Creating a clear set of logical instructions can be challenging if you’re writing it in your own native tongue. It requires thinking logically, sequentially, and having the ability to connect with your target audience – from the complete novice to the most technically oriented reader. In fact, instruction manuals aren’t just difficult for writers; they also pose some significant challenges for translators.

The first problem involves the language used in technical documentation, which is often a specialized vocabulary involving names of tools or other implements used for either the construction, operation or repair of software, a vehicle, a piece of furniture, or equipment, to name just a few. In some cases, a single word may not suffice, and the translator needs to use a descriptive phrase to convey the information accurately.

Another challenge presented by technical documentation is the length of the original text. A simple set of instructions on how to assemble a bicycle, for example, may be straightforward and concise. But an entire translated instruction manual may end up being significantly longer than the original version if the translator isn’t careful. A concise translation of technical instructions requires not only fluency in the target language, but also a strong knowledge and understanding of the subject matter. That means that the most qualified translator of technical writing is often someone who has actual experience as a technical writer. Unfortunately, it may be difficult – if not impossible – to find a professional translator who is also a technical writer.

Whether you’re in need of translating services, or are a linguist interested in pursuing a career in technical translation, here are some helpful steps to take to ensure that the translated manual is of the highest quality possible:

Create A Glossary

If one does not already exist for the manual, creating a vocabulary of terminology commonly used throughout the text is an excellent way to begin the project. It’s particularly helpful if the writer of the manual works in conjunction with the translator to accomplish this. If not, it will take the translator some time to develop one on his or her own. But the time required is well worth the effort. It will allow the translator to not only be consistent throughout the text; it will also help to identify terms that may not have an obvious translation and will need to be explained with multiple words or a phrase.

Review other translated manuals before starting the project.

Find one or more that include the same basic type of instructions as the current project. This will not only help to give you some ideas for nomenclature; it will also demonstrate what to do and/or what NOT to do with your project.

Even as a translator, follow standard guidelines for writing technical documentation

Avoid use of humor, which does not always translate well and is generally frowned upon in technical documentation. Always use the active voice and avoid the passive voice whenever possible. Use present tense. Keep sentences and ideas clear and concise.

Always keep the reader in mind

If you’re translating a manual for experienced technicians, for example, you may be able to use vocabulary that is a bit more technical. But if you’re translating a manual intended for use by the general public, you’ll need to assume that your reader has little or no knowledge about the subject matter.

Whether you’re writing or translating, creating a high quality instruction manual is challenging. Keep in mind the goals for excellent technical documentation: it is not intended to be entertaining, but instead the goals should be to create a document that is clear, concise, and easily understood by the reader.