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Five Best Practices for High-Quality Technical Translations

As today’s businesses serve an increasingly global customer base, it is becoming a standard requirement to translate technical documents into multiple languages. Unfortunately, technical documents are at risk for localisation errors if the content is not prepared in the right way. When converting these types of documents for a global audience, there is much more to the process than simply handing over a file for translation. However, you can alleviate a number of potential localisation problems by following the five best practices provided below.

1. Write for a Global Audience

One way to minimise localisation errors is to ensure that the source document is written with multilingual readers in mind. Make sure the content is free of cultural references and idiomatic expressions that will not readily be understood by people reading the document in a different language. Even if the words or phrases are properly translated, the meaning could easily be lost. For example, national identification, standards and regulations such as National Insurance Number, Social Insurance Number, HIPAA, and IRS can be mistranslated.

Also, make sure that all symbols used in the document are easily recognisable to international audiences. Don’t assume that because a symbol is considered “standard” in your company’s home country, it is used in other areas of the world.

2. Note That Translated Text Will Impact the Layout

Most languages are 20 per cent longer than English when written out. When you’re translating from English to other languages, your layout will need to allow for extra space to accommodate the translated content. Also, since diagrams and images often make up a large part of technical documents such as installation and operating manuals, the layout may need to change to ensure that images line up properly with the text. This same rule also applies to columns, text boxes and other graphic elements in the layout.

3. Avoid Embedding Text in Graphics

Visual elements are a key component in technical documentation but they must be comprehensible to global readers. If possible, avoid using text in graphics (e.g., charts, images, graphs), and if possible, use captions instead. If there is no way to create an image devoid of text, make sure the text is translated so the translators can re-create a layered graphic for each language into which the document will be translated.

4. Create a Clear File Management Structure

When providing technical documents to your language service provider, be sure to deliver them in the original or native editable file format with clear instructions for handling each file. For large projects with multiple files, provide a hierarchal file structure that is easy for translators to understand and navigate. This will help the process run more smoothly and efficiently.

5. Watch Returns and Spacing

Remind your writers that the use of hard and soft returns can affect translated content. Writers often insert breaks as a way to make sure the content fits the page layout. However, broken sentences can be problematic when the file is translated.

The translation of technical documents often requires additional work from your technical writers, designers and your language service provider. One way to minimise errors and ensure the work comes back in a timely manner is to adhere to the five recommendations outlined above. These guidelines may not completely eliminate language translation problems, but they will certainly help create content that is easy to localise for a global, multilingual audience.



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