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How to keep your costs in check when translating technical documents

How to keep your costs in check when translating technical documents

Over 50% of the projects we manage at MTT are translations of technical documents. For example we regularly handle

  • User manuals
  • Operation manuals
  • Electronics manuals
  • MSDS and data sheets
  • Installation and instruction manuals
  • Training guides and materials
  • Assembly instructions
  • Product catalogues
  • Software strings
  • IT/computer specifications
  • White papers
  • Diagrams
  • Product information
  • Health & safety manuals and training courses
  • Scientific reports

These kinds of documents come with a few potential issues which you might need to be aware of. Handling them carefully can lower your costs and enable a quicker, easier translation process.


Keep it simple and editable to keep a tight rein on your costs.

We know that not every document will be in a nice, easily editable MS Word document, and at MTT we have many ways of working with pdfs, scans, xml format documents, InDesign or Quark files or even Publisher.

We’ll work with our translators and admin teams to ensure that the final translated technical document looks as close as reasonable possible to your original manual, if that’s important to the end user. Otherwise we’ll try to keep the formatting simple to keep the workflow efficient and within your budget.

However, if you can think about translation before you write a manual, you can make the process much more cost-effective.

Using an editable format like Word or InDesign really makes the process simpler, cutting out the need for file conversions or overlaying of text boxes, which in turn will keep your costs lower.

If you have a non-editable document, we can reduce your costs if you are happy to use a simply-formatted translation for information purposes, rather than a fully formatted one.


Use images with key numbers or editable labels – it’s cheaper and faster to translate.

A picture paints a thousand words – consider using images or photos to illustrate your technical documentation. It will assist the translator and the reader and potentially reduce the number of words (and therefore translation cost).

If possible, make sure that any captions and labels are easily editable or keyed with numbers to keep your formatting costs low.  Images may also need to be localised to suit different markets, for example showing different information plates for German, Dutch or Arabic.


Help to keep your costs low by providing background materials and access to a technical contact.

Without actually working in your company it can be impossible to know your preferred terminology, so anything you can give us in the way of background materials will help. This is especially true for the translation of software strings, which often need to be translated out of context before the relevant technical manual has even been written.

While our professional linguists have qualifications and experience in technical fields, it’s always helpful to have access to a contact who can clarify any areas of ambiguity or confirm suggested terminology, preferably before a major project is undertaken. This will save you both time and money, ensuring any proofreading is quicker and easier.


Leave enough space for the translated text to ensure the end product looks good without costly reformatting

If you’re designing a new manual and intend to have it translated, remember that the translated text could be up to 20% longer than the original English. If you can leave blank space available for this extra text to flow into, your manual will look much more professional and better laid out. Remember too that not all languages will flow from left to right and not all scripts use roman letters. Make sure that your final versions display correctly, ideally checking and publishing in pdf.

End user

Make sure we know what you need at the start to avoid expensive rewriting

Are your technical instructions aimed at a qualified engineer or a householder, do they need to be written in a complex, high-level style or made simple to follow for a layperson. Our translators will work with you to ensure the correct style and register for technical manuals, technical press releases and product catalogues, meaning your materials will be better received by the reader. Having a style guide available before the translation process starts is ideal and any guidance you can give will really help our linguists.

Technical manuals and documentation can be tricky to translate with a wide variety of formats and subject areas. With over 30 years’ experience in handling technical translation projects for customers as diverse as blue -chip manufacturers to local specialist companies, MTT are well placed to offer advice.

Contact us before you write your next manual for advice on how you can keep your costs low or speak to us about how we can help translate existing technical documentation within your budget.

Call us on 0844 856 1086 or email 

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