How to Minimize Errors in Technical Translation

Technical translations are a unique category. They may include manuals, how-to guides, or specification sheets for products. But no matter what form they take there’s a consistent pattern: small but crucial details that must be accurately conveyed to readers of any language. Improper unit conversions, naming conventions, or even the wrong images can take a technical document from average to terrible, and ultimately become a liability for your company.

How do you prevent technical translation errors? Here are four key steps.

1. Get Source Content Right

Even same-language technical publications can get it wrong—and with potentially disastrous consequences. As noted in a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) study by the National Institute for Aviation Research, manuals from large-scale aircraft manufacturers still contain mistakes. Fourteen percent of aircraft maintenance technicians noted that unclear manual instructions occasionally “lead to damaged part(s),” whereas 18 percent said these errors occasionally lead to improper assembly. The takeaway? If you’re translating technical documentation into another language, first get your source language text right. Have enough quality checks in place for the source content, so that mistakes don’t get propagated into other languages.

2. Draft in Plain Language

Not all technical documentation is easily understandable. Documents for engineers, architects, or mechanics don’t bother explaining the basics because they assume a certain amount of knowledge on the part of the reader. But as noted by the Technical Communication Center, that’s no reason to make technical documentation unwieldy and loaded with jargon. In other words, draft in plain language. This makes translation and reviews easier down the line. If jargon has to be used, make sure you include a glossary of frequently-used terms.

3. Address Image Issues

The use of images is also important in technical documentation. Although pictures of cars, electrical circuit boards, and other common items are often universal, it’s worth taking the time to ensure all photos and diagrams in your documentation are appropriately localized and technically correct. This means figures and “steps” are properly numbered and refer to the right images, and images are relevant to the reader. Consider a car repair manual being translated for use in India, for example. Images of vehicles with left-hand driver seats just wont cut it. It’s also important to ensure graphic quality remains high—a scanned or photocopied image has no place in a technical manual.

4. Use the Right Software

Automation is your friend when it comes to technical document translation. Why? Because repetition and accuracy—both hallmarks of technical publications—are well-served by automated tools. Why waste time and money on translating phrases or entire chunks of text that are being re-used from a previous version of the documentation? Translation memory will offer up content matches in minutes and only fresh content will need to be translated.

Technical translation is a challenge for many companies—information in technical documents must be clear, concise, accurate, and ready for distribution when the products are ready to hit the local market. To ensure a quality experience for users in other countries, be sure to recognize the inherent challenge of these translations, aim for simplicity throughout, never ignore image issues, and embrace translation automation.

Image source: BigStock

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About Doug Bonderud

Doug Bonderud is a freelance technology writer with a passion for telling great stories about unique brands. For the past five years, he's covered everything from cloud computing to home automation and IT security. He speaks some French, is fluent in Ancient Greek and a master of Canadian English — and yes, colour needs a 'u'.