Translating Technical Documentation: User Manuals

When it comes to translation there’s a wide array of needs. However, there’s one area that stands out from the rest, and that’s the translating of technical documentation.

Contracts and legal documents are fairly technical and frequent, but there’s a type of document that is scattered throughout our daily lives: user manuals. We slip across user manuals whenever we want to install a new appliance, software license, or if we want to assemble recently bought furniture.

When it comes to writing and translating user manuals, wording, tone of voice, and even the document’s length can vary depending on a company’s communication style.

Here we give you food for thought for keeping your user manuals accurate and consistent across languages while keeping cost-efficiency in mind.

Stick to best practices for technical writing

The better a document is written, the easier it will be to translate it. If your language provider doesn’t have to contact you time and time again regarding the use of certain expressions or to clarify inconsistent use of terminology, everything will go smoother.

To avoid many back and forths, keep sentences short, avoid idiomatic expressions or specific cultural references that may not have equivalents in other languages.

When you stick to a clear and concise writing style it’s easier to build or update your translation memory and therefore handle language repetition throughout the project with ease, ultimately decreasing the overall cost of translation.

What is a translation memory?

A translation memory is a database that stores all your translated content. Whenever your texts are translated and confirmed as correct, the source and target text are saved in this database.

The translation memory helps translators work faster and allows save on future projects by recycling past translations.

Keep your language neutral

Technical documents may need to be translated to one language but used in many different countries — that’s often the case with most products sold across Latin America — so it is always recommended to keep the language as neutral as possible.

Agree on terminology before getting started

User manuals tend to be long and tedious, so the more you clarify from the beginning, the less time will be spent rewriting. Make a list of words and terms that are repeated throughout the document and ensure your language service provider is on board on how to translate them consistently.

Leverage past translations

A technical manual that was translated in the past may hold the key to a translation memory that can be used in the present document. Leverage previous translations to save money and speed up turnaround times.

Plan updates ahead

If your document will be prone to future adjustments and version updates, it’s always best to inform your language service provider ahead of time. If the document is written in a way that doesn’t require a complete rewrite when the time for update comes, but instead only a couple of changes in a paragraph, it will make everyone’s job easier, faster, and cost a lot less money.

Mind text expansion after translation

Remember that languages tend to vary in length. For instance, when you’re translating from English to Spanish, the target text will most likely take up more space than the source text. This is especially important if your user murals will be printed out or if your document has limited spacing like packaging labels.

Find the right partner

If the content you need to translate is extremely technical, make sure your language service provider is equipped with the right technology stack and owns a trusted network of experienced linguists. You can always ask for a sample translation to get a grasp of their capabilities.

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