Multilingual User Guide Translations

Translators working on a translation project

Multilingual User Guide Translations can either make or break your customer experience. A well written User Guide is vital for many types of product. Once you have produced a great guide in English, don’t spoil it with poor translation!

Preparing your text

Ideally, you should plan for translation when preparing your original text. You have lots of options. For example, do you want to provide a language by language guide, with the full set of illustrations for each language? This is likely to give a great customer experience when reading their language version. However, the downside, is that lots of languages means lots of pages. Even if you have a small A6 leaflet, the single language one will be 1 page long, but the 30 language version will run to 30 pages. Okay, double sided printing means 15 pages, but you get the point.

Text length

Most user guides are of course substantially longer than a single page leaflet. So how do you economise on space and make room for translation? Firstly is there any “fluff”, or unnecessary wording. Cutting words will save space. If your guide is very text heavy, remember that you are typically paying per word of the source text.

Layout issues

You really need to talk to your artwork team about layout, but there are some translation considerations. It is VITALLY important to consider the overall text length. English is typically shorter than an equivalent foreign language text in almost all cases. European languages such as Spanish, French or German are typically around 25 – 30% longer. Some languages like Russian can be even longer than that. You can prepare for this with careful planning.

For example, do you have room to leave white space on the page, allowing around 30% text expansion? Do you have the option to reduce the font size on the translations? I’m not personally a fan of this, as it can lead to a poorer customer experience. Of course, if your user guide is to be available online only, fantastic, space is much less of an issue.

Language selection

Most of our larger clients have a clearly defined target audience, depending on the countries they sell to, or plan to sell to. If you are targeting a specific territory, we can advise on the required language. However, its for you to select your chosen markets.

Multilingual User Guide Translation process

You may find it helpful to understand a bit about our processes if you are thinking of using our services:

1) Getting a quote

It may seem obvious, but to give you a quote we will need some basic details. If you haven’t yet written your user guide, we can’t “guess” the price, as the amount of text significantly affects the cost. We can maybe give an estimate based on a previous guide, but an accurate price needs the actual text. To undertake the work we will need it in an editable format such as Word, and for pricing, we also need an editable copy. If you are concerned about confidentiality, we are happy to sign an NDA. We of course treat all materials with the utmost care.

We also need some basic company details, this is so we can ensure we cost correctly, for example are you liable for UK VAT? We only use your details for the purposes of the quote, and subsequently to communicate with you if you decide to proceed with the translation.

We also need a list of languages. If you aren’t sure, or it may change, we can always revise the quote accordingly.

2) Placing your order

We normally require payment with order from new customers. If you want to place a large order, we may be able to discuss phased payment and phased delivery. Translation takes time, and we will make a best estimate of delivery.

3) Translation timescales

Be very wary of a translation company that offers very fast delivery, for example 100,000 words in 24 hours. This simply isn’t possible with accurate, human authored technical translation. As a guide, a single translator can typically deliver around 2500 words per day. There are many other factors to consider though. Firstly, our best translators aren’t sitting idle waiting for your order, they are probably busy on other projects, so it may take a few days for us to be able to start. Our Project Management team also have things to do to prepare the job for translation.

4) Text and technical queries

When working on the project, we may need to raise queries. For example, if there is a clear typo, we will just correct it within the translations, but sometimes a typo renders the text unclear, or maybe you’ve made a cut and paste error and there is a bit missing. If we think something is wrong, we will query it.

5) Translator selection

We always select our translators based on the technical specialism of the document. For example a medical user guide, is likely to be translated by a different set of translators than an engineering user guide. Why is this? Simply because a translator is in effect a technical author in their target language. They need to understand and express the correct terminology within the target language. Of course this is having first understood it in the source document. All good translators specialise.

Even when specialist in a given technical area, we may still have to research, as terminology changes over time. There may also be particular terms you want used. For example I understand that Japanese has about 14 possible terms for the English phrase “Manager”. If your guide is for internal company use, then we want to use the appropriate terminology you actually use within the business. Glossaries and reference materials are really helpful here.

6) Translation technology

There are likely to be significant benefits in using translation technology. This isn’t a computer doing the work. Rather our translators use a working environment specific to the industry. We use a product called Trados Studio. This allows the translator to open your text in a specialist translation environment. They can see the two languages side by side as they work. The tool helps them follow the source formatting. They also add phrases to memory as they work.

In effect a translation memory is a database of phrases from the project which we save for future reference. User Guides often have a lot of repetition, either within an individual guide, or often across a range of products. When we encounter the same phrase again, the translator just has to check that it is correct, rather then translate from scratch. This also helps consistency, and gives time and cost savings.

7) Proofreading and QA

Depending on the project, we can apply different levels of QA. Our normal process is to do a full proofread of your text within the target languages. IF you are a technical author yourself, you will know that it can be very difficult to spot your own mistakes. Proofreading minimises this risk. The proofreader will check things like correct use of terminology, accurate translation, punctuation, grammar and style.

8) Finalising your project

Once we have approved the full set of languages for your project, we may need to do a couple more things. For example, we may need to collate all the translations into a single file, or a specific format.

We also offer a DTP and typesetting service. We action any DTP requirements at this stage.

9) Delivery

Depending on file size, we can deliver your project in a number of ways. many User Guides are small enough to send as email attachments. Alternatively, we can use a file transfer service such as WeTransfer or DropBox. We have our own Extranet on which we can also deliver files.

10) After sales

This is often overlooked by translation companies, but is an important part of our service.

Firstly, you may have a technical query about our translation. You just need to raise this with the project team, and we will look into this.

Secondly, you may have small amends or additions after we have completed the service. We keep a copy of your translation on file, and it is relatively straightforward for us to implement updates.

Thirdly, and importantly. You may have more user guides also needing translation. As we have translation memory of your previous project, we can ensure we are consistent. There are also likely to be significant cost and time savings with repetitions. Years ago, for a new project, we would have had to retranslate everything from scratch. Now however, we offer significant discounts on repetitions.

Next steps

We translate User Guides for many of our major customers. We also undertake bespoke single orders. Give us a call early in your planning process, so you can ensure you have clear costings, and realistic delivery timescales.

Call us on +44 115 9788980 UK office hours, or use our contact form.