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How to prepare a technical manual for translation

How to prepare a technical manual for translation

If you’re writing a technical manual or other technical document from scratch, which you will then need to have produced in a different language, there are several things you can do to help make the translation process cheaper, easier and quicker.

These simple tips should not alter your normal manual preparation stages significantly, but can make a major difference when it comes to using the services of a professional translation agency.

The first thing to consider is the format – as a translation company we have many years of experience handling technical manuals in a wide range of formats, including MS Word, Quark, InDesign, pdf and even Publisher.

If your manual is relatively short and simple, a Word document may well be the best format as it’s easily editable and a pdf can be created for end users once complete.

For a more detailed or larger technical manual document, an InDesign file might be more appropriate. This would allow more detailed formatting and inclusion of more complicated editable drawings or diagrams.

For translation purposes we can take an idml file exported from the InDesign package and process it using CAT tools, creating a translation memory to assist with future projects. This will ensure consistency and also keep your costs down as discounts can sometimes be applied for repeated texts.

CAT tools (or Computer Assisted Translation tools such as SDLTrados or MemoQ) do not perform the actual translation but create a database pairs of translated sentences which can then be used to help with other materials needed for the same client. Repetitions are noted by the software so that consistency can be maintained across documentation. CAT tools are not suitable for all types of documentation but can prove very helpful for larger, more repetitive technical documentation.

It should be noted that translations performed using an idml file will need to be professionally typeset after completion to ensure words are split in the correct place, that any overflowing text is correctly allocated and that page formatting is maintained as closely as possible to the original technical document. MTT is able to offer both translation and typesetting in any language, complete with a proofcheck of the final document.

If all you have is a pdf, we can often convert to an MS Word file, although formatting may be lost.

Publisher is not the best format for technical manuals, but it’s not uncommon – we are happy to handle Publisher files, although conversion to Word often brings a better result.

While laying out your original text, if possible it’s wise to leave blank space so that the translated text can flow into it. It’s almost certain that your translated version will be (in some cases significantly) longer than the original English, so to keep your manual looking clean and easily readable, blank space is useful. If no blank space is left and we need to keep the same pagination, we can sometimes alter the margins or font size, however this makes the document less user-friendly and it ends up looking somewhat cluttered.

If you are writing a manual for a piece of equipment that will run with a software program, then several things need to be considered. In an ideal world we would translate the manual first so that the translator has a better understanding of the equipment, how it works and what strings are likely to appear on the user interface screen. You’ll need to decide if the machine itself is going to be localised in terms of button labels for example or if everything is going to be kept in the original language. Will your translated manual keep the button labels in English in the translated text? If so, we’ll need to provide an explanatory translation at the start or after each occurrence.

If the software strings need to be translated, we’ll need to know if there is a character length restriction, for example if your user interface screen can only display 100 characters at a time. We are able to handle strings in a variety of formats, again using CAT tools to improve consistency and reduce cost where appropriate.

Software strings usually contain in-house acronyms and lines out of context so it will be vital to have a technical contact who can explain any terms which are unclear. Any acronyms used in the main body of the manual will also need to be clarified.

If possible use metric units so that conversions do not have to be made from imperial units which may vary.

If you are including photos or diagrams, ensure that any labels are editable – use key numbers so that the translation can easily be provided underneath the diagram. This will save a good deal of time in formatting and also make your finished manual look a lot neater.

It’s helpful if any datasheets are included in an editable version rather than a pdf – datasheets tend to contain a lot of text and information with not much blank space, making them tricky to format if the translated version is somewhat longer.

If you need to include technical drawings, export the labels from your CAD tool so they can be translated and then reinserted into the drawing to provide a clear final version. We have other methods of handling technical drawings if needed, although this is by far the easiest and most cost effective.

As you know your own terminology and equipment better than anyone else, it’s preferable if you have a trusted contact who could proofread the final translation. Our linguists are professionals with many years’ experience and relevant qualifications, but only someone working in your company can really know your approved terminology and style. If you don’t have such a contact available, we offer a proofreading service using a second, well qualified native-speaker to ensure accuracy as far as possible.

 And finally, leave enough time for our linguists to do a good job without being rushed – we’ll ideally need about one working day to complete 2000 words of translation, depending on availability. If the document is non-editable, highly specialised or needs a lot of formatting or typesetting we may well need a little longer to allow for extra proofreading. We’d be happy to specify a deadline on sight of your documentation, but do let us know if you have an important delivery date to meet.

The translation of technical manuals is what we do best – there are many things to be considered but we are more than happy to help guide you through your options and explain how the process works so you can get the best possible service at the best possible price.

To get a quotation, simply email your document for translation across to us on or call 01562 748778 and speak to one of our team.


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