if compound words and sentences are transformed into something short and sharp. Half of the success of technical documentation translation lies in the hands of the original writer, so be mindful of technical writing guidelines.
Idioms and abstractions are easily misinterpreted and often contain cultural mores, so they should be translated literally. Better yet, make sure the source material doesn’t include them.
Begin with the Right File Format
Not all file types preserve formatting and pagination well. Responsive HTML and CSS hold onto layout exceptionally well, but imported PDFs throw all original formatting out the window.
The rule of thumb for technical documentation translation is to send the original source files to your translation provider. This will save time on file conversion and text extractions and allow their DTP team to provide clean post-translation typesetting of your document that will have the same look and feel as your original.
Be Cautious of Cultural References and Symbols
Suppose you are dealing with a global customer base. In that case, it might be difficult to learn about the cultures of all the countries where you are doing business and be familiar with what in these countries is culturally appropriate and what is not. Even technical writing can be rich in cultural references. Don’t assume that foreign cultures use western symbols in their technical manuals either.
Therefore, in technical documentation translation, it is crucial to rely on skilled in-country translators who are bilingual, bi-cultural and experts in translating technical documentation. They will have a working knowledge of which language elements cross borders and will be able to spot inappropriate cultural references and advise on modifying them.
Localize Rather than Translate
We’ve all seen instructional manuals written in our native language, which reads “foreign”. This is most likely happening when the text has been poorly translated and not properly localized.
Every region has cultural barriers. When translating technical documentation, it is essential to adapt a product’s translation to a specific “local” country or region. Localization provides a more nuanced high-quality translation, avoiding the overly literal in exchange for a more culturally aware result in the translated text.
The goal of localization is to aim beyond mere source text conversion and keep in mind the importance of localizing layouts, visuals, units of measurement, dates, and currency formats, among other specifics. A good technical translation does not feel like a translation but rather like a text specifically written for a target audience.
When it comes to the units of measurement, to avoid confusion for your readers, you need to know whether your target audience uses the Imperial or Metric Measurement System. You might need to localize your dimensions, i.e., convert them from miles and gallons into kilometers and litres, from ounces and inches into grams and centimeters, and from feet and Fahrenheit into meters and Celsius.
Automate Repeatable Tasks
If you are repeating indices, references, and tables of content, automate them so that you can focus on more important tasks. The software can make your formatting foolproof across target languages.
Maker Interchange Formats will preserve your entire document’s formatting without separating your translation from it. That can get in the way of developing consistency across documents—a problem that structured formatting solves. DITA or XML applications keep format rules separate, relying on commands to map your text. Automation can also:
- Change fonts for specific languages
- Adjust your indents to make room for expansion
- Alter your prefix text
As a result, automation can simplify the process of technical documentation translation.
Prepare for Text Expansion
Foreign languages tend to expand English text, which requires preparation for the translation of technical documents. Before sending your technical documents to translation, they may need to be resized, and images might need to be shifted. Increased character counts can skew your entire format, so prepare for them early by making your initial document easy to edit.
You can re-paginate your text after the fact or create a smaller font, but this achieves sloppy results. Responsive design handles the problem with far more finesse if you are working with a website. If you are using other formats, including extra space in your initial draft might be a good idea.
Expansion varies by language. German requires about 30% more space, while Italian only needs 10%. German is rich in 70-letter words, yet all Vietnamese words are monosyllabic. That has dire effects on your image layouts unless you exercise plenty of forethought.
Character-based languages will need vertical and horizontal expansion, so your best bet is to ensure your documents are easy to edit. To complicate the matter further, the text would need to be left-oriented to prepare for Arabic translation or other right-to-left languages, and images are often placed on the right.
Cultural differences extend far beyond mere word length. Every country has its own document norms. North America relies on letter size, while Europe uses the A4 format. The latter is longer and narrower, so the layout often needs to be adjusted for technical document translation.
Legal and foolscap sizes of paper have their own dimension differences, and while most countries have accepted ISO 216 paper sizes, many still use a different standard.
Use the Correct Terminology
The same terms may have different meanings depending on the industry in which they are used. This is why it is crucial that your translation services provider has proper terminology management in place.
Incorrect terminology has legal implications that can cost a pretty penny in the long run, so use defined terminology across your entire organization. This way, all your content will be consistent, and serious errors can be avoided on a large scale.
A terminology guide or glossary of terms with your organization’s preferred translation will help your translation provider to localize and brand your content. Typically, the glossary for technical translation includes the term, its part of speech, its preferred translation, and a descriptive note with more information on the meaning and the context in which it is used.
To help your translation services provider to put together a glossary, make sure to advise your on how to handle the following:
- Name of your organization
- Names of products and services, features and functions
- Words that you want to be used consistently
- Words that appear in multiple places and can potentially cause confusion if not used consistently.
Link Your Images
Embedded images are difficult and time-consuming to edit and can shift your format with minor text changes. They also expand your file size by as much as 20 times. Translating the text in such images would require an extra step of extracting the text from them, adding to the cost of translation.
Linked images will keep their compression no matter the format of your technical document, limiting your reformatting to textual elements. That will make your job considerably simpler. Keep all your images in the same folder as your document to avoid broken links during the process of your technical documentation translation.
Stay Aware of Legalese
Contracts and agreements must comply with your target industry’s regulations. Underestimating the power of regulatory language can result in serious financial penalties. A professional translation company will make sure to assign the translation of such documents to an experienced in-country translator who specializes in the regulatory landscape of your industry and can advise your team and modify translations accordingly.
Prepare for the Future
Technical documentation translation doesn’t end with the final submission. The documents you hand over to your customer have a long future ahead of them, so they must be easy to maintain. They will need regular updating as industries learn and evolve, and end-users must always have access to that new data.
Digital preservation is an art in itself, and not all file formats offer it. TIFFs, for example, are widely adapted and accessible to a huge range of software, so they are considered a good preservation format. XMLs are preferable for database management systems, and CSV files make spreadsheets easy to preserve.
Automation and digital technology can make updates a walk in the park or a hike through the center of the earth. The right translation company has a host of software tools in the works to ensure accuracy and speed, and that comes at a decidedly lighter price.
Computer-assisted translation (CAT) tools considerably speed up the process of updating documents. Translation Memories (TM) standardize terminology translations, shaving hours off of the process by using a database of stored segments that have been translated in the past. This way, text units can be applied and reapplied across the lifespan of your documents.
Technical Translation Services You Can Rely On
Building a sustainable strategy for technical manual translation projects involves juggling hundreds of technologies, procedures, and publishing tools at once. It is a complex process that requires a team effort, including the expertise of translators, editors, desktop publishing (DTP) specialists, and localization engineers.
It is not enough for translators working on the technical text to know the source and the target languages. It is also essential to be an expert in the subject matter of the text and be well-versed in industry-related terminology. Additionally, superior knowledge of CAT, QA, and terminology management tools is crucial, without which ensuring consistency with terminology is challenging, if not impossible.
Over the years, our team at Art One has translated a wide range of technical documents for various sectors, including user manuals, installation manuals, operations guides, maintenance manuals, instructional manuals, system administration guides, policy and procedure manuals… You name it; we’ve done it.
We have what it takes to produce a print-ready copy of your document that will read naturally in 75+ languages tailored for your target audience and look identical to its original.
Choose a technical translation company that has every trick up its sleeve, and you will never have to drop another ball again.
Please reach out to us to discuss your technical documentation translation project.
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