Five Tips for Translating Technical Documents

Technical documentation is very specific and it requires following special guidelines in order to produce high-quality text. When it comes to translating technical documents, the translator needs to be aware of the principles of technical writing and successfully implement them in the translation process to guarantee consistent output regardless of the language. 

As a matter of fact, technical translation is one of the leading forms of translation in terms of output. According to “Technical translation and related disciplines,” by Geoffrey Kingscott, more than 90% of all the translated texts are completed by technical translators. The same results are also confirmed by the 2018 edition of the European Language Industry survey. It reveals that manufacturing, life sciences, and automotive are the most translation-demanding industries within Europe and not only.

Since poor translations can cause a warehouse of problems for manufacturers, distributors, and the entire business as a whole, it is essential to use professional technical translation services and to follow the best principles and practices of the industry. When translating technical documents, there are certain tips that can help you get the highest possible quality of the translation. Remember that this is a process that involves several parties and that the final output highly depends on the input as well.  

Know the elements of good technical translation 

As technical translation is more specific in its essence, it is necessary to know well the elements of good technical translation. Accuracy is one of the main principles to be followed and achieved by a technical translator

A technical text needs to be clear and simple in order to be understood by the reader regardless of the language it is written in. Therefore, when translating technical documents, a translator needs to:

  • Avoid fluff – it is absolutely unnecessary in a technical document and has no merit for the quality of the text in general, as well. 
  • Use simple, clear, and short sentences – it is better to split a longer sentence from the source language into two or three in the target language if that will make the message clearer.  
  • Eliminate ambiguity – there should be no doubt for the user reading the instructions about what should be done next or how each step is implemented. If the source text is ambiguous, then the translator needs to ask for clarification rather than render the same uncertain message in the target language.

There are a few other tips that can ensure the high quality of the technical translation as those listed below, and when all of them are applied together, the results are more than satisfactory.  

Be aware of the technical writing principles 

In order to get a reliable translation of your technical documentation, you need to provide high-quality source text. The principles of technical writing are very important and need to be followed when creating a text so that it can be useful for the final user. It is even more important to apply the technical writing principles for documents that are to be translated as this will guarantee a smooth flow of the text, regardless of the language. 

To better understand the necessity of employing a technical writer and a translator familiar with this type of text creation it is necessary to check the definition given by YourDictionary, which says “A good technical writer can make a difficult task easy and can quickly explain a complex piece of information.”

An experienced translator will convey the same message using the principles of clearness and simplicity when translating technical documents.  

Ensure quality when translating technical documents: Here’s how

An accurate technical translation will guarantee the quality of the translated technical document. In order to achieve that you need the following prerequisites:

  • A well-structured source text 
  • Compliance with the principles of technical writing  
  • Clear, short, concise sentences 
  • No cultural references 
  • No slang, idiomatic expressions, humor 
  • No wordiness and ambiguity 

These elements will entail a high quality to the translated text and facilitate better understanding for all of the users who do not speak the original language of the document. 

It is also very important to look for coherent translation services. In other words, the terminology used in previous translations should be the same as the current one. A glossary of all terms, abbreviations and other reference materials will significantly facilitate your LSP in translating technical documents to the standard you are demanding.  

Establish a sound process prior to translating technical documents 

Quite often the translator is the first person to read a technical document. So, as professionals, they have the opportunity to assess its quality and see if any improvements are needed in the original prior to translating it.

Such feedback is positive both for the company and for the future end-users of the technical documentation.  

When the translator reviews the document, they need to note any questions or issues found and seek clarification prior to embarking on the translation. Any piece of the text that raises ambiguity should be clarified prior to being translated.  

It is essential to have a sound process of communication between the client and the LSP prior to the actual translation as this will ensure better quality. When the requirements and terms of each side are clarified and taken into account, the final results will be as expected.  

Follow established practices while translating technical documents 

When the actual translation of the technical documents starts there are certain ”best practices” that can ensure accuracy and high quality. Some of the tips to help you with that include:

  • Avoid misunderstandings by using simple and clear instructions. Strings of nouns, for example, may lead to confusion and misinterpreting of the phrase.
  • Use active rather than passive voice as this grammatical structure is easier to understand.
  • Use similar structures when translating identical types of instructions or using bullet points or subheadings. Thus, the reader will follow the instructions easier.
  • Be consistent in the terms that you use. The goal of the technical text is to give clear instructions and it is not suitable for showing your linguistic abilities and word knowledge. Select a word for each term and use it throughout the text without substituting it with synonyms to avoid confusion.

Translating technical documents is a task that requires knowledge of the subject matter and awareness of technical writing principles. It is important to select an LSP that has experience and expertise in this field in order to be satisfied with the results.

Here at Argo Translation, we are ready to help with your technical translations in any language you need.  

Sources: “Studies in Translation Theory and Practice,” by Geoffrey Kingscott, 2018 Language Industry Survey –Expectations and Concerns of the European Language Industry 


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