Ten Top Tips for Translating Technical Manuals

Translating technical manuals for an international audience can be a challenge. There are plenty of things to consider. Just like the original manual, it needs to be  

  • clear,
  • brief,
  • precise, and
  • correct.

In short, the translation needs to be of exceedingly high quality. To help you make the translation process as smooth as possible and improve your results, we have gathered our ten top tips for translating technical manuals for you.


Technical_Manual_TranslationWhat to consider pre-translation

There are a couple of things you can do to ensure that the translation of your technical manuals will go smoothly. Our first two tips are especially useful if you intend your manual to be available in multiple languages from the start.


1. Consider the length of your manual text

One thing many people don’t think about while creating a technical manual is the length of the text. However, this plays a big role later on. The length of a text can change between languages: what are three short words in English may turn into an entire sentence in German – or just one really long word, if you’re lucky (looking at you, Mindestsicherheitsabstand [minimum safety distance]). Of course, this can mess with the layout of the entire manual, especially if it includes images, diagrams or illustrations. When creating the manual with the knowledge that it will need to be translated later on, it is a good idea to avoid unnecessary page breaks or tight fits as much as possible. This is especially important for diagrams and flowcharts in programs such as Microsoft Visio.


2. Adhere to ISO standards

This one might seem a bit obvious. However, it’s still very useful. ISO standards, the standards issued by the International Organization for Standardization, are crucial for many industries. If you adhere to internationally recognized standards such as ISO 21600 for Technical Product Documentation (if it’s a digital manual), the translators know that the formatting rules have been followed. They can rest assured that the information legally required in the target country is included. If you follow the relevant ISO standards, the translators will need less time to adapt it to the target country – which saves you a lot of money.


3. Create a glossary

Before sending your technical manual out for translation, you should create a glossary. As a client, a glossary gives you some control over the translation. You can specify information such as whether the brand name and other product-specific terminology should be translated. But you can also use it to set rules regarding technical information such as measurements. For example, should units of measurements be converted, and can they be rounded up when converted? You can avoid potential confusion by simply adding this to your glossary. Apart from this, a translation glossary includes an explanation of acronyms that come up in the manual, as well as preferred translations of key terminology. Depending on the current status of your international ambitions, you might already know some preferred translations. If not, then a professional translation agency like Nimus translations can help you with it. It’s handy to have for future translation projects!


How to choose a translation agency

Now that you have your glossary and ready-for-translation technical manual in front of you, it is time to choose a translation services provider for the project.


4. Work with a translation agency

Our first tip is to work with a translation agency rather than a freelance translator. The translation of technical manuals is a sensitive matter that should not depend on a single pair of eyes. Everything has to be perfect, or else safety issues might arise and you could get into legal trouble. Working with a translation agency has the benefit that you can check their qualifications in the form of ISO certificates. The certificates you want to look out for are ISO 9001 for Quality Management and ISO 17100 for Translation Services Management. Since the translation of technical manuals requires strict accuracy rather than creativity, the ISO 18587 certificate for Post-Editing of Machine Translations is also valuable to have, especially if your budget is limited. Combined, these ISO certificates are a clear indicator that the translation agency is a good candidate to translate your manual, given that the agency also meets the next requirement.


5. Choose an experienced translation agency

Technical Manuals

ISO certificates are important, but they mean nothing if the translation agency does not have the experience required to translate your manual. Neither your industry (be it electronics, engineering, medical technology, or anything else) nor the translation of technical manuals should be new territory for them . This is absolutely crucial. A marketing translator for your industry may know the terminology, but won’t know the nuts and bolts of an official manual. Conversely, a translator of technical manuals who doesn’t know your industry may choose incorrect terminology. Apart from experience, your ideal translator should have:

  • Knowledge of current industry-specific terminology and relevant standards;
  • Experience with the appropriate style and tone of voice for manuals;
  • An eye for detail;
  • The ability to keep the translation clear, brief, precise, and correct.


6. CAT-tools are your friend

Computer-Assisted-Translation (CAT) tools are invaluable for translation agencies, and with good reason. They provide a range of functionalities that help translators meet high quality standards. This increases consistency and decreases turnaround times. If you are unfamiliar with how exactly CAT-tools achieve this, we’ve got you covered: Just take a look at our cheatsheet for the translation industry!


7. Never choose Translation Only

When working with a translation agency, you may have a choice between TEP (Translation, Editing, and Proofreading) and Translation Only. When it comes to technical manuals, never opt for translation only. In fact, if a language service provider offers you this service for a technical manual translation, you should see this as a huge red flag. Quality and accuracy are at the core of technical manuals. Without a proofreader, there’s no guarantee that the translations meet this standard. Therefore, you should opt for the TEP process, which includes a review by another, equally qualified, translator.


8. Ask for DTP Services

We already touched on the topic of your manual’s layout in our first tip. But what if your technical manual is already done, and you did not consider possible translations while writing it? Don’t worry. Just make sure that the translation agency you’re considering also offers DTP (Desktop Publishing) services. If they do, they will not only translate your manual but also edit the layout afterwards to resemble the original.


Plans_with_technical_manual_translationThink about the future

Once you have decided on the perfect translation agency for your technical manual translation, you can lay back and relax. Or you could start thinking about the future! As we’ve established, it helps to plan for translations well in advance. Here are two more criteria for finding the perfect translation agency for long-term collaborations.


9. Determine the translation agency’s access to a global network

If you’re planning to expand your services to a single country and won’t approach any other markets in the future, you could stick to a single language vendor (SLV). However, if you do not know what your plans are yet, or if you’re already contemplating the next market entry, it is wise to opt for a translation agency with a global network of linguists. This way, you don’t have to start the quest for a translation services provider all over again. Have you had your English technical manual translated into Dutch, but would now like to enter the Chinese market? No problem! A translation agency with a global network will be able to help you out in no time.

So now you have a translated Chinese manual. You might start asking yourself: who’s going to use this manual? How many people are you reaching in China? How are you going to reach more? Do you need your marketing material translated? What about your contracts and business communication? Another aspect worth considering is whether a translation agency offers a variety of content specializations that could fit your future expansion plans. If you can get all your translations from one place that’s great – and we’ll tell you why in our last tip.


10. Choose your agency carefully – it will be worth it to stick to a single one!

Having all your translation needs managed by one agency can save a lot of back and forth in communication. The agency will get to know you as a client. They will understand your wants and needs as well as your style and preferred terminology. They will work hard to maintain that relationship and can ensure that their translators all over the world understand what’s expected of them. That sounds pretty stress-free, doesn’t it?

But wait, there’s more! You will be able to benefit from translation memories. Translation memories store translations for a specific client and suggest them when they show up again in a later translation. This means that the more you work with a translation agency, the more money you can save. A previously translated text will not be charged for the second time around. Most translation agencies, Nimus translations included, work with a translation grid that specifies a price based on the similarities between the already translated text and the new version.


We know that these ten tips may seem like a lot to consider when searching for a suitable translation agency for your technical manual translation. But do not despair, you have to look no further: We are proud to say that Nimus translations meets all the criteria that characterize a suitable translation agency, and we’d be happy to take on your manual translation. Simply contact us or ask for a quote straight away!

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