Updating Translations of Manuals: How to Maintain Clarity and Save Money

A few months ago I wrote a post with tips on how to get the best translation for your machinery manual. There, I gave a few general ideas on important aspects to consider when ordering translations of manuals.

Now I’d like to give you some more specific advice on how to ensure that future updates of your manual are also translated in a clear and consistent way. And on how to do this while saving money.

If your manual is a two-page document for a small piece of equipment, such as a drill, this will not be so important. However, it will be critical when dealing with long manuals for machines with many parts and complicated software and user interfaces.

Many manuals can easily reach 100 pages and you certainly won’t want to pay for a complete translation of the manual every time you modify a part of your machine, improve your software or add a new safety section.

The good news is that it is possible to translate the updated text only, saving you a significant amount of money. Keep reading to find out how to do exactly this: to save money while avoiding a translation disaster.

Issues Encountered Translating Updated Manuals

I often receive requests to translate updates of previously translated manuals, where the client only sends the new text for translation. Sometimes this isn’t easy. The worst case I remember was a rather long update of a manual for a fibre placement system to manufacture aviation components, not something you want to get wrong.

For clarity, one of the most important things in technical manuals is maintaining consistent use of terminology. If a given screw is called X, it needs to be called X throughout the manual; otherwise, readers may think you are talking about a different part, which could be extremely confusing.

In this case, there were two main parts of the machine (headstock and tailstock) with several possible translations in Spanish (the language I was translating into). All of them were correct, but once one pair of terms was chosen, consistency had to be maintained throughout the manual.

Therefore, I checked the previous translation of the non-updated part as I wanted to see how headstock and tailstock had previously been translated in order to keep using the same terms, for clarity.

There was a problem: the two words had already been translated in three different ways in the document! The manual had probably been updated a few times, each time translated by a different person, who chose the terms without checking which ones were already being used throughout the text.

As the manual was already inconsistent in its translation of these two terms even before it reached me, there was no way I could maintain consistency.

For the manual to be clear, I would have to modify the terms throughout the translation, including the part of the manual that wasn’t included in my assignment (and ask the customer to pay for this).


What You Can (and Should) Do to Avoid these Issues

 So, yes, you can make savings by just translating the updated part while at the same time maintain consistency. However, you´ll need to take the following into account when sending only the updated text for translation:

  • Always send complete sentences for translation. Even if you are just modifying or adding an adjective, the translator needs to read the whole sentence to know the gender of that adjective and adapt the whole sentence accordingly.
  • The translator needs to see the whole document, ideally with the modified text highlighted, to use the document as a reference.
  • Most importantly, it’s critical for the new translation of all parts, software screens, etc. to be translated using the same terms as the original translation. But for this, your translator will need some software tools; keep reading to find out in the next section.


Maintaining Consistency: Translation Memories and Term Bases

To maintain consistency in any translation, technical translators use special software that allows them to quickly check how they’ve previously translated a specific word. This database of previous translations of the manual is called a translation memory.

Translation memories are useful to find out how a specific component has already been translated in a given manual and for a given client.

Another tool that translators use are databases with the previous translations of specific words and product names for a previous product or client; these are called term bases. For example, this allows you to keep the names of your products consistent in any given language.

The great advantage of term bases is that, unlike translation memories, every time one of these words appears in the document, the translation software will automatically warn the translator. It is a consistent method, as the software will detect every occurrence. I use them for all my clients and it’s my way to ensure that product names are always translated in the same way, as well as tittles of sections, headers, etc.

The problem is that translation memories and term bases are not often shared. They are the work of every translator and none of us is very happy to give away for free the translation of a term that we spent two hours researching.


How to Maintain Consistency

The most obvious solution is to keep using the same translator (this will normally guarantee the highest level of consistency, not only the terms used will be consistent, but also the style and tone will be the same).

However, if you want to be able to change translators at any time, you may decide to build or buy this term base.

You could ask the translator to create a term base and pay extra for this specific service and information or you may decide to first create a list of words that would need to be in the term base and pay the translator to complete the information.


What Should a Term Base Contain?

A term base is not a dictionary, it shouldn’t be a huge list. Firstly, if you include too many words to be translated, the translator will charge you for the time or, ehem, tell you politely to build the term base yourself.

Secondly, a huge data base wouldn’t be helpful at all, as any translators using the term base in the future would stop looking at it if, for each sentence, there is a list of 20 suggested words (actually they won’t all appear, as the screen will only show a maximum of around four).

A term base is a tool to maintain consistency, so it should only contain words that need to be translated consistently.

Term bases should contain:

  • Product names
  • Parts and components of the machine
  • Screen names
  • Button names
  • Error messages.

Term bases should not contain:

  • Simple, common words
  • Words that could be translated in different ways without losing clarity (or that you may want to translate in different ways to make the text more interesting)
  • Words that could be translated in different ways depending on the context.


In short

  • When updating manuals, you can save money by only sending for the updated text translation.
  • Translations of updated manuals tend to lose clarity when several translators translate the different updates.
  • To rectify this:
    • If possible, always work with the same translator
    • Always send full sentences for translation (even if you only changed one word)
    • Send the whole document as a reference, along with the previous translation
    • Create a term base with the help of your translator or by yourself.


I hope that this was useful for you. If you want to share your experience with translations of updated manuals or you have any questions for me, leave a message below or send an email to d.llorente@spanishtechnicaltranslations.com.

You can also book a 30-minute free consultation with me here or follow me on LinkedIn.

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