Posts by Tag

See all
Marek Makosiej
January 19, 2023
13 min read

File Formats Used in Technical Documents Translations

technical documentation file formats



Imagine you receive a technical document via email and decide to open and read it. What appears on your screen may make you wonder if the file contains a virus or if you do not have a specific program. Since technology has become deeply ingrained in our lives, it is not wrong to say that we have forgotten how to hold a pen. We have become so pen and paperless that we find writing difficult and time-consuming. Well, it may have its pros and cons, but that's how we learned to read and write. With everything available at the touch of a button, we rely on technology for every task we perform.


Things changed in the early 2000s when email became the trend and people with an internet connection could communicate over distances. Many of us are readers and still prefer hardcover books to e-books. Although e-books are easy to transport, we have become accustomed to a specific pattern and book format. Similarly, when reading a document, we prefer the fonts to be legible and everything to be in place.


For example, if you come across a technical document that you feel like the words are dancing on, would you bother to read it?






Related content: File Formats vs. Technical Translation Turnaround Time: What's the Catch?






Technical Translation Takes Many Form(at)s


many forms of technical translations


The file format plays a crucial role in determining how your content will appear in a manual or on the website and how many visitors it can attract. Even if you managed to write unique content for your blog or website, all your efforts will go down the drain if there is a lack of proper formatting. It works the same way with technical publications. They are aimed at helping people not making them confused, right? They won't solve their product usage problems if they can't use their user guides.


17 years of experience may sound easy, but as a translation company, these years of experience have made us experts in translation file formats.


Localization service providers and agencies receive different projects and requirements from their customers about the desired content. Knowing the right formatting tools and techniques is crucial to understanding what clients want and the time it takes to achieve it.


Often, translation companies deal with a bulk of translation projects, some of which require multilingual translations while others require a specific style of formatting. Aside from their working language or a specific translation niche, a translator needs to have other technical skills and subject matter knowledge to optimize their work. Their knowledge of application tools and other technical details makes it easier for them to communicate with their customers and inform them of the correct pattern and format. Any translation company or agency in the world needs to understand how long some projects take and how this translates into longer turnaround times in order to be able to communicate with you as their client. Translators do not just translate a document, they also make sure it flows well and does not look out of place.


We focus on the turnaround time, which has a lot to do with the formatting of your texts. Technical translators encounter many different sources of text, which can take a day or a week to process depending on the complexity of the document format.






Related content: 15 Best Practices for User Manual Translation







It All Starts with Technical Writing


multilingual technical writing


Technical writing is more than just writing for the purpose of translating technical documents. As a foundation of such a demanding type of content as technical documentation is, it requires a great deal of knowledge about various aspects of writing, such as the different types available in each field (e.g., user manual, quick guide, technical specifications), how to choose between them depending on their purpose: deliverable or not-deliverable; technical paper vs. technical marketing, for print or online, etc.


Technical texts have a global reach, which means they are distributed not only among the speakers of English but among end-users who speak all other languages of the world. Therefore, technical writing should be done with translation in mind right from the start and should take into account the following:


  • Knowledge of different technical writing types and their purposes
  • Ability to identify the target audience for each type of document
  • The fact that translating from one language to another with precision and accuracy will be needed in the later stages of the publication process


A great technical writer produces high-quality source language technical documents that are easy to translate. The quality of the source makes it easier to deal with cultural references, technical terms, layout, specialized jargon, and even dialects. That's the core of the final product you ordered: accurate technical translation.


What's the Most Common Format for Technical Documents Translations?


file formats of technical manuals


The websites or blogs that we visit all follow a specific format to display their content. Let us take it as a simple example. You have written a research paper in the MLA style and format, but the journal you are contacting to submit your article or research paper uses or follows the format APA. Do you think the journal will consider your publication? The simple and reasonable answer is no. They will not consider your work for publication because it is not in their desired format. They will ask you to change or format it to suit their style, or they will direct you to a magazine that deals with MLA-style papers. Now you might think we could have given you the only way to change your paper size. The truth is that changing the format is not easy as it seems.


The same holds for technical manuals of all sorts, user guides, service manuals, and any types of technical documents published in multiple target languages so that the users of your services and products all over the world make the most of them.


DOCX MS Word Documents in Technical Translations


microsoft office translation files


Word documents with their variation of XML, namely DOCX, are most commonly used with multilingual tabs, and many translation companies work on such documents. If your client asks you to add the translated content below the source text or in a separate column, it means a lot of time and effort for the translator. Not only do you need to add additional columns, but you also need to work on the formatting of the technical document. This increases the processing time. You need to prepare the document by copying the text that you want to appear in your target translation. It may take additional time to prepare the document before you start translating.


If you want to save time and money, it's best to use a tool that saves the content for you and makes the translation process easier. It's not that you can not use anything other than a CAT tool, but you may lose the freedom to reuse the translated content. Are you looking for easier ways to save time and effort? One of the best options in such scenarios is to let your expert provider act to the best of their experience and knowledge in translation of technical documents.






Related content:  How to Translate Documentation for Global Markets and Save Money [e-book]







Excel XLS Technical Documents


excel technical documents for translation


This is another common file format that translators encounter. Excel spreadsheets are best for recording large amounts of data in a single spreadsheet. While it makes data collection easier, it also increases processing time. Translating a piece of concentrated data requires more processing time. When you upload such a document to CAT tools, remember that it must perform an action for each cell and information. Even calculating the word count in such sheets will take some time. Heavy operations like comparing source code, finding repetitive words, or translating memories for such projects slow down the software's speed. The larger and more complex a file is, the longer it takes to translate, which affects turnaround time.


