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Document translation – how does it work?

Document translation – how does it work?
Home » Blog » Document translation » Document translation – how does it work?

When I first started out as a translator and translation project manager, I spent a lot of time (more than I’d care to admit) looking at various translation agency websites and blogs. I was looking for ways to market myself as a professional translator and, with little to no marketing experience at the time, other translation service providers were a valuable resource for my fresh-out-of-uni brain.


One thing I did notice was that while many of these blogs and websites talk of the importance of choosing the right provider, knowing the difference between translation and localisation, the pros and cons of machine translation etc. very few discussed the more practical elements of document translation; namely where to start. So when I was asked to write a blog on the subject, I jumped at the chance.


So, let’s start with a scenario that many of my clients have been in. You’ve just been asked to arrange the translation of a document that landed on your desk ten minutes ago. You know which language (or languages) you need, your colleagues have recommended that you contact some agencies and you’ve got a reasonable idea of when you’d need it to be completed; but no idea of what you need to do from here on out.

What is involved in translation? How long does it take to translate 10,000 words? What do I need to do next? How much will it cost? I bet all of these questions, and probably a couple of others, are swimming around your head right now. It’s a little overwhelming trying to understand a process you have little to no experience of; we get that. Luckily, we’re here to help!

1. Preparing your files

Let’s start right at the beginning, with the file in question. The first thing that I recommend that you do is check that you’ve got the final version. Sending an unfinished/unfinalised document for translation can result in longer turnaround times and additional charges if amendments to the original text are needed. Save yourself the time and money, and finalise your file.

Once you’re sure that this is the final version, spell check it. And then check it again. You’d be surprised how much easier and quicker it is to translate a well written, grammatically correct document than one full of spelling errors and mistakes. So, check, check and check again!

Another thing to watch out for when you’re preparing your file for your suppliers to quote on is to check the file format and ask your suppliers what kind of files they can handle. If the file is a scanned PDF you may incur extra charges for file conversion. If it’s an InDesign file, you may want to think about or be offered multilingual production services. Some providers may only be able to handle editable files in Word, Excel or PowerPoint format and others will be able to handle whatever you throw at them. Plus it’s always good to ask your provider how they will be returning the translated file to you; it’s no good receiving the Arabic translation of your brochure in a Word file if you’re going to have it redesigned in an InDesign file – who’s going to copy and paste all of that text in? Ask these questions before you go ahead, it could save you a lot of time and money in the long run.

2. Send everything 

This one applies not just to documents but to all translation projects. If you’re asking your document translation provider to provide additional services such as multilingual typesetting (or SEO, subtitling or voiceover for that matter), it makes sense to send them the materials required to do that. So send the full InDesign package, the final version of the video, the script (if you have one), your meta tags and description, etc. when the project starts, or even at the quoting stage if you’re able. It’ll save them time and results in a faster turnaround for you.

3. Choosing a translation agency

We’ve written a whole article on this subject so I won’t spend too long here. The most important thing that you’ll need to remember when choosing your document translation provider is that they should have experience in providing the services you need, whether it be multilingual typesetting, SEO, subtitling, etc. Give your chosen agency a call and put them on the spot. Ask a couple of probing questions about their experience, what the workflow for the project would be, quality control aspects, whatever it is you need to be sure that you can trust them. The more you talk to them the more you’ll be able to get a feel for whether they’re the right agency for you.

4. Preferred terminology

If the language combination is one that you’ve worked with before, or you know that your client has preferred translations for certain terms, product names, mechanical parts, etc. it’s wise to get hold of a list of these terms in both English and your chosen target language. Using your client’s preferred terms can potentially save a translator from hours of research and allows us to produce a client-ready document which in theory requires no amendments to the terminology.

To put this in perspective, think of a cog in a machine. What one company might call a “cog” another may call a “gear”. It doesn’t matter what you call them, they both do the same job, but it does matter that you pick one and stick with it in your literature. It’s this difference which can have a huge impact on readability for your audience, and it can help reduce confusion when reading documents such as user manuals and product guides. And it might help distinguish you from rival companies; after all, one man’s thingamajig is another man’s doo-dat. Or something like that… Right?

It also helps translation teams remain consistent with their terminology, especially when there is a lot of time between projects. Having a glossary of approved terms and translated equivalents allows translators to get on with document translation without having to worry about whether the terms they’re using now are consistent with those from a year ago.

So there you have it; a few nuggets of information about document translation and some ways that you can make it easier, quicker and cheaper for us and you. Hopefully we’ve answered some of your questions but if not, you can consult our FAQs where you might find the answers you need.

If you need document translation services, you can contact us at 01225 580 770 or submit a quote request here.