Barbara Jungwirth of reliable translations llc writes about language and the business of translation.

A Documentation Manager’s Questions About Translation

A recent article in the New York Times* got me thinking about questions a documentation manager might have about the translation process. The article profiled Marcus Sheridan, one of the owners of a pool company, who began to write blog posts in response to common questions potential customers posed and saw his business improve as a result.

As with most writing and translation projects, step one is defining the audience who is expected to read the text. The concerns of private persons looking to have their personal documents translated for a specific purpose will be different from those of a small business owner wanting to expand sales  to one or two countries. And the needs of a documentation manager in a large corporation that sells its products around the world are different again.

Let’s assume that a mid-sized company based in a small town in Germany manufactures widgets. Domestic sales have been flat recently because most potential widget customers have already bought the device. Since it is a high-quality product, few widgets need to be replaced. The company is therefore looking for new markets. Reports from the Widget Makers Council, an industry group, suggest that widgets sold in the US are more likely to break. The company decides to try to sell to US widget customers who need to replace their devices, but don’t want to run into the same quality problems again.

To tap that market the company not only needs marketing and sales materials for the US market, but must also provide installation documents and operating instructions in English, and train local personnel to set up the devices. Here are some of the questions the manager in charge of getting the documentation and training materials translated into English might have:

  1. How much will it cost?
  2. How much time will it take?
  3. What can I do to reduce that cost?
  4. Will the translated files be in the right format?
  5. How do I know that the translation is correct?
  6. What can I do to help my translators do a better job?

I will address these questions in future blog posts during the next few months. A final blog post in this series will suggest additional steps documentation managers can take to ensure a smoother translation process that also results in a better end product: well-written and -formatted documentation in the target language (in this example, English).

Do you have other questions about preparing for or managing the translation process? Let me know in the comments section and I will try to answer them on this blog.

* “A Revolutionary Marketing Strategy: Answer Customers’ Questions” in The New York Times, Feb. 27, 2013 – Small Business section

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