The Why and How of Technical Manual Translation

Why Technical Manual Translation Is So Important

Technical manuals explain to the reader how to use a product or software program. Even a product as straightforward as a toaster is accompanied by a manual that explains how to use it and troubleshoot issues.

In some cases (like a toaster), the reader is likely to skim the manual and then stash it in a drawer in case of emergency. On the other hand, when renting a car, we do not typically read the manual cover-to-cover. But if a light pops up on the dashboard, we will refer to it for answers.

Technical manuals are vital in a range of industries, from consumer goods and home appliances to heavy machinery, manufacturing, and the automotive sector. 

From a customer satisfaction standpoint, technical manual translation is a best practice. When the user manual is available in their language, customers can use the product safely and have a positive experience. 

Clear instructions also help prevent accidents that can cause legal troubles for your company. A manufacturer doing business in Germany learned this the hard way after a mistranslated word, combined with a product defect, led to a lawsuit and a damaged reputation. 

Regulations Regarding Translation of Technical Manuals

Technical manual translation also enables you to export your product to more markets. 

In fact, depending on the market, availability of the technical documentation in local language may be mandatory: for example, if you are selling your product in Québec, the Charter of the French Language dictates that the manual must be available in French. Not only can you be fined by the government for non-compliance, but private citizens in Québec can also file for damages. 

The European Union has strict guidelines around technical manual translation. For example, the rules regarding heavy machinery state, “All machinery must be accompanied by instructions in the Official Community language or languages of the Member State in which it is placed on the market and/or put into service.” Similar rules apply to medical devices and other electronic equipment.

What Your Language Services Provider Needs to Know When Translating Technical Manuals

When you begin working with a language services provider (LSP, for short), there are key elements of your technical manual translation project they need to know about beforehand.

For example:

  • Filetype. As we have previously written, many file types are used in translating technical manuals. To ensure smooth translation process flow, your language services provider needs to know how to handle the file type in which the document is created and be able to perform post-translation desktop publishing (DTP)/typesetting in the required format.
  • Target languages. Each language has its challenges – from right-to-left text (Arabic), double-byte characters (Chinese/Japanese), word growth (German), or even accented characters (Spanish/French). These nuances affect the layout, the font choice, and more when it comes to the final document.
  • Target market. The terminology used in Québec and France can vary significantly. The same is true of Mexico and Spain. Your LSP needs to know your specific target market so that they can assign your technical manual translation project to the right linguists who live in your targeted market.
  • Conditional text. Programs such as Adobe FrameMaker allow you to create multiple document versions using conditional text. For example, you could repurpose the same translated manual for use in Argentina and Uruguay, with minor differences such as addresses or allusions to regulations. If you are using conditional text, the LSP will need to know that so they can prepare the document correctly. 
  • Brand style guide. Many companies have detailed guidelines for their visual brand, from colours and imagery to specific fonts. Providing your LSP with the style guide outlining these guidelines will help ensure that they can reproduce the look and feel of the original in the translated version/s of the document.

Pre-Translation Steps for Translating Technical Manuals

Once you have supplied your LSP with the source document and the required specifics for the finished product, there is work to be done before technical manual translation can begin. 

  • Image localization. One common feature of technical manuals across industries is that they contain images, graphics, diagrams, and charts. Graphic elements need to be extracted and provided to your language services provider so that they can translate the text and localize the images (or reproduce them) in the language/s of the translation.
  • Font selection. For translation into a language such as Chinese, Hindi, or Arabic, your LSP will review your brand guidelines and assess which fonts may be recommended for the translated text.
  • Measurements conversion. Did you know that only three countries in the world, the U.S., Liberia, and Myanmar use the Imperial Measurement System? The rest of the world is using either Metric Measurement System or a combination of both.

Why Technical Manual TranslationTo avoid confusion for your reader, the measuring units need to be converted. The localization team will identify any elements that require conversion. For example, temperature measurements in a user manual originally written for U.S.-based customers will need to be converted to Celsius for a Canadian or a European reader.

  • Conditions setting. If your manual was created using software such as Adobe FrameMaker, the team will also ensure that conditions are correctly set up before translation work begins.
  • Screen captures replacement. Finally, if your manual includes screen captures of a user interface, they need to be flagged so that they can be replaced with images of the localized interface.

Technical Manual Translation: The ProcessTranslation of Technical ManualsThe process of technical manual translation involves multiple team members who perform specific tasks during the process of technical manual translation.

1. Scoping, gathering & set up. From the beginning, the project manager coordinates with the client contact to ensure that all source files have been received. They will set up the translation team and project timelines and gather any terminology queries that arise during the project. They also ensure that the desktop publishing team is set up and equipped with all necessary tools to work on post-translation formatting.

2. Execution & QA checks. The next step in the technical manual translation project involves Translating, Editing, and Proofing (the three-step TEP QA process). One linguist will translate the source text into the target language. A second linguist will edit the text, checking the accuracy of the translation, and it will then undergo a proofreading step to ensure the translated text is error-free.

All linguists involved in technical manual translation projects are selected based on their expertise in the subject matter. Typically, they live in a country where their native language is spoken, so they are familiar with its current usage, specifics, and trends.

Translators or editors may raise questions or flag passages in the source text for clarification at any time during this process. The project manager will then reach out to your team members for clarifications. Your company is the expert when it comes to your product, and open lines of communication will lead to a better product in the end.

3. Localization & Cultural adaptation. Cultural adaptation is a crucial component of technical manual translation. For example, safety labels or warnings often contain an icon alongside text. 

Translators will review the imagery to ensure that it will be interpreted as intended by a target language reader. The language team will also make recommendations on how to adapt the contents of the manual to suit the target culture.

Post-Translation Steps for Translating Technical Manuals

Once the text of the document – and all associated content, including text that is part of diagrams or illustrations – has been translated and reviewed, it goes to the DTP team.

  • DTP. They will import the translated files and do any necessary design tasks, such as re-creating images and diagrams in the target language. They will also make layout and pagination adjustments based on the target language text size.
  • Final review. After technical manual translation and design are complete, the document needs to be reviewed for potential issues. This work is best done by a speaker of the target language, who will notice errors that might have been overlooked by someone unfamiliar with the language.

Potential issues might include:

    • Overlapping or cut-off text
    • Graphics with untranslated elements
    • Encoding issues that prevent accented characters from displaying
    • Order of alphabetized elements, the table of contents, etc.
    • Visual branding missteps

In general, the “look and feel” of the translated document should be identical to the source, and the translated manual should adhere to the brand’s style guide.

For additional advice on what to consider when preparing to translate technical manuals, we have also compiled a list of 10 Things to Remember for Successful Technical Document Translation.

At Art One Translations, we have extensive experience with technical manual translation in a range of industries. We have worked with software inside content management systems, such as FrameMaker and MadCap Flare, and we have also translated interactive technical manuals using XML-based formats. 

We firmly believe that no two technical manual translation projects are the same. We work closely with our clients to understand their needs and target audience before providing them with a custom solution. We hand-pick linguists and DTP experts who are familiar with the industry and the target market, and we pride ourselves on our proven meticulous quality assurance process.

We would love to work with you if you need technical manual translation services. 

Contact Art One Translations today to learn more. 

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