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Technical Translations: Tighten Up Your Technical Documentation

When preparing technical communications for international markets, the most important thing is comprehensibility. Technical documentation that readers can grasp leads to fewer headaches not only for users, but for product manufacturers, as well. No matter whether you’re writing in your own native language or translating, however, it’s not easy to describe complicated processes in basic terms. 

In this article, we’ll explain how you can improve your international technical documentation (TD) by keeping things as simple as possible in both the original language in question and subsequent translations.

Convey technical information in simple ways – in any language 

According to tekom (article in German), at least 45 percent of technical documentation is now translated into more than 10 languages. That can result in some significant costs and also require a lot of administrative effort.  

You probably know what it’s like to read through an instruction manual and come away feeling like you know even less than before. Imagine what it’s like to create a technical translation of an arcane tome like that! Ideally, a translator has the opportunity to get all kinds of questions answered during this process, which helps ensure a comprehensible end result. In the worst case, documents like these are translated practically word-for-word and leave their international readers scratching their heads. Taken to the extreme – in the field of medicine, for instance – unintelligible or ambiguous TD can even have very serious ramifications. 

With some prior planning, however, you can streamline this process, reduce the costs involved, and achieve a better overall user experience.

A good technical translation starts with a clearly written source text  

To achieve the goals outlined above and make life easier for those who need to use your TD, you first need easily understandable technical documents that were written with their eventual translation in mind. This is where it helps to use a controlled language like ASD Simplified Technical English in original documents. The simpler a source text is, the less effort it takes to produce a quality translation that’s just as clear. This naturally results in a faster, more cost-effective translation process while also accelerating your time to market

What is a controlled language? 

A controlled language is a restricted form of a natural language. Unlike plain language, which is used in all areas of life, a controlled language is specifically designed to optimize communication in technical documentation. This concept plays an important role in achieving greater efficiency in documentation procedures and making guides, manuals, and similar materials as accessible as possible to all their respective target groups. 

Different rules apply to different languages, but two things that controlled languages generally have in common are simplified grammar and a limited vocabulary. 

Other typical characteristics include the following:

  • Active form (not passive) 

  • Simple tenses 

  • Short words and sentences 

  • Unambiguous vocabulary (every term has only one meaning) 

  • Consistent terminology 

  • Generally used terms (no technical jargon)

Technical English: lingua franca in international contexts 

Since English is the language of science and business at the global level, it takes precedent in international technical communication. The demand for technical translations into English is constantly rising as a result. At the same time, product documentation in English is often intended for not only native speakers, but people with limited knowledge of the language, as well. The latter readers are the ones who typically find complex subjects difficult to grasp. 

This is where Simplified Technical English comes in. It’s designed to make texts more readable and aid non-native speakers in focusing on the content that counts instead of being thrown off by intricate sentence structures or specialist lingo. It differs quite a bit from technical English, which is used in international industry-internal communications and does feature elaborate technical terminology. There’s technical English for fields like electrical engineering, machine construction, and information technology, for example. 

STE, meanwhile, was developed in the 1980s to help standardize communication in the aerospace sector and thereby achieve a higher level of safety. Over time, the basic principles of this controlled language were applied to communication in other industries and languages.  

The aims of Simplified Technical English are as follows: 

  • Avoid ambiguity 

  • Facilitate the understanding of non-native speakers 

  • Make the translation process faster and more cost-effective 

  • Enable the use of automated translation tools 

Creating technical documentation that gets the message across takes specialized skills and outstanding knowledge of the language in question. Even a minor mistake can lead to major problems that cost a great deal of money – or even lives.  

There are a number of controlled language checkers and authoring memory systems that facilitate the efficient creation of texts in line with specific rules. Language technologies like these make it possible to scrutinize terminology, spelling, grammar, and style in targeted ways. If you’d rather entrust such important documents to a living, breathing professional, however, our technical writers and technical English translators are standing by to assist. Lexsys has a broad range of experience in creating technical documentation in a variety of languages and application areas. 

Do you want to have your technical documentation polished to a shine by the experts? Give us a call or send us a message and we’ll discuss how we can make your technical texts and translations both accurate and reader-friendly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


About the Author

Christian Wulf

Senior Director of Customer Relations

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