Preparing MS Word Documents for Translation

When preparing MS Word documents for translation, take care of formatting errors. They may seem trivial, but can significantly impede and prolong translation. Here’s how you can avoid common errors:

1. Create Columns with Tables, Not the Tab Key

A translator may encounter serious problems while translating text embedded into columns. It is often the case that the author formats a document incorrectly. 

By enabling the “Show White Space” option, you can visualize the formatting of the text more easily. If the text was formatted incorrectly using the Tab key, and the combination of the Shift + Enter keys, which serve to move the cursor to the next line, it will look like this:

Preparing MS Word Documents for Translation

As a result of this formatting, CAT tools will interpret the typed fragment as: “Jan Kowalski Bernadeta Nowak architekt wnętrz projektant terenów zielonych tel. 123456789 tel. 987654321.” In order to avoid a similar situation, insert a table with two columns in which particular lines are separated with the Enter key.


2. Tables with Fixed Row Heights A No-No

If an author of a document sets fixed row heights, the translated text may not fit into the table. Consequently, only a part of the text will be visible in the table. In order to avoid this, unfold the “Line” tab of the “Table Properties” menu. Here you can define the row height or choose the option “At least.”


Same goes for any text boxes you may create in the document. They should consider that the volume of the translated text may not be the same as the original.

3. Insert Page Or Section Breaks Away from Text

To eliminate the risk of a translator messing up the layout of the document or the numbering of headings, insert page and section breaks in empty sections, rather than close to the text.

A misplaced page break looks like this:


4. Use Styles

One of the most serious problems that translation agencies face is a limited use of styles. While the most common style is Normal, MS Word provides an opportunity to create new styles. This is a function that allows the author of the document (and in the next stage, the translator) to manage numbered lists, highlighted fragments of text, footnotes, etc. A defined style significantly shortens translators’ work since they do not have to adjust the size and the type of font manually.

In order to add your own style, highlight a fragment of the text that you would like to use as a pattern and then click on the “More” arrow located next to the “Styles” menu.


From the menu that unfolds, choose “Save Selection as a New Quick Style.”


The software then asks for the name of the style. When choosing the name, you should remember to link it in a logical way with the function that a fragment of text formatted in this style ought to perform. It will facilitate others’ work on the document. The newly defined style will be available in the Styles menu from now on.

5. Avoid Poorly Made Table of Contents

MS Word can generate an automatic table of contents by identifying heading styles. Unfortunately, many users create all paragraphs, even headlines, using Normal style. In such cases, MS Word has problems generating an automatic table of contents; it has to be prepared manually, and, as we already know, the text may change in volume after translation. As a consequence, changes in the table of contents would have to be applied manually.

6. Turn “Track Changes” Off

Accept all changes, delete comments, and turn off “Track Change” mode, before sending the text for translation. Failure to do this may lead to a situation in which unnecessary fragments of text are translated, making the translation more expensive.

7. Don’t Insert Tables Prepared in MS Excel

Some document authors prepare tables in MS Excel. When inserting these tables into a text document, they often highlight a table in the spreadsheet and copy it into MS Word using “Insert-Table-Excel Spreadsheet.”


This creates a dynamic link to the spreadsheet that may cause trouble for translators. They will have to track down and translate two sets of files for each table and define which part of the spreadsheet should be translated.

Applying this solution also increases the size of a source file, which may slow down translation. Therefore, if the use of spreadsheet is essential, it is better to include a fragment of it as a static object, not a dynamic hyperlink, and to format it in a way that looks like an MS Word table.

About Rafal Kwiatkowski

I’m a translation desktop publishing expert and native Polish translator living in Poland. I collaborate with all of the largest companies in the translation, localization, globalization and internationalization sectors. I’m highly familiar with PN-EN 15038 and ISO 9001:2008 standards and the principles of LQA (LISA QA).