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!

What to Look for in Your IT Translation Provider

You’ve invested countless hours into your product offering. A bug fix here, a new feature there, a tutorial to bring new users up to speed. Planning. Testing. Feedback. Finetuning.

Clearly, your value proposition should extend to your entire client base, regardless of their language. That’s why it is crucial to choose a well-qualified translation supplier.

“My cousin spent a year in New York City during college. He can translate our website into English!”

It’s not enough to be bilingual! Effective IT translation requires a specific set of skills, including expert-level writing skills and technical mastery of your technology. Your translator provider must be a native speaker of the target language with professional qualifications. Never trust your company’s reputation to an automated translation program or an inexperienced amateur! Doing so will damage your image, lower customer perception, and possibly even offend your target users.

So, what should you look for in your IT translator?

Experience

As in any profession, experience is paramount. Simply stated, the more experience your translator has, the better their ability to provide an accurate translation for you. Check how long your potential translator has been in the business, and look for testimonials from satisfied clients.

Industry Expertise

Due to the difficulty involved and the variation between texts, translators typically specialize in one or more fields. Some translators focus on literary texts. Some focus on medical or legal texts. For your IT translation project, your greatest chance of success is to work with a translator with hands-on experience in a computer-related field. The IT industry is constantly evolving, and let’s face it… we’re a judgmental bunch.

You wouldn’t knowingly release buggy software, so don’t risk putting out buggy content.

Native Language

Do you need a translation into English? Hire a native English speaker! It’s simple. Native speakers can always detect the tiny mistakes made by non-native speakers. This isn’t a concern in normal conversation, but in a professional setting, those seemingly tiny mistakes reflect very poorly on your company and on your technology. Hire a qualified native speaker and get it right the first time!

Passion and Professionalism

Finally, your IT translator provider should be actively involved in both the translation community and the IT industry by attending conferences, belonging to professional associations, publishing, taking courses, and continuously enhancing their skill set.

By planning ahead and selecting the right IT translation provider, you can rest assured that your product has an opportunity to thrive in the global market. Trust the experts, and keep your focus on growing your business!