Technical Manual Translation Made Easy: Proven Tips

Every product comes with an instructional manual. There’s an instructional manual, whether you’re selling a computer tower, an air frying oven, or a multi-million-dollar piece of construction equipment. And to help the most people possible, these technical documents need translation services to reach customers in their native languages. Today more than ever, technical translation services are a must since products are shipped around the globe with their manuals, and the accuracy and quality of the translated technical manuals are critical factors.

Why are Technical Translations Important?

Technical translations usually involve translating documents and files with descriptive and instructional content. There are technical writers specialized in producing those documents, and on the same line, there are professional technical translators that are trained and experienced in technical content in addition to their linguistics skills of the language pair of the project. These technical translation projects have important instructions that customers or employees must follow in the same order, no matter where they are and the language they understand.

The clarity of the instructions and the proper terminology make technical translation services an important and specialized area that is continually growing in the Translation industry.

Technical translation services are necessary across many industries, and technical document translation increases the usability of your instruction manuals worldwide and the reach of your products.

Products that have technical documents can include:

  • Household appliances
  • Vehicles
  • Tools
  • Electronics and computers
  • Medical equipment
  • Furniture
  • Video games
  • Software and software as a service (SAAS)

Instruction manuals aren’t the only technical documentation that needs translation; any operational document or process document with technical terminology would also qualify for technical translations.

Other types of documents and files that need technical translation services:

  • Supply chain processes
  • Maintenance instructions
  • Video Training
  • Technical websites
  • eLearning courses

9 Tips for Technical Translation Services

What does it take to get a high-quality translation of complex technical documents? Here’s what you’ll need for a successful technical translation project.

1. Professional translators with subject matter expertise

Working with a technical translation agency helps simplify the entire technical document translation process. A translation company will have a team of technical translators classified according to subject matter expertise and language pair they work on.

Your technical translator should be native speakers of your target language, but they should also have expertise in your field of practice. Having subject matter expertise sets expert translators apart from one without years of experience in technical translation.

It’s not enough for a translator to understand your source and target language if he or she doesn’t understand the language of your business and the details of your content. Manuals and other technical documents often contain jargon that can be unclear to someone unfamiliar with your industry and vocabulary. A technical translator must understand each specific term to produce the equivalent for the new target audience in the new language.

The translator also needs to understand the technical documentation well before starting the translation project to ask questions and plan the execution of the translation. Within the planning is decided if a termbase will be needed for glossary creation. If your company has reference materials used to write the source manual, like style guides or previous document versions, those should also be provided to the translation team.

Poor technical translation services can cause big problems. You wouldn’t want a backhoe instruction manual written by someone who has never worked with big machines. Something important could be left out; at worst, someone could get hurt. Technical translations are just that – technical. And in technical documents, details are everything. This knowledge ensures accurate technical translation services.

2. Create a glossary of terms

A glossary is a living document that contains any industry or company-specific terms or grammar rules. Having this created or reviewed in advance ensures the technical translators have a good starting point to produce accurate technical translations. It also reduces the length of the editing process and makes the technical translation service move faster.

Creating your glossary is a good time to review your existing manual for industry or company-specific terms. Identify any terms, acronyms, or other linguistic peculiarities specific to your industry or company. Determine which words are essential to the process and add them to your glossary. You should also identify which ones you don’t need that can be substituted for more general, well-known terms by the technical translators.

The terms that will not be translated must also be included in the glossary of terms.

3. Know and Understand your Audience

How is the translated document going to be used? What is the skill level of the person this document is intended for? In which locale or country is the translation of the technical content going to be used? The translation company needs to collect all the answers to these questions to establish the framework for the translation project.

The Person Using the Technical Translation

If you’re writing for a new consumer or a layperson, your technical translation needs to speak in their terms. Skip high-level jargon and confusing acronyms, and take the time to spell out instructions. A confusing or complicated instruction manual can lead to annoyed customers and calls to customer service – something that can be avoided with a well-thought-out manual.

On the other hand, if this document is intended for an expert in a field, writing it for a layperson can be simplistic. While there isn’t too much storytelling or world-building in technical translations, the tone is still important.

Also, consider if the audience for this technical documentation has the same skill level. If you’re translating an oven manual, you can assume the user knows how to use an oven. But if you’re working on a piece on the safety of construction equipment, it may be given to foremen and new hires.

Specific Language Needed for the Translation Project

What will be the Chinese written form to use for the Chinese Translation services for your website? Is the technical document translation intended for Mainland China or Hong Kong? If the readers are in Hong Kong, the translation should be in Traditional Chinese. If it is for Mainland China, Simplified Chinese should be used.

Every client has different needs, and understanding, asking questions, and not assuming is the best approach for your translation project. Just last week, I was working on a website for the Canadian government, and when I was discussing the languages and asked if they needed Canadian French for the French Translation services, they needed French for Africa since the website was going to be used for the embassies in Africa.

