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Your company has a technical translation project in mind and they want you to handle the arrangements. This is a new experience for you. In the best case scenario, the technical materials have been prepared with translation in mind. But, even if best practices haven’t been followed to this point, you should start by asking questions before you search for a language partner. The answers will help you choose your partner wisely and will make the translation process faster and more efficient.

Has your company used any translation partners in the past?

If you don’t know the answer, ask around and find out, and also see if you can get copies of the previously translated materials.

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How will you provide the material to be translated?

For translation purposes, an editable electronic file is preferable. If all you’ve been given is a .pdf, hard copy, or a scanned document, ask if the document is available in an editable file format, for example any Microsoft Office program, an InDesign or CAD design file, or some other electronic format.

A translation agency can give you a quote, or at least an estimate, from a .pdf, scan, or fax, but the project will take more time and expense. An editable file is necessary to make full use of the latest computer-aided translation (CAT) tools. CAT tools make the translation process more efficient and help to maintain internal consistency in terminology. In addition, the CAT tools will be used to create a translation memory for updates and additional content.

What do you want back?

Do you just need the translated text back in a Word document, or do you need to have the text reformatted to match the original? What about text in graphics, if any? Does that text need translation? If so, desktop publishing services may be necessary.

Who is the target audience?

Is the translation targeted at any particular country or region? For example, Brazilian Portuguese is very different than European Portuguese. Although regional differences will be less pronounced in highly technical materials, they will still need to be addressed.

If your company wants outside materials translated for its own use, who is going to use them and for what purpose? For example, if your company needs the translation for external marketing purposes, this will require a carefully proofread, fluent, publication-quality translation. On the other hand, if the translation is needed for internal research, a, basic-quality translation may be adequate, despite a typo or two. Perhaps even a machine translation or summary might serve this purpose. Publication quality translation usually costs about 30% more than basic quality.

Can you provide any reference materials?

If the material to be translated is about your company’s own products or services, it is likely to have specialized industry terminology as well as terms and brand names unique to your company. Company brochures, websites, product photos, previously translated documents, and other materials can provide context for the translator. If your company uses style guidelines or glossaries, they should be provided as well. Your language partner will help create a foreign-language glossary if needed.

At the very least, if you cannot answer questions about the content of the material yourself, you should know who can answer those questions and be able to put the translation agency in touch with the person or pass technical questions to them.

When do you need the translation back?

Make sure you know when the company wants to have the translation services completed. If there is a definite deadline pass that along, even if it seems far in the future. The work may require more time that anyone at the company imagines, especially if they have no experience with translation and if the project requires additional services such as desktop publishing, or localization and/or review (in the case of foreign language websites and foreign-language versions of software). If company expectations are unreasonable, you will want to know this as soon as possible.

Does the company have its own reviewer?

Sometimes companies want to have their own reviewers check the completed translations. An in-country reviewer who is also familiar with the industry can make sure that the terminology and usages are correct and that the tone is appropriate for the intended audience. It is best to know at the outset whether the company will use its own reviewer and who that reviewer will be. The reviewer should review and approve the glossary before the rest of the translation goes forward. Also, you will want to be make sure that the reviewer sets aside the time needed and doesn’t hold up the process. Request our in-country review guidelines.

If this first technical translation project represents the beginning of an ongoing localization program, review our guidelines for creating translation-friendly content and tips for making the most of your translation budget.

Do you have questions about technical translation? Contact us.