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  • Writer's pictureGustavo Lecomte - Client Services Manager

Manufacturing Documentation Translation: What To Translate, What Not To Translate?

It may be tempting to offer only part of your manufacturing documentation in translation, but think it through

I recently saw a post on LinkedIn from a technical writer wondering if it was ok to skip translating some of their boilerplate content, like legal and safety warnings, that are required in their home country. It’s not a low level decision because it offers the potential for liability. Fortunately there is a way to eliminate a certain amount of redundant translation of things like Terms of Service, Legal Disclaimers, Safety statements, and other commonly found, but often unread content.

What if it is only required in certain markets?

There are two reasons why boilerplate content exists. The first is legal liability determined by company lawyers. The second is regulatory requirements imposed by governments and other regulatory organizations. Both of these requirements may vary from country to country. This opens up the temptation to skip them when ordering translation for markets that don’t require certain content.

One strategy: Include information required in the most highly regulated countries in everything

If the source material was created in a highly regulated country like Germany or many of the European Union member countries, there is likely quite a lot invested in this material. When compared to the legal investment, translation cost can be relatively minimal. One safe strategy is to include all the content required in a highly regulated environment when entering a less regulated market. Increasingly, these highly regulated zones become models for doing business in other areas. We’ve seen this with those ubiquitous GDPR privacy notices that have become de facto required on all websites that use cookies (basically, all web sites).

Standardize all your boilerplate into structured content

Structured content is content that has a specific purpose and can often be repurposed across a documentation set. Once created, each content item becomes a library item in a content management system and can be selected for inclusion in any new doc with a few clicks. Something like a TOS (Terms Of Service) doc can work across an entire product line. Going to structured content approach ensures less duplication of effort.

Our translation memory systems eliminate redundant translation

If you send us a series of projects for translation, we run it through a system that identifies chunks of content that have already been translated. If it is a 100% match, it will not get sent out for translation again. If it is a 90% or more match, it can be flagged for review by the translator to determine whether it needs to be translated. This information is stored in the translation memory application in a data silo dedicated to your company. Each time you send us content for translation, that memory is applied to the content to eliminate unnecessary translation. The savings realized are passed on to the client.

Translation pricing is based on word count

Because of this pricing model, developing a standardized library of required content, that is reused in many documentation projects, can save you a lot of money and time. Translate once, reuse, and move on. One way to measure this is to take any content you regularly copy and paste, and save it in a library on your content management system, or even a dedicated folder if you are still working in older documentation tools. The problem with the folder approach is version control. If one user copies it then makes small changes, it can get flagged for translation again. Centralizing it in a CMS offers version control tools that eliminate these costly random changes. If a change is made it is automatically reflected across all uses of that content

A challenge for tech writers and documentation managers

While this article focuses on specific translation decisions that address manufacturing documentation translation, the recommendation of moving to a CMS represents a fundamental change in the way a business manages their information assets. The major challenges to implementing a new content development and distribution process are the tech writers and managers who create the original content. They have to buy into changing everything about the way they work, essentially going from siloed word processing workflows, to working in a centralized system with content being managed like data.

Manufacturing documentation, when translations are added in, can be a large complex issue

While this can be a painful, and initially costly process, for a large organization creating large sets of documentation, training, marketing, and other content in a variety of publication formats, including multimedia and multi-device publication, it will be far more efficient. If you are creating tens of thousands of content items (not unusual in large product lines or complex information businesses) and you are translating into multiple languages (it is not unusual to be translating into ten or more languages), efficiencies from these changes will make an enormous difference in the costs of translation and distribution of translated content into global markets.

Benefits: Lower errors and omissions, faster turnaround, easier updating and elimination of redundant writing and translation

Each of the above benefits, when viewed from the lens of translation management, can represent significant savings. As global markets expand, translation becomes a major cost center and a potentially major roadblock to market entry. Investing in advanced systems for content creation and management can remove those roadblocks or make them easier to navigate.

The takeaway: Modern content management systems and processes show the highest rate of return with translation.

There are many benefits to going to a structured content strategy long term. Your docs become far more flexible and you are able to respond far faster to new product introductions and orders requiring translated documentation. There are many additional benefits, but if you require translation, a content management strategy will see the highest measurable ROI, out of the box, with translation savings.


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