Technical Writing for a Global Audience
How should you change your approach knowing your document will be translated into other languages?
Why and how can you prepare your technical documentation for translation? How should technical writers cooperate with translators? Read this post to learn more!
Technical writing and translation are the two occupations that go hand in hand with each other with the increase in globalization and cooperation in the international market. While the occupations are separate, they often have common goals and objectives that require an integrated approach. This type of cooperation inspired the ClickHelp Team to write this post and explain how to change the writing process to improve the quality of translation.
Why is a new approach vital?
The main goal of technical writing is to create clear and efficient documentation for customers, explain how to use products, and solve problems. In other words, technical documentation is supposed to guide a customer, inform, and teach to some extent. What if the source document is brilliant and the translation is poor? Will that affect foreign customers? Surely, it will. First, they may not buy the product - they won’t believe that it is reliable and worth it. Secondly, those who have bought the product won’t stay long with a company. Who wants to constantly waste time trying to work out how to use the product and continually contact the support team? That’s why a tech writer should pay attention to the needs of a translator.
How to write to help a translator
A technical writer can do a lot to help a translator. We’d argue that detailed preparation for translation contributes to 50% of success. The steps below will help you smooth the process of translation:
Pay attention to the language you use. Your language should be clear, consistent, and unambiguous. Use short and simple sentences with easy-to-understand syntax and terms that have only one clear definition. There is no need to use a copious vocabulary. The words should be simple as well. Simplified Technical English (STE) http://www.asd-ste100.org/ is a good example in this case. It is a simplified and unified form of English that is meant to be clear both for native and non-native speakers.
Terms may cause ambiguity as they might have several meanings. A technical writer should create a list of terms for a translator to make sure they clearly understand what the terms mean.
Pay attention to the concepts you use. They should be consistent and clear as well. Make sure you do not mix them up and do not substitute them with something else by the end of the document.
Write for a multi-cultural audience. Source documentation should not contain any references, comparisons, or examples that are culturally specific. Some customers won’t understand that. Moreover, avoid anything that might be offensive for some cultures. The technical writer needs to adapt the information and make it neutral from this point of view.
Think about adaptable design. One of the difficulties that a translator may face is that the translation may be a different length to the source text. A lot depends on the translation language, type of documentation, and a translator’s unique style. But what if it is impossible to change the layout of a page and the number of pages in a document? Include additional space (up to 30% depending on the translation language) in your text to solve that problem.
Use automation to manage technical documentation. Almost all technical writing tools offer such a feature as content reuse. If you know that a piece of text will be used repeatedly in different parts of a document or in different versions of the same document, you can create a variable (a piece of text that is stored separately), and use it whenever you need. If you edit the variable, this piece of text will be edited automatically in all the documents and versions of a document. You won’t have to edit all of them manually. This is how you can keep your documentation consistent and reduce mistakes.
A similar mechanism can also be used for diagrams. If you use online diagram tools, you will save time and effort when you need to edit them. You only edit the source, and your diagram changes automatically everywhere it is used.
Provide a translator with guidelines. A technical writer uses guidelines and standards regulating what information a document should contain and what it should look like. A translator needs to know this information as well to know what is important when working on a translation.
Be ready for communication. If a translator has questions, be ready to answer them. Of course, a translator and a technical writer hardly ever work at the same office. You’ll need to decide which communication software works best for you both. Special tools like computer-aided translation (CAT) can help communication and also keep track of the translation process. You can also use a help authoring tool with inbuilt integration with a CAT service. That’s the best solution: both tech writers and translators get a perfect environment for cooperation.
Work out a strategy. If you, as a tech writer, and your team often write instructions and user guides for the global market, you already know what works best for your business. Establish your own writing strategy. All tech writers in a team must be able to create technical content for translation.
Are there benefits for technical writers?
The greatest benefit that technical writers get in this process is that translators become the first readers of technical documentation. They read documentation attentively to do a good translation. They check they understand the sense, concepts, ideas, details - everything. If a translator asks questions, it is a good idea to check if the language and logic are easy to understand. A translator is the one who can tell you if your technical documentation is efficient.
Even if the source documentation is of high quality, it doesn’t mean that it is prepared for translation. When writing for the global market, a technical writer should change their approach. Cooperation with a translator is the basis for success, and the right software is something that can make cooperation even more efficient and fruitful. ClickHelp, a cloud platform for technical writers, is always ready to provide a helping hand for both sides - tech writers and translators - to contribute to globalization and international collaboration.
About the Author
ClickHelp offer innovative tools to enable authors to create online and printed documentation. It's a browser-based multi-authoring environment for small and medium-size documentation teams. They also offer an online documentation portal. Visit the ClickHelp website to find out more.