In today’s global economy, manufacturers often need to prepare technical translations of product instructions (i.e., MSDS’s, technical manuals, user guides) in multiple languages for markets around the globe. This is necessary when a single country has more than one national or commonly spoken language, such as English and Spanish in the United States, or when a company is trying to break into a new foreign market.
When translating technical documents, the core of the task is to faithfully convert the words from one language into another so that consumers and local vendors clearly understand how a product works. To guarantee that translations successfully convey the intended meaning, best practice requires the use of professional translation services and technical reviewers who are also subject matter experts (SME). An SME helps ensure the accuracy of the final technical translation (e.g. user manual or operator’s guide), and can also help identify issues that may exist with the original documentation.
Manufacturers are increasingly asking engineers to write user instructions for the products they’ve developed. On one hand, this makes perfect sense. The engineers know the products inside-out, so they can quickly put the instructions together, and there’s no need to spend additional money outsourcing the project to technical writers. On the other hand, a technical document produced by engineers can prove more difficult for the end user to understand and follow. Here’s how:
- Accuracy – The engineer’s area of expertise is engineering – not writing. Engineer-written text may contain grammatical errors or irregularities that even the most determined consumer will struggle to understand.
- Exclusion – It’s not uncommon for an engineer to consider a product’s features and uses to be self-evident, because, to an engineer, they are. It can be difficult for an engineer to accurately identify all the features and concepts that require explanation for an end user.
- Jargon – Engineers may use terminology that a user will not easily recognize.
Improving User Manuals with SME’s
A professional technical translation service can connect you with an SME who is capable of extracting the intended meaning from the original document and deliver it with enhanced clarity in the target language. He or she will understand the subject well enough to recognize when an explanation is insufficient or irrelevant for end users, and can make any necessary refinements. Essentially, an SME translator may need to perform two technical translations:
- one from engineer-speak to user-speak; and
- one from the original language to the target language.
A strong relationship between the manufacturer and the LSP that allows two-way communication and collaboration can significantly streamline the document translation process. LSPs can help by:
- Providing instruction for engineers who are writing user manuals, or assisting them in the use of Simplified Standard English (STE), a form of writing designed to produce translation-ready text.
- Making sure the engineers have the tools they need to produce a consistently formatted original that follows the manufacturer’s style guide.
- Cleaning up original text to resolve any potential problems prior to technical translation.
Translating Text Within Technical Art
An especially difficult issue when translating user documentation is translating the text within technical art, such as figures, diagrams, illustrations, or any other type of embedded graphics. These may have been authored in specialized formats produced by computer-aided design (CAD) software, vector illustration, spreadsheets, or photography applications. A professional translation agency can help devise strategies for translating such text and meticulously preserving its meaning in the target language.
Good technical Documentation Results in a Better User Experience
Ease-of-use of a manufacturer’s product is one of the critical ingredients in a positive customer relationship. This leads to repeat business and recommendations that help the manufacturer maintain a reputation for excellence.
Putting effort into high quality technical translations that help ensure a rewarding user experience is more than just something a manufacturer is expected to do — it’s a shrewd long-term strategy for success in international markets.