Safety manuals protect families, individuals and employees. User manuals ensure that all the vital details of your product reach your consumers…

From operating complicated machinery to knowing what to do in your new job, manuals and technical documents play major roles in every industry.

In fact, we’re so used to every product we buy coming with a manual that the only time we really notice their presence is when they’re missing – or poorly written.

When marketing your products overseas, translating your technical manuals is a critical step in the preparation process.

In this article, we’ll take a look at why manuals are important in general and why they’re doubly important when targeting foreign markets. We’ll finish with some language industry-insider tips for getting the very best from your technical manual translation services.

Translating your technical manuals, handbooks and guides

Technical manual translation services are what the translation and localisation industry calls the type of service you’ll need to translate your manuals.

These services are designed to accurately localise any technical manual, guide or handbook so that your new audience – who may hail from a very different culture as well as speaking a completely different language – receive exactly the same message you intended to convey with your original document.

Whether it’s the employee handbook for team members in your new overseas branch, user instruction manuals for your latest product or technical specifications for a component you’re having manufactured abroad, the accuracy of the translated version of your manual could be the difference between the success and failure of your company – or, in some cases, life and death.

That’s why this is always a task for an LSP (Language Service Provider) rather than something which can be safely accomplished by employees who happen to speak the language in question.

Different types of manuals

There is a huge variety when it comes to types of manuals. They vary by purpose and by industry.

The information in this article should be equally useful whether you need to translate:

1. Product and instruction manuals
2. Set-up and installation manuals
3. User and operating manuals
4. Software manuals
5. Operations manuals
6. Audit manuals
7. Employee manuals and handbooks
8. Policy manuals
9. Electronic manuals
10. Technical manuals
11. Crisis management manuals
12. Safety manuals

Other types of documents which are very similar to manuals include:

  • Guides – including assembly guides, instruction guides, patent guides and applications, e-guides and maintenance guides.
  • Handbooks – including HR handbooks, office and employee handbooks, business codes of ethics and educational handbooks of all kinds.

Why manuals are important in general

Even before you get round to translating your manual – with all the huge increases in consumer reach this can give you – creating a manual can be a very useful and profitable exercise:

Improve the user experience

A well-written manual increases the quality of a product or service by making it easier to use and understand.

This has the handy side-effect of reducing the number of complaints or requests for clarification which you receive.

Externally, this could mean your customer service team will receive fewer questions thanks to your excellent product or instruction manual. Internally, a good employee handbook will mean less work for your trainers.

This all adds up to saved time and money for your business.

Maintain standards (avoid the knowledge gap)

Manuals are often used in business to maintain consistency within a given company. Each employee will have clear instructions as to how, when and where to do their job and why they should perform tasks in certain ways.

Proper documentation also helps you avoid the so-called “knowledge gaps”. This is where only one person or a small subset of specialists within the company know how to perform a certain task.

The “knowledge gap” can also refer to the difference between what the technical language used by specialists within the company is meant to convey – and what it is understood to mean by generalists or specialists in other fields. Clearing up any possibility of confusion here is another area where manuals have a vital role to play.

Even the very act of writing a manual can help a company or department finalise processes and make them coherent throughout the business’s operations.

Reduced training times

Manuals can set standards for operations within departments and give new hires or newly promoted individuals a clear overview of their new responsibilities.

Reduced training times is a handy side-effect of describing the standards expected of employees and the processes used by a company in the detail which a manual allows. Easier product launches and manufacturingAs well as being a legal requirement in many regions, instruction manuals and the like result in far easier product launches.

Precise technical specifications are, of course, a requirement for high-quality manufacturing processes.

Promote understanding in specialist fields

Distributing technical knowledge in specialist fields like medicine, law or finance is another key role of manuals.

In finance, auditing manuals show how to make financial reports which will be easy to use in accounting. In medicine, all types of medication and medical equipment require user and instruction manuals on top of the manufacturing manuals required for their construction or creation.

Why technical manual translation is important

There are several reasons why properly translating your technical manuals is hugely important for your business:

Reach a wider audienceWhen you want to market your products overseas, translating your technical and safety content is a vital step.

Armed with your translated documentation, you will be able to reach a far wider audience than you can in any single language. Give your international image a boostProperly localised content of all kinds demonstrates your commitment to a region and your respect for a culture and people.

Equally, poor translations can and have resulted in large-scale embarrassment – not to mention millions of pounds in costs – for even major brands. Protect your customers from harm (and you from litigation)When it comes to safety manuals, an accurate translation is a matter of consumer safety as well as sound marketing. It’s also vital when it comes to limiting your liability if a customer uses your product incorrectly and manages to hurt themselves.

Poor translation of safety manuals can result in people getting hurt at home and in the workplace, resulting in injury, lawsuits and negative public perception of your company overseas and at home. To satisfy legal requirementsIn many areas, properly translated safety manuals and other technical content is a legal requirement before a product can be sold there.

