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Palexgroup - Understanding Technical Translation – An Extensive Guide

Milena Milyaeva

Linguistic Assistant Group Lead
24 December 2021

Understanding Technical Translation – An Extensive Guide

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What is a technical translation? Generally speaking, it’s a translation of materials related to technical and scientific subject domains, completed by translation experts or by a machine. From engineering to healthcare, technical translations surround and complete our everyday life. Thanks to the localization of technical documents, we can enjoy descriptions of product features, and functionalities in our language, give assembly and how-to-use instructions, and more.

For a business, technical translations have profitable applications. Opening a branch in a foreign country, bringing the product to the international market, entering a partnership with a foreign company— all this requires precisely localized documentation. Instructions, outlines, and blueprints, written in technical or scientific language, are translated, providing an understanding between business owners, branch workers, and customers around the world.

If you are interested in getting technical translation services or are just curious about translations in general, this article will provide you with structured knowledge on the subject. Today, we’ll cover what technical texts and terminology are, how technical translations are carried out, and why technical translators are important.


(click to show)
  1. What is a Technical Text?
  2. Technical Document Types
    1. Process-based documentation
    2. Product-based documentation
  3. Who is a Technical Translator?
  4. What is a Technical Terminology?
  5. Technical Documents Translation Best Practices
    1. How to Create a Good Translation of a Technical Text?
    2. Tips to Step-up in Your Translation Game
  6. Technical Translation Quality Assurance
    1. Top challenges
    2. Automated Quality Assurance Tools
  7. Trust Technical Translations to Palex

What is a Technical Text?

A technical text describes the methodologies, instructions, or processes required to perform a certain set of activities or acquire scientific knowledge. To put it simply, the purpose of a technical text is to educate or instruct.

Such texts are descriptive, precise, demonstrative, and coherent. They are used as guides by the person unfamiliar with the activity in question. They provide knowledge of a tool or methodology application, blueprints for construction, etc.

A typical technical text has the following features:

  • Uses technical terminology and professional jargon;
  • Written clearly and precisely;
  • Includes instructions for methodology or tool application;
  • Presents statements that are objective and true;
  • Avoids ambiguity;
  • Includes arguments and explanations;
  • Has the purpose of transferring information to a reader.

The complexity of technical documentation correlates with the field of study and the intended audience.

Technical Document Types

Technical documentation is presented in many forms. The variety of technical documentation is the result of the diversity of the applications of said documents. Imagine that you are developing a product. To get it to the market, you would have to write:
  • Proposal of the project and project outlines for the stakeholders;
  • Specification documents for the development team;
  • Requirements for the design team;
  • Project reports;
  • The instructions for the end-users.

And that is only a small part of the documents involved in the creation of a single product. Some of them will require technical translation, some of them won’t. To simplify the difference between all types of technical documentation, they were put into two categories: product-based and process-based.

Process-based documentation

This documentation relates to the development cycle. The purpose of process-based documentation is to outline the steps of the process and is intended for developers and stakeholders.

The examples of process-based documentation are:

  • Project proposals, goals, and timeframes;
  • Project standards, business requirements, and expectations;
  • Product requirements;
  • Project plans, outlines, and roadmaps;
  • Reports and updates.

Product-based documentation

This type of documentation can be referred to as “user documentation” as it informs the user of the product features and functionality. Manuals and “how-to-use” instructions are also product-based documents.

The examples of product-based documentation are:

  • Guides, installation, and troubleshooting manuals, tutorials, FAQs, wiki-sources, etc.;
  • Release notes;
  • User experience documents;
  • API documentation;
  • Technical specifications;
  • Source code.

When it comes to translation, certain expertise in the respective field is vital, as the documents often include profound terminology and expressions inherent to the technical field.

Who is a Technical Translator?

To no surprise, a technical translator is a professional that works with technical translations. Such specialists have both linguistic and technical expertise. As they are responsible for applying their knowledge to generate translations, technical translators may also provide technical writing services.

