Paulina Nowak
January 02, 2023

The Critical Role That Reference Materials Play in Translation Quality

concept of high quality i.e translation qualitySubstandard translation quality is always the translator’s fault, right?


Actually, not always.

Translation quality encompasses many aspects– such as linguistic correctness, accuracy, correct use of terminology, consistency, and adherence to specifications and instructions.

In some cases, those aspects may also include consistency with other materials. While errors in the category of linguistic correctness and accuracy are in most cases the translators’ fault, shortcomings in all the other aspects may often be prevented by supplying the translator with the correct reference materials.






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Of course, when you use a professional translation agency’s services you should be able expect them to ask you for such materials, or if necessary, guide you in the process of their preparation. To save valuable time, it is good to know what kind of materials will be useful for translators. After all, proper preparation prevents poor performance!



What Is Reference Material?

reference materials for translation



Reference material is any material that a translator can refer to during the translation in order to produce a good quality translation that is correct in context, terminologically, factually accurate, and meets quality criteria and instructions.


Reference materials can be language-related and context-related.

Language-related reference material can include glossaries with the terminology used by the client, previous translations, instructions, and style guides.






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Context-related reference material may include any background information about the company or product that may be useful for the translator. This may include product presentations, videos about the product, tutorials, manuals, or product descriptions.


In the case of software translation, it's information about how a string is to be used. It also includes source files in the format in which the text is to appear.


What Are the Different Types of Reference Materials?


Glossaries for Translation

Glossaries inform us what terminology is already in use in the client’s company and materials.


They may contain information about non-translatable terms, such as:


  • Product names and trademarks;
  • Terms the company wants to have translated consistently (e.g. the names of certain product feature, names of programs, initiatives, and campaigns);
  • Any other terms that might be important for the company.






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You need to remember that some common terms may have more than one equivalent in the target language. For example, in Polish the term tab in Microsoft products is translated as karta and in Firefox as zakładka.


Similar case is with cookies being translated as pliki cookie and ciasteczka.


Glossaries help translators ensure that such terms are used consistently for a given client. Of course, it does not mean that you have to have a glossary ready for every language into which you are having your materials translated.


But if you have one, you should definitely share it with your translation company. And if you do not, it might be a good idea to have it created, especially if you are just starting a more complex translation project. Your translation agency will usually be more than happy to assist you with it.



Style Guides and Instructions



style guides for translation



Often it may happen that the translation is objectively good, but it just does not fit the client’s preferences.


One way to prevent such a situation is to provide information about such preferences in the form of instructions or a style guide. They may contain both general and very specific information.


  • Do you prefer your materials written in a more formal or informal way?
  • What form of address should be used on your website?
  • Should section titles use the nominal or verbal form?
  • Do you want your translators to use a specific date format?
  • Would you prefer specific type of hyphen for ranges?
  • Do you want to convert imperial measurements to metric but keep the imperial measurements in brackets?

  • Do we need to follow some general length restrictions for titles or specific website sections?
  • Do any specific types of punctuation marks need to be avoided because they are unsupported by your software? Or any other punctuation marks (e.g. quotation marks)?


If you have any such preferences, this is the place to convey them.



Previous Translations

A text usually does not exist on its own – in most cases it is a part of a company's larger communication repertoire, be it marketing, technical or internal.


If you are happy with the existing translation of your older materials that are somehow connected with the current translation (for example they concern the same or very similar products, programs or campaigns) provide them to your translation company.






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For a translator they might be an invaluable source of information about terminology and your preferred style. Of course, if you are working with the same agency repeatedly, you may expect them to have such materials stored in a form of translation memories.



Source Files in Their Final Format or Screenshots



source files for translation



Sometimes clients provide just the source text copied into excel, xml, text file or – in the case of clients using their own translation management systems – a bilingual file, without giving the translator the opportunity to see how it actually looks in context and in final layout.


Languages do differ in terms of grammar, spelling and punctuation rules. While in English Assign team objectives to individual employees may be both a section header and a simple instruction, in most target languages it will require a different form in each of these uses.


In the target language, a nominal phrase may begin with upper case and require no closing punctuation mark when used on its own, and require an initial lower case and a comma or semi colon at the end when it is used as part of the list.






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A ppt file with manual line breaks inserted into a CAT (Computer-Assisted Translation) tool may contain complex nouns broken into two segments. For most languages, the translation of the whole noun (e.g. Accident Repair ProcessProcedura napraw powypadkowych) will be different than just the combination of the individual phrases (eg. Accident — Wypadek and Repair ProcessProcedura napraw).






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In English the same word can be a noun, verb, or adjective, while in the target langue each of these uses may require a different translation. For example, Open in software can be a button with a command or a status for some item. In all these cases, the translator needs to see the text in context in order to provide a good quality translation.



Other Background Information About the Product/Company

One of the worst things that can happen to a translator is receiving a text for translation without any context information.


It is really difficult, if not impossible, to find the correct terminology if you do not know what device the software is for. As a result, Delivery may get translated as Shipment while in this particular case it refers to Childbirth.






