Preparing Your Texts and Team for Translation Success

Whether you’re launching a brand new product or simply reaching out to an existing customer base, it is important to get your communications right the first time in all the languages of your markets.

There are certain steps you can follow to help your translation project go more smoothly:

Proofread your source text.

Take time to carefully proofread your original text. Correct any spelling and punctuation errors you find, and clear up anything that might be confusing or misleading to your readers or to your translators. These ambiguities can easily become amplified when translated into other languages, so it is best to clear them up now, rather than deal with misunderstandings down the road.

Plan ahead in your scheduling.

Quality translation takes time, so plan for it! As a rule of thumb, translators can translate about 2,500 words per day. However, we’re very busy and not always available to start working on your project right away. Also, plan a little extra time for any questions and context-based corrections that may arise after the initial translation is complete.

Provide editable file formats.

Translators can work with many different file formats. Generally speaking, it is best to provide texts in an editable file format, such as Word, PowerPoint, InDesign, HTML, etc. Non-editable formats, such as PDF, are troublesome and require considerably more effort, which means a slower and more costly translation for you.

Provide reference documents.

Professional translators are extremely resourceful, and we’re experts in our native language. That said, your company may have an established standard for how you communicate to your customers. This standard may take the form of a style guide, a glossary, or even simply a collection of similar texts you’ve produced in the past. The more you share with us, the easier it is for us to maintain consistency with your company voice.

Don’t be a stranger.

Be available to answer questions that arise during the translation process. Common questions involve clarifying an oddly worded sentence or explaining how a product or service works. This way, we can be sure to choose the best word or phrase for your text.

Read the finished translation.

This can be a tricky one. If possible, have someone review the translated texts. Of course, you yourself might not speak the target language, but if your company has an office in the target market, a monolingual employee at that office can read the text and confirm whether it is an accurate representation of your company’s message.

With these simple — yet important — steps, your translators will love working with you, and you can keep focusing on what you do best: innovation!

Voice! What Is It Good For? (Absolutely Everything)

The way you communicate to your customers is a direct extension of your brand. Think of it as your brand’s personality. Or rather, its voice.

Ideally, your company’s style guide should define how to express voice, in all your company’s languages, so that your message is consistent. This encompasses product marketing webpages, error messages, email correspondence, terms and conditions, and more. EVERY piece of written text produced by your company.

Brand = Voice x Words

Let’s start with your branding. Some companies have a highly formalized definition of their brand strategy, while others have more of a list of adjectives associated with their brand. What can customers expect from your products or services? What makes your company different from your competitors? Your brand identifies who you are, and it is reflected in your logo, your graphics, and how you conduct your business in general. Likewise, your voice reflects the characteristics of your brand.

To use my own business as an example, I have a clear, yet informal definition of my brand strategy. I describe my brand as “expressing confidence, innovation, energy, professionalism, a technical-focus, clear and effective work, reliability, expertise, and approachability, without being stuffy or overly formal”. This brand strategy affects the words and phrases I use on my website and in my interactions with clients. My voice reflects my brand.

The Audience Is Listening

Voice should also be tailored to the audience. People naturally develop trust toward others who are similar to them. Gain the trust of your audience by speaking to them in a voice they can relate to. What do they value? What shows them that your product or service is right for them? If you play your cards right, the voice you use to communicate with your customers can become a competitive advantage. When your voice is a good fit for your audience, they are more likely to continue coming back to you.

Are you using the right tone in the voice of your content? For example, software error messages and online help content often use an upbeat tone to lighten the mood. This is great, but be careful about using terms like “Simply…” and “…. is easy!”, which may inadvertently make your user feel stupid for not understanding something that is supposedly “simple” or “easy”.

Make It Official

Once you have a clear concept of your voice, document it in your company’s style guide. Here are some suggestions:

  • Will you use the 1st (we, our) and 2nd person (you, your) or stick with the more formal 3rd person (ABC Company)?
  • List certain words and phrases to be your go-to descriptors for your products and services.
  • Are there any words or phrases to avoid? Think about cultural taboos or even any words that may be closely associated with a competitor’s brand?
  • What kind of attitude do you want to convey?
  • How does your voice vary across different types of texts (ex. tone, formality, reading level, etc.)?

Defining your business’s voice is an important factor in maintaining the consistency of your brand message. By documenting your voice in your style guide, it’s easy to maintain that consistency as you bring on new writers and translators to grow your business.

Common Pitfalls in Technical Documentation

The purpose of technical communication is to instruct and explain. Understandably then, accuracy is paramount.

Yet subtle mistakes in writing quality can undermine the strength of your message. Readers naturally develop trust in companies whose technical documentation is rock solid. Likewise, they question the value of a company’s product when its technical documentation is poorly written or poorly translated.

Obviously, technical documentation should be free of spelling and punctuation errors. But let’s look at a couple of other common mistakes found in technical documentation:

Unnecessary Quotation Marks

I once worked for a woman who pronounced the word intranet with a elaborate stress on the middle syllable. In-TRAH-net. Every. Single. Time.

While it’s respectable that she wanted to say the right word, the overemphasis in her pronunciation reeked of uncertainty. Perhaps she misused the term once, was corrected, and vowed to never make that mistake again. To us, it sounded like she didn’t really know what our intranet was, only what someone told her to say about it.

In writing, the use of unnecessary quotation marks adds emphasis where it shouldn’t exist.

Nothing expresses a total lack of confidence like slapping a set of quotation marks around a technical term!

Bad: With XYZ Software, your data is kept secure in the “cloud”, where you can conveniently access it from anywhere.

Why the quotes?? Is cloud computing an unfamiliar concept? Did someone tell you to use the term, but you’re not comfortable with the meaning? Maybe XYZ Software is jumping on the bandwagon, without a firm grasp of their own technology?

Good: With XYZ Software, your data is kept secure in the cloud, where you can conveniently access it from anywhere.

This is much better. It exudes sureness, and readers can trust that XYZ Software knows what they’re talking about. So, skip the quotes for technical terms, product names, and trade show names. Quotes should only be used to denote exact words that were said or written.

Inconsistencies

Another common mistake I find in source language and translated technical documentation is inconsistent word use and capitalization. Like unnecessary quotation marks, these inconsistencies reflect poorly on the brand and product being described.

For example, in instructions on using a mobile app, don’t use tap and press interchangeably. Pick one and stick with it!

Another example is capitalization, particularly in proper names containing one or more uppercase letters in the middle of the name. Think PayPal, which is so often incorrectly written as Paypal, even by otherwise respectable companies. It’s simply wrong, and people notice. You wouldn’t write AirBus or MicroSoft. Proper capitalization matters! It reflects your company and its knowledge of the industry.

These inconsistencies and others can be avoided by implementing a style guide to define standards for spelling, punctuation, formatting, and word use.

Companies with documentation in multiple languages should have a style guide for each language. TechWhirl offers some great tips on building a style guide.

Last Word

Remember, your technical documentation is a direct reflection of your company in all the languages of your customers. Aim for excellence!