4. Use Technology to Support the Translation Process

Select a translation company that uses technology to support its projects and processes. Technology can help with translation and leave the mental work for linguists and project managers. Computer-assisted translation tools (CAT), Project management tools, term bases, and machine translation services are all options and solutions to benefit your goals. Partnering with a translation company that gives you options and works with you to tailor their offering to your needs will go a long way.
Using computer-assisted translation (CAT) tools is one way to streamline and simplify the technical translation process. These tools can also host your glossary of terms and provide one cohesive space for communication with your technical translation agency. CAT tools help streamline the process of translating technical documents, assisting professional translators to work faster, maintaining consistency, and controlling costs.

5. Less Text, more Images, and Video support

Technical manuals can be very wordy and packed with technical terminology. Think of the last refrigerator manual you opened – it was likely a wall of small text broken into paragraphs, separated on pages by different languages. You may have skimmed it if you didn’t immediately toss it away.

Pictures, graphics, and other visual aids like videos can greatly impact the clarity of technical translations. Using instructional diagrams, step-by-step illustrations, and other images can help the end user understand the required steps faster. But they also complicated the process since those elements must be translated too. The translation of videos and images can add steps to technical translation projects.

One of the reasons this is important is that people don’t have a long attention span. If you have to search through blocks of text to find the one section relevant to you, you’ll probably throw the manual away. On the other hand, images break up the text, provide relief for the eye, and can be much easier to understand.

Less text and more images are also important because people have a variety of learning styles, and while some people learn best by reading, many others need visual cues. Professional technical translation services should keep this difference in learning styles in mind.

But these images need to be in the right places – and that place is never embedded with text. This presents a big challenge with translation, both from a user standpoint and with text expansion. Tet embedded over an image that works in English may not work in German or Finnish, and you certainly don’t want to go back to the design drawing board for each translated version.

Our translation company increasingly sees more videos used in technical translation projects to facilitate comprehension. The time needed for the time code of the translation of the video scripts, plus the voiceover recording, impacts the time for delivery. Some tasks can be done in parallel, but others are sequential. So plan to send all your final content and files for translation together as soon as possible.

6. Short and Sweet instructions

The language you use in a technical document matters, but that doesn’t mean you need to use much of it. A good instruction manual uses precise, concise language to communicate the point in as few words as possible. A tight copy makes a bigger impact than lengthy paragraphs, and an instructional manual isn’t any good if tossed in the garbage.

7. Leave Shite Space in the Design of the Technical Manual

Don’t fill every square inch of your technical manual with text or images. Leave blank spaces wherever you can. This helps your multilingual designer adjust for text expansion and contraction once the translator completes the translation phase. Expansion and contraction of text is a common event that happens when starting with an English file. If you barely have enough space for the English version on the page, the German edition will be cramped – or must be redesigned entirely. You can avoid this headache by building enough whitespace from the start. This is easier to do when you keep sentences and instructions concise.

It also helps the user experience. Dense text can be hard to understand and overwhelming, which is the opposite reaction you want someone to have when using your technical manual in any language. The more whitespace you have, the easier it is to translate and the easier it is to read – a win/win.

Enough whitespace is important for the translation services process as well. Technical manuals often include diagrams, tables, and other formatting elements. With enough space, the technical translators can ensure the formatting is consistent throughout the manual.

8. Have the Right File Types Ready

Ensure you’re using a file easily exported and opened on other computers. Specialty file types that can only be opened with specific software can cost your translator valuable time and drive up the cost of translating technical documents.

Also, send complete sets of files like Indesign packages and fonts so the translation company has all the files needed from the start. Planning for technical translation projects include creating an inventory of files and version to account for and deliver a complete set for the translation scope.

9. Send Final Revised Content for Translation

To translate technical documents efficiently, you must deliver the final versions of your instruction manual or other technical files to your professional translation company. A solid package for translation contains all key information and supporting material, plus all the content that needs to be translated. The content for translation has been thoroughly reviewed and scrutinized for details and approved by the important stakeholders in your organization. Once it’s been delivered, any edits or revisions on these files can delay the entire translation process, introduce errors, and increase prices due to rework and confusion.

The final files for translation should also be delivered on time, as the entire translation process depends on it. Any delays with this can delay the end translation, changing the project timeline.

Account for all the Pieces of You Technical Translations

Tackling technical translation projects is easy with expert technical translation services supporting your company’s multilingual journey. Whether you’re working on a large technical translation project or a small one, select an experienced translation company.

At JR Language Translation Services, we have years of experience putting all the pieces together to run a smooth and successful technical manual translation project. From the manuals, videos, and websites, we’re here to help. We go the extra mile to exceed your expectations at affordable prices with workable turnaround times for professional technical translation services. Contact us for a technical translation service quote today— we’d love to hear from you.

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