10 Things We’ve Learned in 40+ Years in the Technical and Manufacturing Translation Industry

Language Service Provider (LSP), LSP

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Manufacturing, agriculture, heavy machinery, construction, engineering, and automotive are all global industries. The process of converting raw materials into finished products in all these areas often includes coordinating the actions of people in multiple countries and offices, all speaking different languages. While raw materials might originate in one set of countries, parts may be sourced in others, and assembly could occur in still more countries.

As manufacturing companies continue to expand into international markets, how do these businesses manage to control and coordinate communications along the way? We at DTS Language Services, Inc. have been here for our technical and manufacturing clients for over 40 years. We know how to help you communicate globally in your industry and at every stage in your process.

As a full-service translation and localization company, we offer translation services in hundreds of languages, including all major European, Asian, American, African, and Middle Eastern languages. Let’s talk about the top 10 things we’ve learned over the years when it comes to technical document translation services.

1. Technical translations aren’t just for techies.

When most people think of technical translations, they think about highly complex algorithms, computer codes, and technical jargon that only someone with a PhD or advanced certifications could understand. The need for technical document translation is not reserved only for highly technical documentation and manuals for engineers and tradespeople, though. Many customer-facing documents also contain technical terminology that must be translated accurately.

Technical documents contain specific information about the chosen subject matter. They take many forms including operator guides, instruction manuals, research journals, user interfaces, safety data sheets, and even decals or labeling. Whether a particular industry uses highly technical language, the documentation applies to a particular subject matter or industry or field.

2. Pay close attention to the source document.

In many cases, the translator is one of the first sets of eyes to fall on a technical document or manual. So the translator is often in a good position to evaluate the content. If the instructions are ambiguous or unclear, the translator will need to ask for clarification and this often leads to important changes being made to the original document. You can avoid delays here by making sure your original documents are professionally written and edited in English and not sending documents that are not yet finalized.

Since the point of translating any manufacturing or technical document is to craft a simple, but accurate, version of the text that the end user can easily understand and apply, ambiguity must be avoided at all costs. Sometimes the most painstaking part of the job is critically reading the original text and making sure the meaning is crystal clear.

3. Communication is key.

Because all issues with understanding the original text must be resolved before translation can commence, communication is the foundation for a high quality end result. Any terminology or other useful references (glossary of terms or translation memory) should be provided to the translator far in advance of the deadline.

It makes sense to consult with in-country or other internal reviewers to provide input before starting the translation process too. Consider whether acronyms can or should be translated. Be proactive in providing any special instructions or definitions for the translator, as well. Giving the translator all of the information they need up front should help to curb costs and greatly improve the speed of delivery.

4. Accuracy is everything in technical document translation.

We’ve all seen ridiculously poorly translated user manuals included with products we’ve bought from foreign manufacturers. These documents can be so confusing that they are basically useless, but, believe it or not, often the confusion comes from only a few words being mistranslated. Accuracy is crucial in all types of document translation, but especially when it comes to technical document translation. It’s not always easy to the instructions right, but it can make a huge difference for your end users. So, we insist upon letter perfect accuracy each and every time.

5. Simplicity and clarity go hand in hand.

The primary aim of technical and manufacturing texts is to instruct and inform. This means all fancy and high falutin language should be eliminated. You don’t want your heavy machinery and construction equipment translations to read like a Robert Frost poem. While a literary translation may be more interesting to read, it is not likely to be more helpful for your end users. 

Believe it or not, technical translation is a specific skill and some translators have the knack for it, or can learn this skill, while it is simply not a strength for others. At DTS Language Services, Inc., we know how to screen for amazing technical document translators. Our dedicated team of linguists has the capacity to take on any manufacturing or technical project (including 200-page instruction or product manuals) and offer you the support you need. 

Here are a few quick tips for avoiding ambiguity and conveying a clear message in your engineering, heavy machinery, technical, or manufacturing business translations:

  • Avoid complex sentences: Sentences that are more than about 30 words in length or have an overly complicated structure are not the best for giving clear instructions. Don’t use complicated constructions when a simple phrase or two will do.
  • Use active instead of passive voice: When creating content, make sure the subject of each sentence is doing the action. Instead of writing, “detailed sources of information about soil, water, air, plant, and animal resources are contained in this section,” write, “this section contains detailed sources of information about soil, water, air, plant, and animal resources.”
  • Be consistent with terms, phrases, and use parallel construction: Do not worry about showing off your writing skills or using synonyms. This will only confuse your reader. It’s perfectly okay to use the same word twice in a sentence or in two consecutive sentences in a technical text or document. Predictability and consistency will help to improve readability here.
  • Avoid unnecessary words: Multi-word expressions, redundancy, pompous writing, or qualifiers can almost always be eliminated, while preserving meaning. 

