These days, technical communicators are generally aware that translators almost always use computer aided translation (CAT) tools to work more quickly and produce a translation with the highest degree of consistency possible – given the source text and reference material provided.

This already provides some benefit to translation purchasers in terms of quality. But is there another way in which technical communicators take advantage of the benefits of CAT tools, not only to cut translation costs but improve translation quality during the development and writing stages of technical documents?

If technical communicators have translation in mind from the very start, there are several easy tips and tricks that can be used to reduce costs and improve quality in the long term.

How do CAT tools work?

Computer aided translation tools work by segmenting an original text to be translated into modules. CAT tools use elements such as punctuation marks, cross references, tags and index markers to identify where a module begins and ends. This means that technical communicators need to keep these elements in mind the same way that CAT tools interpret them when planning a document.

The advantage of segmentation by CAT tools is that every translated segment is saved in a database or Translation Memory System and can be reused if an identical or similar segment reappears in the same text or document featuring similar technical language. If a company orders several documents to be translated (and if the documents share a degree of similarity), ensuring an identical format for every document would significantly reduce the cost of each translation. This is because CAT tools automatically complete a portion of the translation based on the segments stored in their Translation Memory System.

Optimizing Form, Content, and Style

When it comes to technical documentation getting the most out of CAT tools, it is imperative that texts are written clearly and concisely formated.

The rules laid out in the international standard for technical writing – EN 82079 – support technical communicators in the development of clear and concise information products. This, in turn, helps translators to produce unambiguous and high-quality translations, without having to spend time explaining every step with the translation purchaser. Ultimately, this means that end users also receive an information product which is easy to read and understand that does not contain confusing, inconsistent or contradictory information.

So, what are these rules?

  • Wherever information (such as warnings or safety instructions) are used in a document, translators should check whether there are previously researched and approved text modules which can be used. There is a good chance that this kind of module has been previously translated. Reusing such modules will keep documents consistent and save on translation costs.   (Tools such as Acrolinx and Congree also come in handy).
  • Always end complete sentences with a period, even if they are short sentences. This will ensure that the translator interprets the type of information in the segment correctly (e.g. a heading vs. an instruction).
  • Avoid synonyms: Every time a new technical term appears in a text, the translator will assume that a new concept is being introduced and will attempt to use a new vocabulary in the translation to describe the concept. Ultimately, the end user might assume that different concepts are being referred to. Using consistent terminology will speed up the translation process and improve translation quality.
  • Avoid run-on sentences, redundancies and ambiguous formulations.
  • Write a new sentence for each instruction. This also increases the probability that those instructions can be reused in multiple sections of a document.
  • Consistently use the same style for the same type of information. For example, use the imperative for instructions and the present tense in descriptions.
  • Never use apparent specifications such as “some”, “several”, “generally” etc. Keep sentences simple and precise.
  • Always provide the text for translation in an editable format. This will significantly reduce formatting costs.

By keeping these rules in mind when developing content, you are already taking a step in the right direction. However, by following and sticking the rules above, developing a detailed information database using will become childs play.

Good luck! Hopefully, it won’t be long until the savings become noticable!