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Technical Document Translation: Top Five Tips to Optimize the Process

Technical Document TranslationTechnical documents are frequently authored in software programs such as Microsoft Word or Adobe FrameMaker. These programs require you to apply styles to the content, headings, tables, etc. in order to make the document look good and to represent the company’s brand. This is called desktop publishing (DTP). When you translate the content, the translated versions also have to be formatted, which can be more complicated since some languages, like German, expand and others, like Japanese, become shorter.

If you’re new to technical document translations, you may find that you face unexpected translation costs due to your internal DTP processes. However, once you understand how DTP affects localization, you can make changes to your processes, and therefore, save money and improve time to market. In this article, we’ll provide five tips on how you can optimize your technical documents in order to reduce costs and minimize project delays.

1. Create Editable Graphics

Many technical documents contain graphics or images to represent complex information, show products and more. Graphics that contain text can be a big part of the translation cost if the graphics aren’t created with an editable layers. If the text is embedded or hard coded from flattened images in JPG, PNG, GIF or other graphic formats, the text won’t be editable. As a result, the technical translation company can’t translate the text without recreating the graphics, which adds additional time and cost to a project. Make sure that all the text in all the graphics is editable before handing them off to your localization company.

Another way to avoid DTP associated with texts for most desktop publishing applications is to create text callouts or legends within the document instead of within each graphic. This practice consolidates text associated with graphics with the body text in the document and greatly simplifies the translation preparation process.

Create Editable Graphics

2. Consider Localization When Planning the Layout

Text expansion or reduction within documents can wreak havoc on flow and layout if it’s not taken into account during the document design. For example, translating text from English to German can expand the document by as much as 30%, while translating the same English content into Chinese might shorten that document’s length. Look at the difference in the lengths of the German and Chinese translations of the English word “undo”:

  • English – undo
  • German – rückgängig machen
  • Chinese – 解开

Use styles such as headings and figure titles consistently and universally, and be sure that automated features such as cross-references and tables of contents are designed to function with the defined styles.In order to avoid issues during the localization process, all design and layout features should be created to allow for an expansion or reduction in text. Graphics callouts and tables in particular should be created with plenty of white space to allow for text expansion.

3. Simplify the English for Translation

Technical documents can contain complex content; however, the more complicated it is, the harder it is to translate. In order to minimize the potential for mistranslation, it’s best if you simplify the content as much as possible while obviously still conveying the intended message. Your content should always use clear, straightforward wording using active verb tenses whenever possible to avoid any confusion for translators, and ultimately, your customers.

Technical content usually contains a lot of industry- and / or product-specific terminology, as well as common specific user actions, so it’s important to maintain consistency throughout your content. Here are two things you can do to maintain consistency:

  1. Provide a list of standardized terms, called a glossary, to the technical translation company. The translators will translate these terms prior to the project and they’ll be pre-populated for the translators to use. This will increase the consistency of the content and lead to a reduction in costs.
  2. Also look at other types of content where you can implement consistency in the way you say things. For example, if you have tasks in your content that require a user to do the same action, such as closing a program, you want to write that action consistently. Choose one way to say it, such as, “Close the program,” instead of having variations such as, “Shut down the program.” The more consistent you are, the more consistent the target translation will be. Unlike other types of assets that require more creative writing, such as marketing content or video scripts, you want technical content to be consistent.

Finally, if you have in-country reviewers (ICRs) who can review the translation before it’s published, they’re a great final check to verify the translated content.

4. Provide Your Localization Company with Impeccable Source Files

Providing complete, error-free source files to your localization company will enable them to get started on the project right away. If you don’t provide complete files or if you have errors in the formatting or content, it will slow down the translation and localization process, which may lead to delays in delivering the project and / or additional cost. Before you hand off your source files, make sure to fix any problems by:

  1. Completing a spelling and grammar check
  2. Fixing all formatting issues such as correct links to cross-references, updated table of contents, allowing room for text expansion, etc.
  3. Making sure that the translation package has all the necessary files, including graphics that are editable

Creating and providing your vendor with a localization kit is time well spent. Frequently referred to as the “LocKit,” this kit should contain a complete set of source and reference files; instructions needed to properly localize a product, website, etc. from the source language into the target language(s); a glossary of terminology; a company style guide; training material; existing translation memories; and more. Including the LocKit will yield a number of benefits for both parties, including fewer emails, fewer clarification calls, on-time deliverables, stable budgets and much more.

5. Plan Project Start Times When Time to Market Is Critical

It happens – sometimes the document isn’t quite ready but you need to send it to translation or else you risk not having translations on time. When time to market is the most important factor, you can send the incomplete document to your localization company and then send an update when the content is finalized. If you send it early enough in the process, your localization company should have the time they need to translate the document properly, which is critical to the quality of the translation. It’s best to work with your translation company to develop a plan so everyone knows what to expect.


We’ve provided five tips to help you optimize your technical documents, but there are many more. Please read more tips in our article on reducing DTP costs.

Here at Net-Translators, we offer complete multilingual desktop publishing services on both PC and Mac platforms. Our services include translation, localization and DTP services into more than 60 languages and we accept virtually all file formats. Contact us today to learn more.

Shmuel Duan

For many years I was on the clients’ side, gaining years of experience in the world of software development. Back then localization wasn’t always on my mind... Here at Net-Translators, as the Director of Technology, I discovered the world of localization and found out that this is one of the most interesting phases in the life of a product! With the knowledge of developing software and websites I’m eager to find ways to improve the process and support our clients worldwide by better understanding their needs, making their process smoother, more efficient and finding the best ways to deliver. Being our clients’ partners, I see the added value in helping them, even before we start the localization process, advising them which tools/systems to work with, the best practices and how to make their product "localization friendly". Together with a great team that loves the challenge our clients bring, we enjoy the process of finding the best solutions for each one, tracking emerging technologies and trends, industry standards, and searching for better ways to localize it. In this blog I’ll share tips and tricks on how to do it better! Stay tuned ;-)

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