Friday, 8 July 2011

10 Tips for Writing International Technical Content

On the Content Wrangler, Michael Kriz, founder and president of Acclaro posted a blog on tips for writing technical content for global dissemination.

To effectively scale a global business, you and your writers should keep these 10 things in mind as you build out communication for a diverse number of audiences:

1. Use global English – For every native speaker of English, there are about three non-native speakers. That means that of the one billion people who are believed to speak some form of English, 750 million of them likely speak some form of hybrid English that may incorporate aspects of their native language or are highly influenced by factors like pop culture vocabulary or advertising. It’s important that your communication in English is understandable to all English speakers, which means short, simple sentences and no idiomatic expressions or cultural references. Or, if you are forced to include local jargon or culturally-specific phrases, we suggest vetting expressions and examples for global readiness and tagging them for local adaptations.

2. Keep it concise – In addition to using global English, brevity is important for straightforward translation. Shorter sentences, no double negatives, and fewer “mini-words” (a, at, the, and) ease understanding by your translators, which will result in faster and more accurate translations into target languages.

3. Use consistent terminology - While you might be tempted to mix up your vocabulary for variety, remember that good technical communication and comprehension depend on using the same word to describe the same concept over and over again. When delivering original, English content to foreign audiences or translating that content, this is even more important. More variety means more room for confusion and mistranslation.Using consistent terminology also facilitates machine translation (MT).

4. Check your symbols - Using an image to describe something may seem like a great trick, because it cuts down on your word count for translation. However, not all symbols carry the same meaning across borders. A red hexagonal stop sign in Japan, for example, does not mean stop!

5. Use XML - XML is the King of File Types when it comes to writing for international audiences. Formatting is embedded in code that typically gets externalized during the translation process. Because of this, the engineering end is lighter as it’s less likely to have the same problems as native MS Word, FrameMaker, InDesign or Quark files.

6. Get ready for text to grow - Text expansion is a fact of translation. Expect it and plan for extra space or automatic resizing where possible. It mainly becomes an issue when text is used within images and must fit into a certain fixed width or layout. Many European languages end up 20% longer than English, so consider that when creating original design, including artwork, graphics, and charts. On the other hand, your text may “shrink” on a page when translating into some Asian languages or converting U.S. letter size paper to A4 for many foreign markets.

7. Use image best practices - For example rather than embed graphics in a document, link them. The same goes for reusable components of text. This simplifies replacement when you localize those files, and makes future updates more seamless. Linking graphics also reduces file size, which makes it friendlier for translation tools.

8. Master your Content Management System (CMS) – Every writer — technical or not — should be aware of the essentials required to make your CMS truly global, easily updatable, while helping to ensure version control. With various features on your CMS [mentioned on the blog], you’ll be ready to streamline your multilingual content workflows with your translation provider through automated, rule-based handoffs.

9. Get your files in order, and provide instructions – If you’re working outside the structured constraints of a CMS, keep your source files organized to make the translation process easier for you and your supplier. This will prevent needless organizational efforts across all languages and avoid administrative errors on both sides. Include all relevant files for translation in working condition, no extraneous or unused files, and use an ordered folder structure. When handing off files to your translation provider, be sure to define the scope of the project, tools and versions as well as the desired deliverables. Specify any information needed to generate deliverables including output format (PDFs, HTML, image types, etc.) and settings.

10. Think mobile - After all, it’s the future! And, in some circles, it’s the primary way business is conducted today. Many writers have already started adapting their style to the way people consume content on the mobile web — in bite-sized chunks. When creating or preparing text for foreign markets, it’s smart to start thinking about how much of your audience will be reading your content on their smartphone. In many cases, it’s a larger percentage than you think. Begin thinking about how this can impact the way you should craft your message now; it will likely mean a smoother translation and localization effort later.

More on: The Content Wrangler

1 comment:

  1. Great post.The importance of a technical translation being accurate and efficient can indeed not be overstated. Especially in the ever faster moving world of globalized business, successful information and technology transfer within multinational businesses can make the difference between win or lose.