Five Tips for Translating Technical Documents

Published on January 26th, 2023

translating technical documents

Technical documents are complex writing pieces that require specialist knowledge and skill to translate into quality resources. According to the 2018 edition of the European Language Industry survey, more than 90% of technical documents are completed by specialist translators. This article looks at five best practices that professional technical translators follow when translating technical documents. These tips will help you to produce better-quality translations and know what to look for when choosing technical translation services.

#1: Always use specialist technical translators

The golden rule with any translation project is to always work with the right specialists for the job. For instance, when translating technical documents, it’s best to hire technical translators with specialist field experience.

If we think of language services as a hospital, seeing a cardiologist in order to treat neurological issues would be wrong. So too would it be to let a translator who specialises in gaming to translate medical or technical documents.

#2: Follow technical writing principles

When creating technical documents, a good writer will always follow technical writing principles.

The exact definition of technical writing principles will vary slightly, depending on the industry and level of difficulty. However, the consistent goal of a technical writer is to create accessible, streamlined, and easy-to-understand technical documents.

The key characteristics of technical writing should remain in each translated version of the document. For example:

  • A quality technical document has no filler text – or anything unnecessary that doesn’t enhance the quality of the written material.
  • Technical documents use simple, short and clear sentences – the final message needs to be easy to understand, which is best achieved with simple and direct language.
  • Technical documents should be free of ambiguity – the instructions contained within the text should be indisputable, leaving the reader with no doubts or ambiguity.

#3: Prioritise accuracy and clarity

Accuracy and clarity are the core components of any successful technical document translation. As we touched on in the previous part about the key characteristics of quality technical documents, readers should have no doubts about the intended meaning of the text in such documents. To achieve this, accurate translation is required throughout, however, sometimes, the most direct or accurate translation can lack clarity in the target language.

In many cases, this is the result of grammar differences between two different languages. In other instances, nuances, connotations or alternative meanings of specific vocabulary can deviate from the intended meaning in the original text.

Specialist technical translators know when to prioritise clarity over accuracy to maximise understanding in the target language.

#4: Provide technical translators with context

Apart from working with technical translators who have experience in your core topic (medicine, engineering, manufacturing, etc.), it is also important to provide translators with contextual information for each technical document that needs translating.

This might include industry-relevant definitions for key terminology, background information on why certain instructions are important or any key points to highlight to avoid readers from misunderstanding the translation.

The first thing to do is to create a glossary of technical terms with agreed translations. This will ensure that the correct translation is used for every technical word across all translations, which can be later on enhanced with technologies like translation memories in order to further improve speed and consistency.

Next, analysing source documents and looking for any instances where technical translators could benefit from added context is key. By providing as much context as possible in the documents sent over to translators, it will give them the chance to review and request any additional contextual information they might require.

#5: Develop a translation strategy, built around best practices

If you regularly translate technical documents as part of your role, having a translation strategy in place that is built around the best practices is of great benefit. A strategy that is designed on the core principles of technical translation, while keeping best practices in mind, will not only help you save time and money on each translation project, but also maintain consistency across every technical document you publish.

One way to ensure that your translation strategy is solid, is by start speaking to professional technical translation companies or technical translators who you can work with you, across different technical projects. Establishing a long-term relationship and partnership with a language provider is key to creating an efficient translation strategy that delivers accuracy, clarity and quality.

In addition, when partnering with professional language companies, you can take advantage of the translation technology offered to achieve results faster without the loss of quality. Translation management systems for example can significantly help remove admin bottlenecks and inefficiencies. Next, looking into other technologies such as translation memories, terminology management, machine translation with or without post-editing, and other systems that help to speed up translation processes, can help you to hit targets faster.

Moreover, a good language service provider will be able to guide you through the development of the right strategy and process for your translation needs, as well as give advice on the best mix of language technologies to use for your projects.

Final thoughts

Clarity and accuracy are the priorities in any technical document translation project. However, achieving these priorities in the most time and cost-effective manner can vary from one project to the next.

Following the best practices we’ve discussed throughout this article will set you up for success, but the one key tip is this: start by working with the right experts. Whether choosing to work with a language service provider, or source technical translators directly, everything falls into place when working with the right professionals.

If you require support with translating technical documents, feel free to get in touch with our technical translation team today by submitting your request via the form on this page.

Posted on: January 26th, 2023