Most countries require that safety manuals and instructions be available in their national language/s. Some require multiple languages. For instance, in most parts of Canada, you will need to provide both a French and an English version of your technical documents in order to sell your products.

Getting the best from your technical manual translation services

Translating a technical manual can be a serious challenge. They often contain dense technical language or jargon which may not be found elsewhere – and which may have no direct equivalent in your target language.

This is why making sure your translator has knowledge or experience in the field is important. If they do, they will already have an intimate understanding of the concepts involved.

As well as choosing the right technical manual translation services, there are several things you can do to make localising your manual a little bit easier for everyone involved:

1) Maximise the quality of your original

When you concentrate on producing a high-quality original version of your manual, you make it easier for your translation team to localise what you’ve written.

Make sure you set firm writing standards and have multiple reviewers check your original for errors and clarity. Focus on clarity in your originalWhen writing your technical manual, try to avoid things like:

  • Idioms
  • Humour
  • Puns and word-play
  • References to cultural touchstones

All of these will make your manual much more difficult to translate. It’s always best to strive for clarity rather than complexity. Remember that more words cost moreFull technical manuals can run to heavy word counts. In order to explain complex technical information and processes they often have to.

But don’t forget:

  1. More text costs more to translate – the longer your document is, the more it will probably cost to translate.
  2. Text expands and contracts – depending on the language pair you are translating between, the number of words and the space they take up may grow or shrink. For example, English to German will take up more space. English to French or Spanish will tend to result in your translated document having a bigger word count.

2) A picture can be worth a thousand words

A good graphic or image can – literally – illustrate a point better than several hundred words of text. For example, a diagram displaying how two components are assembled is likely to be easier to understand than a written description of how they fit together.

Two points to bear in mind:

  1. Avoid cultural references – just as with your written content, try to avoid culturally-specific references or anything which might be offensive or inappropriate in other cultures in your images.
  2. Don’t embed text in images – this makes your LSP’s job more difficult and thus your project more costly.

3) Check for pre-translated resources

Lots of technical content, such as safety messages or technical specifications, not only can but needs to be repeated several times even within the same document without a need for variation.

This can be a major advantage for you. Consider:

  1. Some sections may already be translated – if you’ve already had any kind of content translated into this language before, you may already have certain text strings which are the same in this manual ready for use. Be sure to pass these along to your Language Service Provider.
  2. Using a Content Management System (CMS) – a CMS is essentially a way of automating the process above. Your CMS will contain and manage all of the bits of content your manuals are made from. You – or your LSP – can then pick the sections which have already been translated to re-use, saving you time and money.
  3. Repeated translations cost less – translation companies which use Translation Memory (TM) technology – as all the best do – will usually give you a discount for repeated content. This is because the translator will only need to complete the translation of that bit of text once. When it appears again, the Computer Assisted Translation software they use suggests the already-translated string of text automatically.
  4. Using a Translation Management System (TMS) – this is another automation option. It’s ideal for companies which regularly require translation services. A TMS is a single software environment where all of the processes involved in translation take place. All you need to do is add your latest content.

Review your previous projectsIf you’ve already published manuals in this language before:

  1. Review them for tips and lessons to learn – having your clients or translation team offer feedback on previous work before moving onto your new project can lead to improvements.
  2. Review them for design features – if you’ve used a certain layout, design or tone in the past, it may be useful to retain the same one this time to remain true to your brand.

4) Agree on a terminology glossary first

Technical content tends to contain a lot of terminology and phrases which are used repeatedly and which have very specific meanings. This makes consistent, accurate translation even more important than it is with other projects.

The best way to ensure this is to work with your Language Service Provider to create a glossary of terms before your project starts. This guarantees that the language you use in your manual is consistent across the project.

Having an agreed terminology glossary in place will also help you retain consistency across future projects.

Similarly, if you have previously completed translation projects it’s time to search for any glossaries you might have created for those. Test and review your final versionFinal review by in-country specialists is important for all translations. But it’s an absolute must for technical content.

It’s the reason why working a Language Service Provider which prioritises using native-language linguists is always the best idea.

Why using technical translation specialists matters

The fact that almost any technical manual plays a major role in the financial future of a company or the health and safety of potentially thousands of individuals makes using technical translation services from an experienced provider an inarguably vital requirement when localising your technical content.

Always make sure that the professional technical translators assigned to your project have experience or qualifications in your specific industry or field (preferably both) and that they are natives of the language and culture you are targeting.

It’s the only way to be sure that your technical manual conveys precisely the same message – culturally adapted for your new audience – in its localised version as it does in your original.Are you just about to starting marketing your products overseas?

Let’s talk. Asian Absolute regularly completes technical manual translations for companies in every industry, from manufacturing and engineering to legal and life sciences.

Contact us to get a free, no-obligation quote or comment below if you have a quick question.