Writing for Translation, Tips For Improving Technical Documentation

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The importance of adequate translation plays a big role nowadays. The key moment in the translation process is the reflection of the true sense in words. Technical translation is a type of translation that is used the most often nowadays. This tendency developed due to new technologies that are picking upstream every year. In this article, we will figure out the key criteria for high-quality writing and translation.  

Keep Sentences Short When Writing for Translation

Translations sound natural when written in simple words, and the writer keeps them short. Clear phrasing is key to making your text readable and understandable by people from other locations. One piece of Japanese writing translation may turn out differently if different writers make it, and it's completely okay. Just remember that readers will prefer the shorter version of the writing and translation because this text is easier to digest.

Use the Active Tense

The temptation to use passive voice is always high, especially in technical translations where writers describe tech processes. Text with passive voice sounds more complex, and in tech writing translation, it's an additional obstacle to readability. For example, instead of writing: "Chemical pollution of the plant is reduced by new equipment.” say, “New equipment reduces chemical pollution of the plant." The result is easier to understand and translate and has a shorter word count.

Use the Subject-Verb-Object Sentence Structure

SVO sentence structure is the simplest among others. And the fact that it is the simplest does not make it sound unprofessional. On the contrary, simplicity means that it is the easiest to understand for the end user.

Use Words With Positive Intent When They Need To Be Positive

Non-English speakers may interpret positive sentences as ones with negative connotations because of the presence of negative words. Therefore, omit negative words in your writing in Spanish translation to make it pro-translation writing. For example, “Don't you think she is a good recruiter?” sounds more negative than “She's a great recruiter, right?".

Use the Standard English Word Order Whenever Possible

There is no place for a large creativity flow for translation writing specialists. Your text must be functional in the first place. Translators should reduce unusual word orders and symbolic figures of speech. The standard word order in English is Subject-Verb-Object. Let's compare the readability of translations with different word structures:

  1. Down the street lived the colleague and her mother. (Verb-Subject-Object)
  2. The colleague and her mother lived down the street. (Subject-Verb-Object)

The first example is a sentence with reversed sentence structure and sounds more complex than the second one, which has a standard English word order.

Be Consistent With Terminology And Content When Writing For Translation

How to work with terminology in technical translation? Inaccurate translation of terminology may lead to the misuse of the product. That is why tech companies hire humans and don't use tools for automated translation. On the other hand, one mistake in translation may become fatal, so this may be one of the most essential and practical pieces of advice for writing and translation. 

Before the start of the translation, a localization manager should create a list of product and industry terminology and send it to all translators. Next, translators should find the corresponding terms in their target language and send them to in-country reviewers. After this process is finished, it's necessary to import the terms into its translation memory (TM) tool. 

There are also other stylistic rules one should follow for translation writing:

  1. Avoid using the same word to describe two or more different terms. For example, don’t use the scan to refer to medical and computer equipment.
  2. Don’t use different words to mean the same thing. Creative texts look boring without synonyms, but tech texts must be as straightforward as possible. For example, If you write about how to make an ATS-friendly resume and explain how the applicant tracking system works, use only this expression, even if it repeats a few times in a sentence of the paragraph.
  3. Try to use a word in only one part of speech, as it confuses users and translators. 
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Avoid using abbreviations, jargon, and cultural references when writing for translation

All technical writing and translation rules are targeted to make the text clear to the end user. For example, some jargon words and abbreviations may have a direct translation into another language. Still, on a larger scale, only a small amount of the target audience can understand them. 

Cultural references are a great way to make a text more in-depth and witty, but it's completely odd in a tech text. The fact that only a particular group of people will be able to understand this text makes it not inclusive. So before inserting some abbreviations and jargon words in your computer skills text, ensure the majority in your target language understands their meaning.

Separate Text From The Graphics

Translators should not avoid graphics in the translation of texts. The text on graphics usually illustrates the information given in the document. Great translation writing requires precise attention to detail and the ability to express them in simple words. 

Graphics may usually contain specific terminology, so companies hire freelance translators to handle the translation in a particular industry. Nowadays, many documents with infographics are devoted to careers in the tech field. For example, job seekers discover resume builders for the first time and look through the instructions on how to use them. 

Don't Forget That Data Formats May Need to Change

Data formats are different even in UK and US English variants of the language. Translation from English to Spanish in writing requires the translator to use another data format. Phone numbers, currencies, and numbers of temperature and weight have also their equivalent in every language, so always use them in text writing and translation.

For example:

  • In the US, a date is written with the month, day and year: 2/12/23 (February 12th)
  • In the UK, the day comes first, so February 12 is written as 12/2/22. The same is in Spanish, German, French, and Italian languages.
  • In Chinese, the date elements are named in reverse order (compared to the UK English version: "year + month + day."

Bear in mind that some countries use the metric system and some old imperial systems. Regarding temperature degrees, ensure you give the equivalent of the degrees in Celsum if presented in the original text in Farenheits, but the target audience doesn't use it. 

Beware Words with Multiple Meanings When Writing for Translation

Words with several meanings are one of the worst enemies of translation writing. That is why machine translation will never be so flawless and precise and made by humans because only a person can distinguish one word's meaning from another. The English language has more words with multiple meanings than other languages of the german group and romance languages.

A beginner in technical translation must be cautious when translating words with several meanings. The translation in other languages may be completely different and even comic. 

For example, the first and most know meaning of the word "Season” is a division of the year marked by significant changes in weather: "My favorite season is autumn because we like to celebrate Halloween. But this word has a second meaning which means enhancing flavors in dishes: “We need to season the lasagna with hot pepper.”

Don't Forget to Provide Accompanying Resources for Translators 

The success of good localization of the product is in the hands of its owner. A person responsible for the translator's tasks should provide a media kit of their brand and tell on which terminology the translator should focus on. Translation writing gurus advise consulting with the product's account managers throughout the whole process of translation. 

One may forget about classic dictionaries in the world of online tools, but they still rock! Dictionaries are still the best friends of translators. In a certified dictionary, a translator can find correct and completed definitions of terms of their technical text. 

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Key Takeaways

The freelance job of a technical translator requires professional expertise and patience. Technical translation has a more straightforward sentence structure and is more concise, but it doesn't matter that the translation process is easier. The translator should avoid passive voice, always keep to SVO sentence structure, be consistent with the terminology and use appropriate data format.

Every technical translator faces the same challenges during their work. Words with multiple meanings and the translation of specific terminology are one of them. But with the right approach and modern accompanying resources, they can improve their technical translation to the highest level.