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The more your translator knows about the subject matter the better. Any additional information about the product, such as product presentations, videos about the product, tutorials, manuals, or product descriptions, will allow your translator to better familiarize themselves with the product and thus better understand the source text and render it in the target language.



What Reference Materials Are Needed for Each Type of Translation?

Regardless of the type of translation, if you have a glossary and style guide, it is always a good idea to send them (especially if your company uses complex terminology). What other references are useful based on the type of translation?

Software Localization



software localization



Sending out software for translation as just a list of strings with no context information is a very bad idea. The only worse scenario is actually an alphabetically sorted list of strings where you cannot even guess the context from the surrounding strings.






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In order to enable your translator to do their job properly you should provide them with either screenshots, an excel file containing information about strings (such as whether it is a dropdown menu option, button, on what screen it appears, what the placeholders used in the string stand for, etc.).


If you already have some documentation or manuals for your product, they would also be a great resource, allowing the translator to check how the software is supposed to work and the function of specific UI items.






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Last but not least, if there are any length restrictions for the translated strings, do not forget to provide these. On one hand, it will save the time necessary to shorten strings that are too long, and on the other hand it will prevent over-abbreviated and hard-to-understand strings.

Marketing Translation



marketing translation



In marketing translation, the visual side always plays a vital role, so it is important for the translator to see files in the final format with all the images and layout.


This is also a type of translation where style, form of address, and the general feel play a most vital role. So if you have any preferences regarding these, it is vital to share them.






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Also, knowledge of the marketed product is always useful. If you have any information about the product, in the form of a manual, description or documentation, it might be a good idea to provide it.


If the marketing material contains information about prices, the translator will need instructions on their localization — whether you want them kept in source currency, converted to local currency based on current exchange rates, or replaced with certain prices in local currency provided by you.






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Similarly, it might be a good idea to provide localized contact information unless you want your potential customers in Lithuania, for example, to contact your sales department in US.


If some of your slogans or product names already have local approved versions, providing them to the translator will help you to ensure that your marketing materials are consistent.






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The same goes for any slogans or product names that you want to be kept in English. Finally, if the translated material is part of a larger campaign, it might be a good idea to provide already-existing translations as a reference, so that the translator can remain consistent in terms of style, form of address, etc.

Website Translation



website localization



Website translation is, in many aspects, similar to marketing translation (in fact it can often be regarded as a subtype).


If possible, you should provide links to specific sections that are being localized (if the localized pages are already available in the source version) so that the translator can check context.






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If such sections are not yet available, information on how the text is to appear in context will be useful. If your website is designed to sell something, it might be a good idea to provide instructions about pricing (information as to if the currency is to be left as is, how you want your prices converted, or a list of prices in local currency) or payment methods if applicable.


In the case of complex and information-rich websites, preparing a glossary beforehand would be very useful.

Video Localization



video translation



Even if you’re providing the transcript of the video for localization (instead of asking your translation provider to transcribe it) you need to remember that the visual side of the video, the timing, and the general context as well as gender of the speakers and the characters they address are very important for translator.






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Most languages are not as gender neutral as English and in many of them the same sentence might require a different form based on the speaker’s and/or the addressee’s gender. So, the video itself should always be available to the translator.


Instructions should also inform the translator if the translation is to be used for subtitling, voice over, or dubbing, as these are approached in a different way.

E-learning Translation

The translator will need access to the actual e-learning course or screenshots, information about the course design, gender of the speakers, length restrictions for any sections, headings, etc.






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It is also a good idea to provide them with any information about company documents/programs that the course refers to (for example, if they already have official names in the target language) and translated documents (for example, if you want the course to be consistent with your Code of ethics).

Manuals Translation

Useful reference material includes source documents for verifying context, layout, etc., so that the translator can see if a given segment is a heading, instruction, or perhaps part of a graphic or diagram.



technical document translation e-book image



If your product names or functions already have established translations, a glossary would be useful. The translator also needs to know if the product software is already localized, plus a glossary/list of translated strings if that is the case. He or she also needs to know if you want source only or a bilingual translation for certain information, if it is not yet localized.


Such glossary/information is very important because being told to click on something and not being able to find it on the screen is extremely frustrating to the user.






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It would also be a good idea to provide the translator with information about company rules on how to approach measurements in the documentation. Finally, if you have any localized manuals for previous versions of the product and you are happy with their quality, they will be an invaluable source of information for the translators about your preferred terminology and style.


Business Documents

If your business documentation or correspondence refers to other documents/articles/programs/surveys, etc. created or managed by your company, it is a good idea to provide instructions if you want their titles left in English or translated and – in case they already have been translated – their existing translations. Otherwise, your employees might become frustrated looking for a particular company policy and not being able to find it.

Your Translation Quality is in Your Hands (Not Just the Translators')



partnership with a translation company



There is a lot of material and information that can help your translation agency provide you with translations that will meet your expectations. Just make sure you know what type of reference material is best for your content translation.


Ask your translation agency whether you need to provide anything additional in relation to your product and content, and never ignore their requests.

After all, your translation quality is your common goal.


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How to Boost the Translation Into Multiple Languages at Once

7 Tips to Avoid Wasting Your Translation Budget