The Challenges of Technical Document Translation

Many companies that create technology, software, appliances, etc., are entering global markets. But with this comes the need for technical document translation in order to not only provide users and customers with a high-quality product and value for their money, but to ensure that the product is used optimally, leading to fewer returns, complaints, and general dissatisfaction which can ultimately affect the company’s reputation. With this in mind, these companies are turning to technical document translation services for a professional technical document translation. However, this field of the translation industry does not come without its challenges. There are several common pitfalls that come into play when a technical manual translation takes place – whether it is performed by a human translator or translation software. These pitfalls need to be avoided for optimal results. But what are they and how can they be overcome? Take a look at our suggestions below.

Popular Technical Documents for Translation

Firstly, it is important to clarify that there are many different kinds of technical documents that can be and are translated across the world. These include, but are not limited to, user guides, maintenance and instruction manuals, handbooks, e-learning courses and training, API documentation, web pages and websites, press releases, patents, and more.
It is crucial to understand that each of these technical document types requires a specific approach. For example, translating a website or a landing page will require more of a marketing perspective when compared to a user guide that helps a customer understand how to use a particular product such as a washing machine or a vacuum cleaner. Specific technical expertise on the part of the translator is, therefore, required to produce optimal results.

In each of these cases, an inaccurate technical document translation can have negative repercussions. Some of these include the fact that a company can lose face, have a damaged reputation, lose customers, and ultimately, affect returns on investment and affect the bottom line.

This is a situation that no company wants to be in and this is why professional technical translation is so crucial. When done correctly, it can help a company strengthen its standing in a target market and thus have better profits.

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Challenges and Best Practices With Technical Document Translation

In order to translate technical manuals with accuracy and precision, certain pitfalls must be avoided by translators and software that undertakes translations. These include, but are not limited to, the following:

Literal Translations (word-for-word translations)

Word-for-word translations are one of the primary culprits of poor technical document translation. Technical document translation services can, in some instances, perform literal translations of the target text from the source language, which leads to confusing, inaccurate, and subpar manuals for usage. This will only lead to frustrating the user and having them associate the given company with poor product and service quality.

Cultural Nuances

Another element that comes into play with technical document translation is the issue of ignoring cultural nuances. There are a great many cultural differences between the West and the East, and companies seeking to enter either market must take cultural elements into consideration when embarking on a translation. Getting this wrong can lead to alienating one’s target market and in some cases, offending them. Professional translators who can identify and accurately deal with cultural nuances will be able to yield much more accurate translations, leading to more favorable results.

Lack of Technical Expertise

Although this may seem self-evident, a technical manual translation also requires technical expertise on the part of the translator. If a translator were to translate an application programming interface (API) document related to software usage, development, and implementation and they had no idea about how this works in practice, the chances of producing a manual that can actually be employed by the user are quite slim. This leads to an ineffective overall product or service offering. In such cases, using professional translation services for technical documents is one way of overcoming this challenge.

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Undefined Target Audience

Technica document translationA target audience refers to the users who will actually be using the product or service. Depending on the product itself, the user may be a child or an adult, from various countries with different cultural and linguistic peculiarities. This means that a professional technical translation should take into account the specific age group that the company has in mind in addition to tempering the language to suit that age group’s linguistic knowledge and requirements.

Inaccurate Metrics

Technical documents, by their very nature, are technical. This means that they use numbers and symbols to indicate specific details with accuracy. In some parts of the world, kilograms are used instead of pounds, while in other parts the opposite is true. It is vital for a professional technical translation to take metrics into account and reproduce these so that these are valuable to the target audience and will not force them to convert metrics on their own, thereby frustrating them.

No Visual Aids

In some cases, particularly when it comes to machine translation for technical documents, images and visuals are not translated and are left out of the translation equation. However, these play a critical role in the user being able to identify the right element they need in order to get the product to work as intended. An image of a torque screw compared to a regular screw can make a huge difference in ensuring the product functions optimally and an image that illustrates these differences plays a major role in the accuracy of the translation. This is why translation services for technical documents must also be prepared to translate images and visual aids.

Abiding by Local Laws

Each country and region in the world has its own laws. One example of this is the European Union (EU), which requires the “CE” mark on technical and other goods in order to ensure that these comply with industry standards, are safe to use, and do not pose any health or safety hazards. In some cases, in order to translate technical manuals, such legalities are not factored in. But to counter this challenge, in-depth knowledge on the part of the translator is required to ensure that the technical document is not only accurate but is legally compliant, too.

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Copy editing, Editing, Proofreading: A Triple-Check Process

As a final point, but certainly not the last or least important one in this list, we raise the issue of the importance of employing the triple-check process when a technical document translation is complete. This triple-check process involves copy editing, editing, and proofreading so that three sets of eyes look at the text critically before the final version is sent to the client. Minor grammatical or spelling mistakes can be reduced this way and even major translation issues can be picked up when a set of different individuals look at the same document from a different perspective. However, some technical document translation providers omit this process, which can be detrimental to the quality of their service.

Seek Professional Document Translation Services

In the business world, and even in other spheres such as legal, government, education, medicine and healthcare, and more, there are strict standards to follow when embarking on a technical document translation that produces accurate, legally-compliant results that ultimately help the user as opposed to diminishing their experience with the product or service and affecting the company’s reputation and international standing. Although the list of challenges and best practices outlined above are not exhaustive, they do comprise the most common pitfalls that translators face when it comes to technical document translation. This is why a business or any other institution that’s seeking professional document translation should make use of the services of professional firms with an established reputation. Such services are most likely to yield the best results for optimal usability and customer-friendly results.