In their work, they encounter various technical documentation, from manuals to legal documentation such as contracts, agreements, patents, etc. To be a successful translator, one should possess a set of specific skills:

  • Advanced knowledge of the target language. It is best for the translator to be a native speaker of the target language or at least have corresponding proficiency.
  • Writing skills. Technical documentation has a specific tone, which the expert should be ready to follow in translation.
  • Research skills. Technical translators have to conduct extensive research in their field. Terminology is updated constantly, so the expert should be open to learning.
  • Good judgment. Translators often have to make decisions: what structure is best to use, where to research a particular term, what is the right vocabulary for the situation. This is why the ability to make the right decisions is a vital skill for the translator.
  • Expertise in a field of study. The expert must possess extensive and precise knowledge of a technical field, use terminology and jargon.
  • Certification. There are a few certification standards that apply to the translation industry. The newest one is ISO 17100 certificate, which provides requirements that define a quality translation service.

It must be noted that technical translators should also follow rules of ethics surrounding the subject of their work. They might be contracted to work with sensitive information such as legal records, research, or be included in the details of product specifications. Processing documents that are highly sensitive and secret requires responsibility.

What is a Technical Terminology?

Technical documentation essentially utilizes technical terms. Technical and scientific fields have their own unique set of words, phrases, and collocations that deliver information to members related to the field. These are what are called technical terms. Terms that carry concentrated meanings have developed in a field over time.

Technical words can be found in field-specific glossaries and dictionaries. Terms serve communication purposes, so the experts of a certain field can understand each other. It’s important to understand that there’s no adequate replacement for the technical term in ordinary language.

Usage of technical terminology should be accurate, otherwise, it may lead to a document that is difficult to understand even for a specialist. When writing technical documentation, it is suggested to:

  • Consider the audience. The technical document should match the audience’s level of understanding;
  • Be consistent with terms. Choose a single term and use it throughout.
  • Provide explanations. If you are considering using a specialized term that may not be familiar to your audience, provide them with a definition.
  • Compose a list of terminology. A list of terminology would not only help your audience to refresh their knowledge but make the translator’s work easier.

Companies that are closely connected to specific spheres of business (medical, engineering, etc.) commonly dispose of a certain set of professional dictionaries and glossaries. It’s also not uncommon for a company to have a personal brand style guide that includes specific grammar standards and tone guidelines. Style guides must be considered in translation, to keep company materials consistent.

Technical Documents Translation Best Practices

How to Create a Good Translation of a Technical Text?

The translation process can be compared to a recipe. Every recipe consists of a list of ingredients and step-by-step instructions. The ingredients for a perfect translation are the specialist’s expertiseexperience, and a set of assisting tools. As for the instructions, take notice that, like in every recipe, the chef might adjust the process based on their knowledge. Generally, the translation process sums up to 5 steps:

1. Analysis

At the beginning of the translation process, the translator reads, understands, and determines the context of the document. The analysis helps to define the author’s style, tone, and register (formal, scientific, or general) of the document. At this stage, the translator might ponder what resources and techniques will be required to translate the document.

2. Comprehension

At this stage, the translator assesses the degree of document complexity. They look closely at the terminology to determine if their expertise alone is enough to translate the document or they will have to work on something they’ve never seen before. The translator might take notes of unfamiliar terminology to conduct research and use additional resources like glossaries, dictionaries, expert consultation, company lists of terms, etc.

3. Translation

Based on the research done in previous steps, the expert translates the document. However, if the translation is not linear—the expert may shift from different steps of the process. They can return to the research stage to clarify a term they missed or revise the written material as they are translating. They may also apply computer-assisted translation (CAT) tools to refine the quality of translation.

4. Revision

Revisions are very important to support the quality of the translation. Revisions include edits and suggestions from other experts, proofreading from a native speaker, even revision from a lawyer, for example, if the documentation includes legal information. Translators may use automated quality assurance tools to speed up the process. Revisions are usually done throughout the entire translation cycle.

5. Technical writing

The final draft is compiled from revised versions of the translation and edited according to the tone and register of the original document and the author’s style. It’s considered best to follow the structure of the original document – merging or splitting paragraphs is not advised.

Tips to Step-up in Your Translation Game

Let’s get to the spices of our translation recipe—some tips that will improve your work as a translator.