If you are pressed for time, you can get your client to deliver the project in batches and smaller sheet pieces. This makes it easier for the tools to process technical information and gives your quality assurance team ample time to double-check the quality of the translated tasks. Splitting the document into smaller parts makes it easier to download, upload, and share. For a smooth translation process, we recommend that you prepare several small files. This enables integration between the translation software and the content repository.


Translating Technical Documentation in PDF Files


multilingual technical documentation in pdf files


Technical document translation is not an easy task by definition. It's specialized and geared toward a special audience. That's why it's particularly intriguing why PDF still remains one of the favorite formats used in the translation of technical documents.


PDFs are typically non-editable files that limit your movement between documents. These files are often a nightmare for all translators and translation agencies. What seems like a simple task turns into an unnecessary, tedious project and the most time-consuming task. The PDF file format is cheap for both professional and personal use, but it's nothing short of a headache for a translator. Some PDF files are easily converted to Word documents, and doing this before you start translating can save you time. Unlike Microsoft Word files, you cannot replace the source text with the translated text when working on PDF files in CAT tools.


Even though the PDF allows editing, it still restricts you to some extent. By converting your files into Word documents, you can easily run CAT tools, find repetitive content, and fix consistency issues if they exist. You can also ask the client for the original file to save yourself converting and formatting again.


Don't forget that PDF has been created as a display format, not meant for editing. That said, every PDF file has been created from some other, editable, file. And that's the file your translation provider will welcome with open arms and a wide smile on their face. And for a reason. Editable source file available for translation means an accurate layout, shorter turnaround time, and lower cost. So, basically, the things any business executive in the world is after when buying services.


HyperText Markup Language and Multilingual Online Software Documentation


html and other formats used in technical translation


Although this article about translating various formats of technical documents, we often refer to website translation or writing for a website to compare how things work. The most common format that you will find on the Internet is the HTML format. It is a markup language for displaying the content. With a rise in e-commerce websites and their expansion into international markets, the need for localization has multiplied.


Some online software documentation also uses this format so that you don't have to print and can save the planet. Yes, we know that this way of dealing with technical documentation is less and less popular in favor of the PDF. The fact is that whether translating different e-commerce websites or translating service manuals, it is important to know all the details about this format to reduce your turnaround time. TAT is money.


How Does Software Help Your Translated Technical Document?


translated user guides help use technical products


Localization has become a broad concept for any company looking to expand its business and make its way into international markets. If you expect to survive in a foreign market without knowing the local language, you may need to reconsider your expectations. Depending on the language you use for the translation and the source format, the turnaround time for your translation may vary. We now have software for everything connected to the Internet. If you are translating a source text that is not in the right format according to your guidelines, the software can be your best friend in such cases. You can find various software that converts the source to a specific format.


Instead of fixing and aligning the content in the source yourself, it is better to use the software at your disposal. The manual formatting and subsequent translation of a text increase the processing time of the document. A significant delay in translation turnaround time can prove costly to your services and your business as a whole.


Terminology is one of the most important aspects of translating technical documents and technical translation services suppliers with their technology help here as well. Specialized programs enable your translation provider of choice to manage your specific company and industry terms stored in glossaries so that they are used properly in your translations as per your detailed instructions and preferences.


It's the 21st century, so we shouldn't shy away from the use of machine translation.






Related content: Top 10 Translation Tools That You Should Know About: A Complete Review







How Does File Format Affect Technical Translation Turnaround Time?


technical documents translations turnaround time


The nature of the requirements associated with the translation of a document plays a crucial role in determining the turnaround time of the translation. About 99% of the translations we see out there use translation software. Working on a bilingual translation file is easily interchangeable and can be easily opened in other computer-assisted translation tools. CAT or computer-aided tools with their translation memories can help you maintain the consistency of the translated document. It can also help in recreating the document as it stores the data in its memory.


The nature of the translation and its turnaround time go hand in hand. When we talk about technical translation files supported by translation software, it includes MS Office formats like .docx, .dotx, .xls, .pptx, and many more like Adobe formats, QuarkXPress or Microsoft Publisher.


Working on MS Office files can be fast, or sometimes translation can take forever. When working with MS Office files, it is imperative to preserve the layout and graphics. Running such a document via CAT or automated QA tools without keeping an eye on the correct format may result in inappropriate document segmentation. By preparing documents correctly, localization managers can reuse the translated content to save time and speed up the translation process. The files and localization kits handed out for translation can play a crucial role in increasing productivity and guaranteeing a high quality of work.


Key Takeaways


technical documentation translation is a complex endeavor


Technical documentation translation is a demanding undertaking that requires special resources:


  • Linguists experienced in localizing user manuals who know unique industry-specific technical terminology and can deliver the highest level of quality with clarity and without ambiguity that may affect the use of the product, be it a piece of machinery, a car, a crane, or a tractor
  • Project managers who coordinate the whole process of transferring the technical information that your technical content contains
  • Designers and DTP operators who will handle any graphics and layouts in your handbooks and manuals so that your specific audience receives accurate technical information on how to operate your new products and what are the best practices for using your gear


A good technical translation agency or professional translators, especially an ISO-certified one, can provide this functionality for any types of translation you may require for your materials in any format to be available in different languages across the globe.


Knowing the right file formats like XML, INDD/IDML (Adobe InDesign), FM (Adobe FrameMaker), and other formats and tools available on the market for making your technical content multilingual, as well as the ways to handle them efficiently (think conversions and XLIFF) can reduce the turnaround time and time-to-market of your product. It's particularly important in technical where the linguistic, subject-matter, and formatting parts are extremely important. Make sure they are accurately rendered in the target languages of your target markets. Go and grow!



Recommended articles:

3 Documentation Authoring Tool Integrations with Translation Systems: An Honest Review

6 Tips on Preparing Your Content for Translation

How Much Does Document Translation Cost?