Many manufacturers have ongoing needs for product manual and user interface translations. These documents may be relatively simple and straight forward, such as short manuals for microwave ovens or medical devices, like glucose monitors. For capital equipment used in large industrial settings, the manuals may be longer, and much more complex. Whether your company’s manual translation needs are small or large, there are some best practices for document translation you should know about that can save your company time and money while ensuring a high quality, consistent translation.

Best Practices for Document Translation

Complete your product’s interface translation before the manual translation.

This is more efficient and cost effective than doing it the other way around. You may have character space constraints or other special requirements for your interface that dictate the exact translations (or abbreviations) you use. Translating the interface first also enables you to provide updated screen shots and ensure that the text in your manual translation matches what appears on the screen. Though it may be tempting, you should be leery of having in-country personnel, such as an engineer, translate your interface on the ground. This may create inconsistencies that increase your project costs or negatively impact your end user’s experience.

Use more pictures and fewer words.

Diagrams and pictures are often easier and more intuitive for users to understand than long text. The popular, Swedish-based, home furnishings company, IKEA, is masterful at using pictures instead of words in its furniture assembly instruction manuals. And because document translation costs are based on word count, you can save money by replacing wordy text with simple diagrams and illustrations.

Don’t embed text within graphics files.

This is a common misstep that makes completing your manual translation much more difficult. This is especially true for lengthy manuals. It adds considerable time and costs to your manual translation project that can be easily avoided. It is best to ensure that all text is “live”, so that your content can easily be captured for translation. For MS Word files, you can insert text boxes in your graphics. Or, for multiple language projects, use letters or numbers in the graphics, leaving space for a reference table below. For InDesign projects, avoid embedding Illustrator files in your graphics so that non-live text does not need to be manually extracted from a PDF and then reinserted.

Leave as much white space as possible.

Something to keep in mind when preparing your manual – it’s hard for customers to read through dense text that goes on and on for many pages. Extra white space makes your manual easier for users to understand. It also helps the document translation process go smoother and quicker. Here’s why: English is a very compact language, so anytime something is translated, it generally requires more text than the original. Having white space in your English document will ensure there will be enough room for the longer-running text in your document translation to fit on the same page as the original English text. That means you won’t need to invest extra time and money adjusting the manual format to accommodate the new language.

Supply exportable text in commonly used file formats whenever possible.

Not doing so can be a key — and unnecessary — cost driver for your manual or interface translation. For example, if your company needs to translate a CAD technical drawing, or a software interface, it will be much less expensive if someone at your company can export and send the text in an Excel file. This can be easily translated for your engineers to reimport at your end. Since most translators do not work directly in engineering applications, like CAD, sending files in this format requires time-consuming workarounds that may add significantly to your total manual translation costs.

Review your documents for industry or company-specific terms prior to sending them out for translation.

Having in-country or other internal reviewers provide input up front could be helpful to the document translation process. This is especially true for manual translations and interfaces if your organization uses a lot of acronyms or language not commonly understood outside of your company. Think about whether acronyms can or should be translated. Be proactive in providing instructions and definitions for the translator so that your project is not delayed. It is best to address terminology issues with your translation provider up front.

Make sure your original documents in English are final before sending them to be translated.

Write your original documents are in clear, simple English. If your original documentation is hard to understand, it will be even harder to translate. Make sure your original documents have been professionally written and edited in English, and don’t send documents for translation if they are still being finalized. Working with anything but final copy may lead to translation errors or project delays.

Now that you know a few best practices for document translation and user interface translations, you should be able to help your company save time and money on its next translation project.


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