1. Save your time

Everyone knows that time equals money. Technical translation is a complex task and to reach tight deadlines, you’ll have to adapt and optimize your working process. Here’s some advice on how to speed up your work:

  • Use CAT tools. There is a wide variety of tools that handle almost everything—from terminology to grammar to project managements—that help translators to structure their work;
  • Use automated quality assurance tools. Machines are more perceptive than the human eye. Use quality assurance tools to fix mistakes you overlooked in a tiring work process.
  • Create glossaries using term extractors. These tools (semi-) automatically build glossaries from the input text, so you don’t have to manually compile a list of terms.
  • Don’t underestimate your computer. Most of the tools are compatible even with laptops with low memory, so don’t be afraid to use your computer to its full capacity.

2. Mind the quality

No client welcomes sloppy, careless work. In technical translation, it is very important to keep up the quality, since a single mistake in the documentation might bring financial loss to the client. Use the help of your colleagues and modern tools for quality assurance, take courses that will improve your translation quality. Be thoughtful and precise from the very beginning to avoid extra rework, fines, and loss of clients.

3. Focus on your client

Your reputation on the market depends on the quality of work submitted to a client. It is advised to provide your clients with the best experience you can. Listen carefully to their requests and vision, follow their requirements, and provide a quality product. Communicate professionally in a timely manner, be active, and give suggestions if you know how to benefit the project. Go the extra mile—and you’ll be rewarded with a satisfied client, a reputation boost, and a handsome paycheck.

4. Educate yourself

Technical translators have to balance between excelling in the knowledge of languages, perfecting their craft, and being aware of the latest news in their chosen field. As an expert, you have to seek best practices wherever you can: visit translation communities and forums, take insights from blogs, and attend events. To enhance your technical vocabulary, read the latest journal articles and books related to your field. The acquired knowledge will boost your confidence and make your work easier.

5. Know the industry standards

Different companies and domains use various standards and metrics, and it is your job as a translator to distinguish them and apply them accurately. Stay in touch with changes in the industry you work in to avoid misunderstanding and keep all metrics in concordance.

Technical Translation Quality Assurance

The QA is an integral part of any project, be it software development or technical translation. Editing and proofreading occur almost at every stage, as the technical translation is a very delicate matter that can’t allow discrepancies and liberties of the translation.

Top challenges

Terminology and consistency

In technical translations, there isn’t much room for wordplay, excessive usage of idioms, and expressive means. The beauty of the technical text is in its straightforwardness and quality, so for an editor, it’s important to make sure the text won’t change significantly in the tone of voice due to translation liberties.

QA experts successfully deal with the aforementioned challenges, providing consistent and accurate texts. To aid human expertise, automated QA tools are developed.

Right tone of voice

Documentation and metrics walk hand in hand. This is where technical translation becomes tricky, as an incorrect conversion of product measures will result in damages, malfunctions, and even health hazards.

Measurements and metrics

Technical terminology is only one of the elements that contribute to the quality of a translation. Experts should keep track of the terms they use and eliminate multiple translations for the same term. Consistency in translating technical texts is vital to avoid confusion and misunderstandings.

Automated Quality Assurance Tools

But wait, you would say, how can a machine proofread another machine or a human? The answer is—machines can and machines do! There are multiple tools for quality assurance of the translated text using modern technology. These tools won’t rule out the human expert, but provide great help to editors.

Automated QA tools not only contribute to the quality of the text but speed up the editing process. These tools detect errors in consistency, terminology, spelling, and grammar. Some of them can be integrated into translation managers, some have internal editors. If you’re curious about existing QA solutions, check out Verifika—a tool developed by Palex.

Trust Technical Translations to Palex

Technical translation is a challenging task and it includes a lot of hidden challenges. Considering the vitality of technical documentation, it is best to delegate this task to a professional technical translation services provider. We at Palex have extensive experience working with technical and scientific translations. We understand the importance of documentation and provide the best quality of translation. Our expert team works with over 80 languages and has experience working with multiple fields, from Life Sciences to e-learning. Feel free to contact us with any questions about translation and localization at [email protected].

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