6. More pictures, fewer words.

Speaking of simplicity and clarity, one easy way to ensure simplicity and clarity in written technical content is to lean heavily on diagrams and pictures, which are easier and more intuitive for most users. The popular, Swedish-based, home furnishings company, IKEA, is well known for using pictures instead of words in its instruction manuals. Also, since document translation costs add up with prices being based on a word count, you can often save money by replacing paragraphs of text with a simple diagram or illustration.

7. White space is your friend.

When preparing a manual, data sheet, or user guide, remember that it’s difficult for anyone to read through dense text that goes on and on for pages. Adding extra white space wherever possible goes a long way toward making it easier for users to understand.

In addition, adding white space will help the technical document translation process smoother and quicker. Why? Well, English is a very tight, compact language relative to other languages. So having more white space in your English document will ensure that there will be enough space for the additional text needed to fit on the same page as the original English text. This also means, you won’t need to spend extra time and money adjusting the formatting to accommodate the target language.

8. The type of materials that qualify as technical documents vary a great deal.

At one extreme are documents that require translators with advanced degrees in the field involved, including scientific, medical, engineering, and technical journal articles. At the other end are texts like a product spec sheet for a computer, which may or may not need a high level of knowledge of the science or technology, but does require a good working knowledge of the terminology used in the field. 

DTS has one of the largest in-house localization and DTP departments enabling us to handle all types of technical and manufacturing translation services. 

How We Can Help:

  • Operator & Service Manuals
  • Technical & Service Bulletins
  • Human Machine Interfaces & Software
  • Websites, Videos & Mobile Apps
  • Engineering Drawings
  • Content Management Systems
  • Machine Labels & Safety Decals
  • Corporate Communications
  • E-learning Programs & Training Materials
  • International RFQs
  • Product & Parts Catalogs
  • Marketing Materials
  • Product Data Sheets
  • Training and User Manuals
  • Summary of Product Characteristics
  • Instruction and User Guides
  • And More…

9. Technical translation can have regulatory implications.

The quality of technical translations can impact whether a product complies with applicable regulatory standards. Regulatory guidelines from the U.S. Federal Government and foreign regulatory agencies will impact how to translate technical terms across company documents. It’s important for descriptions and wording to be precise in order to pass certain legal and financial hurdles. If something is amiss here, you may run into trouble with customs or with the sale and use by certain populations.

For example, medical translations obviously have serious implications for health and safety. Because of this, the medical device and healthcare industries are highly regulated around the world. These regulations dictate how the translation process is carried out to some extent, including how documents are maintained, controlled, and transmitted. The same is true for other industries as well.

While regulatory considerations differ from country to country, most nations dictate which types of content must be translated for what types of products. Consumer-facing documents, for instance, often carry different regulatory requirements than those designed to educate manufacturing workers or healthcare practitioners. Even the most advanced machines and AI translation tools are not sophisticated enough to attain the level of accuracy needed to meet these requirements.

10. Technical terms show up in marketing materials too.

When we talk about making sure the translation of specific technical terms stays consistent throughout your company’s documents, we’re talking about consistency in manuals as well as on the website and in all marketing materials. If you think technical translations are only for complicated user manuals, think again. It is inevitable that some technical terminology will end up in marketing. 

Because you may need to explain to customers how to use a product, how it functions, and what users should not do with the product, you will need to translate technical terms across many languages. Localization will be important to ensure that your terminology works in every culture where your product is sold. Only a highly skilled and educated professional operating within a well defined quality assurance process should provide technical document translation services.

DTS Language Services, Inc. has the technically trained and experienced team you need to translate technical terms and documents across a wide range of industries. Our quality control processes are top quality to guarantee your satisfaction. We would love to help with your next technical translation project.

Have a technical or manufacturing translation project in need of some TLC? Contact us today to talk about your needs and get a quote.

See our other articles for more lessons we’ve learned in our decades spent serving global clients: