Translation Practice

Lead Writer: Alison Pickering | Peer Reviewer/s: Kieran Morgan| Expert Reviewer/s: Stephanie Riches Harries | Managing Editor: Kieran Morgan

Building upon the theoretical foundations in Chapter 24: Translation Theory, this chapter provides practical strategies for managing translation projects in technical documentation. It provides strategies for preparing documents and images for translation, selecting suitable translation service providers, and fostering collaboration to ensure translations maintain accuracy and cultural relevance. Throughout this chapter, we’ll guide you through the details of the translation process, from document setup to final delivery, by applying the knowledge gained from our theoretical exploration.

Audience Icon Who Should Read This
• Technical writers, professionals, and project managers who are responsible for overseeing the translation and localization of technical documentation.
Table of Contents: Technical Writing Process
Previous: Chapter 22: Translation TheoryNext: Chapter 24: Publish

1. Introduction

The art of translation extends beyond mere word-for-word substitution. In this chapter, we explore the practical aspects of translation and localization in technical documentation. While the previous chapter, Chapter 24: Translation Theory, laid the foundation by exploring the theoretical underpinnings of translation, here we focus on strategies for effectively managing translation projects.

From understanding how to set up documents and images for translation to selecting the right translation partner, this chapter aims to provide you with practical insights. We will guide you through the translation process from initial document preparation to the final stages of delivery. Emphasis is placed on the importance of working collaboratively with translation service providers and ensuring that your technical content is not only accurately translated but also culturally relevant for your target audience.

Whether you are new to managing translation projects or looking to refine your existing practices, this chapter offers a comprehensive guide to help you navigate the complex landscape of translation and localization with ease and confidence.

2. [Theory] Translation and Localization Process

This section provides a visual overview of the translation and localization process. It is the foundation on which the steps below are based.

3. [Practice] Translate and Localize Content

3.1. Approve Master Document or Content

Once the master document/content has been approved—after the final checks and proofreading (see Part 8: Review)—it is ready for translation. The information in this section is based on the assumption that the translation order is sent once the whole technical document is released; however, some organizations choose to release and translate on a chapter-by-chapter or section-by-section basis. This approach can be risky because a change in another chapter during the writing stage may affect a chapter that has already been translated, necessitating retranslation. Consider this when deciding how to order translations.

3.2. Define Target Languages

When defining the target languages for the translation of product documentation, it’s important to consider target markets, legal requirements, and budget. For example, if the only target market for a product is in Europe, there’s no need to translate the product documentation into Chinese.

3.3. Define Scope of Translation

At this stage, you’ll need to decide on the scope of service required from the translation service provider. Will machine translation with post-editing suffice, or is human translation required? Do you want the translation to be validated? Should the translation service provider carry out any desktop publishing (DTP) work?

All these factors can impact cost and turnaround time and should be given careful consideration. The scope of the translation should be defined and clearly communicated to the translation service provider at the quotation request stage.

3.4. Obtain Quotation

Compile all the information relating to the translation task and approach the translation service provider for a quotation. Many translation agencies have an online customer portal for ordering. If not, they will inform you how they wish to receive the files, such as via email or, if they are large files, via WeTransfer, FTP/SFTP, or through a link to the file in Google Drive, Dropbox, or another cloud storage system.

Some companies with advanced business processes will give translation partners access to their content management system (CMS) to enable them to export (pull) the translation source material and import (push) the completed translations.

3.4.1. Quotation Request

When requesting a quote, provide as much information as possible. The translation service provider may have set criteria for what information they require; otherwise, you should include the following information:

  • Scope of the translation (level of service and languages required)
  • Deadline
  • Whether validation is required
  • Whether layout work (desktop publishing) is required
  • Target audience definition (to enable the translator to adopt the right tone of voice)
  • Source text (ask which format they require)
  • List of pre-approved terminology (if available)
  • Copy of the company style guide (if available)
  • Final layout draft (if available)
  • Contextual information (e.g., images and training materials)
  • List of any product names or technical terms that should not be translated

3.4.2. Quote Format and Content

Once the translation service provider receives your files, they use specialized translation management tools to analyze the files and identify already translated content (100% matches or fuzzy matches), as well as any repetitions in the source text. If matches and repetitions are found, you are usually given a discount for them, so you will only be charged the full price for the translation of completely new content.

Quotes are generally given per project on a per-word basis unless requested otherwise, and per-word rates can vary between languages. Any discount given for 100% matches, fuzzy matches, or repetitions found in the source text is usually already applied. Desktop publishing costs are usually calculated per hour or per page.

Insight Icon Insight
Types of Text Matches in Translation

100% Matches
100% matches, as the name suggests, occur when the source text is identical to one that has been translated in the past, and editing is not required.

Fuzzy Matches
A fuzzy match is a segment in a source text similar to a segment in a translation memory. It’s only a partial match, so it will require editing. The amount of editing needed is reflected in the percentage. For example, a 60% match will probably need complete rewriting, whereas a 99% match may only need a minor change, such as adding a comma.

Repetitions are instances where the same sentence is found more than once in the source text. It will only need translating once, and the translation can then be reused for the subsequent occurrences in the source text.

Utilizing Translation Memory and Terminology Databases
100% matches and fuzzy matches can only be found if the translation service provider has created and been using a translation memory for your organization. You should also have a glossary of key terms, also known as a terminology database (or termbase for short). This ensures that whenever you send new files for translation, the content is cross-checked against your previous translations and key terms, and you are only charged for new content.

3.4.3. Quotation Review and Approval

If the translation service provider has its own platform for requesting translation quotes, they may place quotes there for you to download then notify you via email when they are available. Otherwise, they are usually sent by email.

Deadlines stated as specific dates are usually based on timely approval of the quote. Therefore, if it has taken you several days to approve the quote, it is important to re-confirm the deadline. Some agencies handle deadlines differently, stating them as a specific number of working days after quote approval. The sooner you approve the quote, the sooner you will receive your translation.

3.5. Translate Source Text

The translation is typically done with a computer-assisted translation (CAT) tool, which divides the source text into segments, generally full sentences or paragraphs. This segmentation makes it easier for the translator to work on and translate each segment individually. Translation tools help translators speed up their work and enhance accuracy.

Translation may be done by a human translator or with machine translation, as specified in the quotation and confirmed by you during the quotation approval stage.

3.6. Edit and Proofread Translated Text

Normally, the editor works in the same translation tool as the translators; however, their task is not translating, but revising each segment.

As described in Chapter 24: Translation Theory | 6.2. Machine Translation (MT) & Post Editing, editing and proofreading are conducted on the translated text to ensure correct style and content, and to verify the translation’s accuracy. This stage ensures that the translator has accurately rendered the source text, has not omitted any information, and has fully complied with any guidelines provided.

The “four-eyes principle” mentioned in Chapter 24: Translation Theory | 6.1. Translation, Editing, and Proofreading means that a second language reviewer examines the text. This practice doesn’t imply the translator’s work is subpar; it is an industry-standard practice based on the idea that two people (thus, four eyes) see more than one person. This is why translations should undergo a quality assurance review performed by someone other than the translator.

3.7. Validate Translated Content

If you have requested validation for the translation, the translation service provider will send it to the designated validator. There is usually a set deadline for this task. The translation service provider will need clear instructions on how to handle situations such as the validator not being able to complete the task within the given timeframe: should they extend the deadline, accept a partially completed validation, or skip the validation? Another likely situation is that the validator asks for clarification on some of the content. In this case, they will need to know who in your organization they can contact for support on that.

3.8. Layout Work (Desktop Publishing: DTP)

If desktop publishing is part of the brief you gave to the translation service provider, this stage is where the layout work is undertaken. That means the original text is removed from your source file and replaced with the translation. It applies to all types of content, such as text, tables, warnings, and graphics.

3.9. Conduct Final Review

The final review mainly focuses on checking that the translated text sounds natural and reads smoothly in the target language, and on detecting any errors or inconsistencies with regard to punctuation and capitalization. It also ensures that any validation comments have been implemented and that the translation memory is updated accordingly.

If desktop publishing work is included in the translation task, the document formatting is also checked for any issues relating to fonts, images, layout, style, and so on. It also ensures that the finished job conforms to the brief you provided.

The final review stage should be handled by a professional assigned only to that unique task, who has not yet had any contact with the work during previous stages. This way, the reviewer can keep an open mind and has a fresh set of eyes.

3.10. Deliver Final Format

The final deliverable format will be as you specified in the brief: Microsoft Word, PDF, XML, HTML, or other format.

Delivery back to you may be via email, or if the agency has a specific portal or platform, they may place the completed translations there for you to download and inform you via email that they are now available.

4. [Practice] Select Translation Partner

Of course, you will want to find professional translation services of the highest standards. However, not all translators have the expertise and experience required to work with technical documents, so collaborating with the right language experts is essential. It’s not a simple task to identify and select a professional translation service provider, and a lot rides on your decision.

Why are we using the term “translation partner” rather than “translation service provider”? Well, that’s simple—successful translations in the world of technical communications are based on a partnership that improves over time. The more work a translation partner does for you, the better they understand your products and your requirements regarding translation style, tone of voice, terminology, and so on. Most translation agencies use a translation memory, so that will continuously be expanding, and any text included in a new order that they have already translated for a previous order will result in a discounted rate.

Therefore, it is not about finding the cheapest quote each time you translate a document but rather about consistency and finding a translation partner that fulfills your needs and is willing to support you on your journey to achieve great quality translations.

4.1. Identifying a Professional Translation Service Provider

The following sections list the essential criteria to use when searching for a professional translation service provider that best suits your needs. Look out for these key points to help you decide if they are a professional company that focuses on delivering quality translations.

4.1.1. Certification

Any reliable company offering translation services must be able to provide certifications; otherwise, it would be best to try elsewhere.

ISO 17100:2015 is an international standard published in 2015, which was based on the BS EN 15038 European Quality Standard. It was reviewed five years later, in 2020, by the ISO, which confirmed the version remains current. The ISO 17100 standard details the requirements that a translation services provider (TSP) shall meet in order to provide a translation service that meets the client’s and other applicable specifications. It includes provisions concerning the management of core processes, minimum qualification requirements, the availability and management of resources, and other actions necessary for the delivery of a quality translation service. It does not apply to the use of raw output from machine translation plus post-editing.

The four key clauses of the ISO 17100 standard are:

  • Human Resources: ensuring the people selected to perform translation tasks have the required competencies and qualifications.
  • Preproduction Process and Activities: ensuring processes are in place for handling and analyzing enquiries, determining project feasibility, preparing quotations, and entering into agreements.
  • Production Processes: ensuring compliance with the agreement from the moment it is confirmed to the agreed end of the project.
  • Postproduction Process: ensuring processes are in place for handling client feedback, assessing client satisfaction, and making appropriate corrections, or taking corrective action.

ISO 9001:2015 covers the requirements for a quality management system and continuous improvement, so any translation service provider with this certification demonstrates their dedication to delivering a high-quality service.

4.1.2. Experience

Experienced translation agencies will have developed their skills and expertise over a number of years, contributing to their reliability, competence, and professionalism.

An experienced translation service provider will only work with native speakers who are subject matter experts. This ensures that your translated text will be high quality, read fluently, and reach your target audience in words they understand. Their expertise will also ensure that your documents comply with the rules and regulations of your target market.

If the translator is unfamiliar with the specific industry, its requirements, and its specific terminology, the translated content will lack precision and accuracy, and in the worst-case scenario, might be mistranslated. Such mistakes could have dire consequences for your business in terms of costs, litigation, and reputation.

4.1.3. Communication

The way a company communicates is one of the most important factors to consider when choosing your translation partner. To avoid misunderstandings, they should clearly communicate how they select their linguists, what is included in the price, and their actual translation process.

They should also be upfront and honest about their security measures, including data protection and any data privacy guarantees. If you need a non-disclosure agreement, ask whether they will provide one or be willing to sign yours.

When dealing with professional translation agencies, you should be able to speak freely with the project manager about any queries or concerns. The bottom line is that they should be open, honest, and inspire confidence in their skills and services.

4.1.4. Tools and Processes

The tools a translation service provider uses and their approach to completing your translation are good indicators of the quality level they can offer. Therefore, ask the translation service provider to detail its translation process and list the tools it uses. A professional translation service provider will use computer-assisted translation (CAT) tools, as these support the creation and use of translation memories and terminology databases (see Chapter 25: Translation Practice | 4. [Practice] Creating a Terminology Database for Industry Specific Terms).

4.1.5. References

Any reputable translation service provider will be willing to provide references from current customers as well as examples of their work.

4.1.6. Test Translations

A translation service provider eager to earn your repeat business will be willing to complete test translations. Ensure that any test translation texts you provide are similar to the content they will be required to translate in the future, and have a native speaker with the necessary technical knowledge review them.

4.2. Agreeing Terms

As part of building ongoing cooperation with a translation service provider, consider agreeing to terms relating to:

  • Time taken to provide quotes (e.g., three working days).
  • Time taken to translate (e.g., 20 working days).
  • Time taken for validation (e.g., 15 working days).

4.3. Handling Questions and Queries from the Translation Service Provider

Good communication between the translation service provider and the translation responsible at your company is vital. Questions and queries from the translation service provider should be answered as soon as possible, as a delayed response could result in the agreed deadline being pushed back.

Examples of questions/queries include:

  • Translators or validators may require clarification on ambiguities in the source texts.
  • Some source files or graphics may be missing.
  • Validators may request a longer deadline to complete the validation task, and the translation service provider needs to know whether you agree to this.

4.4. Learnings

Any feedback from the translation service provider relating to the translation task should be passed on to the relevant stakeholder in your company. For example, any errors found in the source text should be passed on to the technical writer.

5. [Practice] Create Terminology Database

Terminology databases, also known as glossaries or termbases, consist of a set of standard terms for translators to use. This is particularly useful if you use a lot of product- or industry-specific terms. Once a terminology database is created, each time the translation tool spots one of the standard terms, the translated version automatically appears in the CAT tool. This contributes to achieving consistent translations.

How to Create a Terminology Database:

  1. Create the source terms (such as key terminology, brand names, industry-specific terms).
  2. Get the translation service provider to translate the terms into the languages you require (you may need to answer queries relating to exact meanings and usages during this stage).
  3. The designated validators validate the translated terms for their language.
  4. The translation service provider makes any adjustments resulting from validation, then saves the terms in the terminology database for future reference.
  5. Repeat the process at regular intervals (for instance, on an annual basis or when a certain number of new terms have been added).
Note Icon Note
Agency-Assisted Terminology Database Creation
Some translation agencies offer services to create a terminology database for you by extracting key terms from the source files and then discussing their relevance with you. This would replace step 1 in the creation process.

6. [Template] Translation Best Practices Checklist for Text and Graphics

Translation Best Practices Checklist for Text and Graphics

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