The concept of giving instructions is as old as humanity itself. Indeed, even our earliest ancestors taught their fellow tribe members how to whittle spears, hunt wild game, and turn pelts into clothing. They also depicted such processes on the walls of caves – producing the first form of technical communication. In a way, these primitive Stone Age paintings serve as a model for creating and translating technical documentation today. By imparting their directions in a clear and concise manner, they embody the ideal instruction manual.
Using simple terms to describe complex processes is an art form in its own right. It becomes even more important, however, when the resulting documents then need to be translated into several foreign languages. A good technical translation agency knows how to facilitate this workflow. Lexsys, for example, relies on collaboration between its technical writers and translators in optimizing technical communication for the international market. This tandem offers plenty of advantages – for both your company and those who use your products.
Whether it’s for a cell phone, an app, or a coffee machine, user information is usually required in multiple languages in the age of globalization. Operating manuals and other forms of technical documentation are an essential part of not only safe product use, but the international movement of goods, as well. The need for such documents has grown considerably over the years, and the information involved is more diverse than ever.
Creating product documentation in a manufacturer’s own language is the job of technical writers. Technical translators then handle the task of rendering this technical documentation in the languages of other target markets around the world. The more these two teams work together, the better the end results will be – and that goes for both the original user instructions and the translations.
Technical writers typically remain in close contact with corresponding development teams and are familiar with the products they write about. As a result, they can sometimes slide unwittingly into writing instructions that assume a certain amount of basic knowledge a layperson may not have. Translators, on the other hand, are usually external service providers who don’t have practical experience with the products in question. This makes them better at putting themselves in a first-time user’s shoes, and they can thus provide technical writers with useful feedback on instructions that need to be more specific or easier to understand.
Technical writers, meanwhile, are a key point of contact for translators when they run into spots that need further clarification. When the two sides work together directly, it’s possible to get questions answered more quickly and avoid bottlenecks in communication.
One of the most important principles of technical writing is the need to keep things simple. By making instructions as clear and understandable as possible, technical writers enable people to make safe and effective use of their products.
To fulfill the simplicity principle, good technical writers focus on the following:
A communication model of this kind not only aids end users in their understanding; it also makes life easier for translators tasked with making product documentation accessible to foreign markets.
Having technical writers and translators collaborate optimizes the process of creating technical documentation in a variety of ways. Ideally, this cooperation starts even before the actual writing and goes on to include every step up to the point a product’s documentation is published in multiple languages.
At the beginning of a project, translators and technical writers should join forces to compile the technical vocabulary that will be required in the languages in question and create terminology databases that are accessible to all those involved. This ensures consistency in describing important concepts and minimizes follow-up questions.
In many cases, translators are the first people to read a text. The translation process then often reveals questions or problems that can be avoided by making slight changes to the original wording. Furthermore, minor mistakes or inconsistencies in technical documentation sometimes don’t come to light until this work begins. By providing for additional quality control, close collaboration between writers and translators helps improve documents in all the languages at hand.
Having a direct line of communication between technical writers and translators can save a considerable amount of time when questions arise. Imagine, for example, that an operating manual needs to be translated from English into German. The text contains variables that require a different article (der, die, or das) in German depending on the word replaced in each case. Without knowing which word was substituted by a given variable, it’s impossible to construct a grammatically correct sentence. However, this problem can be solved in no time simply by consulting the author.
This cooperation also offers another advantage in that it enables technical writers to submit product documentation for translation in phases. By speeding up the translation process, this ultimately results in a shorter time-to-market.
All these aspects show how teamwork quickly pays off in creating international product documentation. If you need assistance with technical writing, translation, or the entire process, feel free to contact us. Our native-language experts will be happy to provide you with proactive support you in creating both internal and external technical documentation.