Translation and Technical Writing: A two-way relationship


By Corina Sirb, Technical Writer

Translating technical documents is a complex and specialized process that requires a high level of knowledge in the field and a well written, accurate, user-friendly, and to the point document or text.

I personally had to learn the hard truths about the issues that can occur when translating a technical document while managing the translation of an Autodesk Revit book. One thing to keep in mind is that translation and writing is a two-way relationship, and when one is poorly done, both are ultimately affected.



Based on my experiences as a Technical Writer, here are five key elements to keep in mind when writing technical documentation and translating it:

  • Use clear and concise language: It is very important that the original document written in the source language is clear, concise, and comprehensive from a user’s perspective. Subject matter experts often get lost in thought while writing down all the features of a software, slowly disregarding the small yet significant details that a less experienced user might require. These missing details can affect the overall understanding of the context, and thus the translated text can become unclear, confusing, and impede users from completing their tasks.
  • Keep it consistent: When companies have multiple people working on the same documentation over many years, the original voice gets lost and the text structure and language may end up changing. The source document must be consistent in its writing style and content format. Sentences have to be short, simple, and void of idioms, while verbs have to be used in the same tense, preferably present. Although this might become too repetitive, this actually helps the translators and translation software to more easily identify such repetitions and thus translate them at a faster pace. This also helps the translator focus on new entries and new terminology.
  • Take advantage of translation tools: Professional translations should always be accompanied by translation memory (TM) software and Computer Assisted Translation (CAT) tools. This helps maintain overall consistency of the text and significantly reduces the time required to translate phrases and terms during the translation process. Not to mention the costs saved as translation companies charge reduced rates for repeated content and terminology.
  • Keep it in context: The translators must keep in mind the context of the source documentation. I have seen firsthand the original meaning of a text get lost in translation because the translators were almost robotically translating each sentence independently, disregarding the context of that specific documentation.
  • Check your work: Lastly, translators must ensure that significant words are not lost or cut down from the translation. A good example I recently came across involved a series of steps in an exercise on creating walls for a building. The original text required the user to “move the wall 20mm down” however, the translator either forgot or mistakenly did not translate the word down and so the user was unable to complete that particular step and the ones following due to a simple missed word.


If you’re looking for either technical writing services or support managing a translation project, reach out to ASCENT for a project quote and free consultation. New projects may qualify for free editing up to 2500 words!



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