Best Practices for Preparing Documents for Translation
There are a number of steps that one can take to prepare documents that are to be translated that will maximize quality, minimize cost, foster consistency, and quicken translation project turn-around.
  1. Produce and edit documents to be concise
    You may recall your English teacher stress that quality writing should generally be clear and concise such that each word, each sentence, and each paragraph counts. Such writing style is also beneficial when submitting material to be professionally translated. It is general practice in the professional translation industry for translation companies to price translation jobs by the number of words (or characters in the case of some Asian languages) of the source material to be translated. Thus, articulate, concise sentences not only increase the quality of the source documents, but also cost less to have professionally translated.
  2. Where relevant, allow ample space in each page for varying lengths of translated content
    In materials where there are embedded diagrams, tables, or graphs associated with descriptive text, specific page layouts as in documents created by desktop publishing tools, or other such documents where the location of text on each page is important, then taking care to leave extra space on each source language page will facilitate easier, faster and lower cost translations. Different languages take up different amounts of space when translated. If there is adequate space on each page, then the translators and desktop publishing professionals will have an easier time fitting the translated text in the appropriate locations.
  3. Where possible, overlay text over graphics using the main text editor rather than embedding the text within graphical object files
    There are generally two ways that text can be added to graphical objects that are located within documents and web-based pages: (1) Create the text within the main document or main web page text but positioned over the graphical object (e.g., a text box if in MS Word or within the html and positioned via a stylesheet if in a web page); or (2) Entering the text within the graphical object file itself such as creating the text inside a text box within an Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Fireworks file for the graphic. It is far less time consuming for translators to translate text that is located within the main document or main web-page than it is for them to have to open up each graphical file to perform the translation. Thus method (1) above leads to a far more cost-effective and more rapid turnaround when it is time to have the material professionally translated.
  4. Use fonts and typefaces that support international characters
    Some fonts and typefaces (a typeface is a set of fonts in the same style – also called a font family) are not unicode (needed for Asian character languages) and/or do not contain certain alphabets (e.g., Greek letters, Russian letters, etc.). By choosing fonts and typefaces that are unicode and contain all international alphabets (or at least those alphabets into which you want to translate), professional translators will be able to use the same fonts and typefaces in the translated versions of the materials as that of the source language. This will promote consistency across languages and minimize needed guesswork by the translators and/or the need for the translators to confirm with the customer the fonts and typefaces that should be used.
  5. For material intended, from the start, to be translated into other languages, it is best to avoid metaphors, sayings, slogans, imagery, slang and other such wording that is uniquely specific to the source language and/or culture
    Content that is expressed in a way that is highly specific to the language and culture of the source language can often be very difficult to present in foreign languages and culture that invoke the same understanding and response in foreign language audiences as is attained in the source language audiences. Where possible, a universally understandable descriptive will enable better consistency in the presentation of the content across languages.
  6. For documents and web-based pages that are in color, choose colors that are appropriate for all target language audiences of the material
    Some colors convey specific moods or meanings in various regions. Take the concept of "Love" for example. In North America, Eastern and Western Europe, and Japan, the color most often associated with it is red. In countries with heavy Hindu communities, green (and in some contexts, pink as well) is associated with "love" ("Heart Chakra"). In many Native American cultures, it is yellow. And, in many African cultures, blue is the color of love.
  7. When using templates, ensure that their design can be easily adjusted to accommodate different language structures
    While western languages including English, Spanish, French, and German are written and read from left to right, other languages can flow in other directions. For example, Japanese can be written top to bottom with the direction of the vertical columns going from right to left. Hebrew is written horizontally, but from right to left. Similarly, page flow can also be in different directions based on the language. For example, while books written in English are opened from the left side of the book and read through to the right side of the book, those in Japanese are usually opened from the right side and read through to the left side of the book. Therefore, consideration of these characteristics of your target languages prior to creating your templates will enable you to create designs that can be easily adapted to the structure of your target languages.
  8. Create a glossary of terms, phrases, and sentences that have specific meanings to your company and/or are utilized repeatedly in your documents; the glossary can later be used as a component in the creation of a translation glossary
    When documents and other materials are translated into target languages, translation glossaries can be used to provide an added means for enabling consistency and management of core messages and terminology throughout all translations and across languages. The glossaries can be additionally valuable for carrying these benefits to future translation work as they are repositories that are maintained and refined over time and re-used in new projects with your company. A glossary can be in any form that is convenient for your team such as a list of terms and their meanings within a spreadsheet. Please refer to our Translation Glossaries pages for futher details.
  9. Where possible, in the locations where first used in a document, spell out the meaning of initialisms and acronyms that are not universally known across your target language audiences
    For example, the acronym (i.e., word formed by combining parts of other words) "modem" which is derived from "MOdulator" and "DEModulator" is a universally accepted acronym that generally does not need to be defined. Similarly, the initialism (i.e., combination of letters – usually the first letter of each word – that stands for a phrase) "IBM" which often stands for "International Business Machines" might not need to be defined due to its ubiquitous use worldwide. Other initialisms and acronyms, especially those specific to an organization or industry, are best defined when they are first used in a document or set of documents. When defined at first use in this manner, usually the translated version can also include the translated meaning at first use and then simply use the actual initialism or acronym at other locations. For example, the initialism "SCM" would be a good candidate to consider defining at first use. It can refer to a number of phrases including "Supply Chain Management" and "Software Configuration Management."
  10. Consider the objectives for using your translation and match those with the available translation methods available
    There are a range of options for having your material translated. For cases where simply gaining a light gist of the meaning and conclusions written in a foreign language article solely for your own understanding and for which significant decisions will not be based, then simply using a free online translation tool such as Google Translate may be sufficient. On the other end of the spectrum, where accuracy and quality are important and/or for which important decisions will be based, then having the material professionally translated is generally the most appropriate, safest course to take. There are projects in which material is first translated by advanced machine translation and then proofread and edited by professional translators. This approach can be ideal for many engagements, especially where there is a continues stream of high volume material that needs to be translated rapidly, with high quality, and at highly competitive cost (e.g., field service calls conducted globally that are translated and submitted back to the central management center for that division of a corporation). See our Machine Translation pages for more details.


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