The Knowledge of the Translator

Translating User Manuals

What is a User Manual?

Throughout history, people have developed and produced a variety of products, such vehicles, machines, and robots, for personal and commercial use. Large-scale written sources helped to transmit how these tools work, and their purposes and uses during periods when social circles weren’t as large as they are today. A priority for production companies today is to prepare understandable, easy, complete, and consistent user manuals. Knowing how and for what a product is used is as vital as manufacturing a product to meet the required standards.

Since the world communicates in many different languages, and the trade has spread around the world, user manuals must be translated after they are prepared. They are critically important for the manufacturer, consumer, and product and must be translated in a way that is complete, consistent, free of misunderstandings, and consistent with the source.

Things to Consider During User Manual Translation:

There are few points to note when translating a user manual. We can list these generally as follows:

  • Getting familiar with the product through research,
  • Using language and sentence structure consistently in the translation by identifying the target audience,
  • Translating in accordance with the client's instructions.

Get to Know the Product

Getting to know the product to be translated is the most critical starting point for this type of translation. If you find out what the product whose user manual you’ll translate is and how it looks, you will be less likely to make a mistake, thereby minimizing the possibility of damage anyone or anything interacting with the product.

What is a Translation Reference File?

The priority here should be the reference documents submitted by the client or project manager. In case there are no reference documents, you should research and use video, photo, and article resources about the product that are found on the internet. If there is no information about the product, you should request some from the client or project manager.

Another action you can take to prepare to translate a user manual is to read existing Turkish user manuals, paying close attention to their style. After these sorts of readings, the wording to use in the translation will be as is expected from Turkish user manuals.

The Translation Phase

After these preparations and readings, you should proceed to translating the source text. The main priority here should be to read and understand the instructions sent by the client or project manager and to ask for clarification about any parts that may be unclear.

  • What Are Translation Instructions?

Although the work to be done is clear, reviewing client instructions is critical to the health of the project. Clients may send glossaries or translation memories that they want to use in translations or may have some important points they want to note specifically in the source text. After carefully reviewing the instructions, you can switch to the translation phase.

Sentence Structure in User Manual Translation

The use of sentences and form of address is critical to greatly lighten the number of corrections after the translation and to obtain a consistent translation. You must determine the sentence style to be adopted in the translation, throughout the entire text (there may be exceptional uses).

For example: “Use a suitable screwdriver to remove the screws on the bottom cover, as shown in Image 4.” can be translated in Turkish as “Uygun bir tornavida kullanarak alt kapaktaki vidaları 4. şekilde gösterildiği gibi sökün”. However, other translators may provide different translations. This is when you need to decide whether to use the same equivalent meanings throughout the document—whether terms should be translated consistently.

Another important example of sentence structure and form of use is in actions. In the translation text, sentences may start frequently begin with the words “make”, “remove”, or “put”, though this sort of repetition is not incorrect. You must consider client instructions. However, inconsistency will arise if more polite variations of “make” are is used on some pages, eventually requiring extra effort to perform corrections after completing the translation. Therefore, to maintain consistency, it is important to use the same phrases throughout the text and to ask the client about sections that lack meaning.

Importance of Consistency in Translation

In addition to consistency in the use of sentences, this title also refers to the consistent use of words that are often used in the source text. As the user manual translation progresses, certain words regarding the technical field stand out. It is critical that you also use these common words in the same way throughout the translation. You should pay special attention to use words consistently so that people reading the manual don’t get confused, make mistakes, or cause injuries.

Recommendation: After the translation is finished, the shortcut CTRL + F can scan the source text to check the consistency of the translation.

Target Audience of Translation

In user manual translation, as in all translations, you must research the audience that the translation will address and perform the translation in line with the linguistic habits of this audience. A user manual that the audience struggles to understand will have low functionality. To minimize this and increase the efficiency of the translation, it is vital for the audience to be understood.

Target Audience of Translation

User manuals can be prepared for different audiences. A user manual for a fan that will be sent to the end user is prepared in a style that everyone understands, and it is accordingly translated into other languages based on this simplicity. However, the user manual for a new model Plastic Injection Molding Machine sent to a production plant will be read by the technical staff who have trained to use this machine and have mastered technical jargon. This sort of manual is thus prepared using more technical language.

The translator must understand the target audience of the company that prepares the user manual and must arrange the word choice, sentence form, and the form of address accordingly. For the user manual to achieve the intended efficiency, the translator must work in line with the target audience.

User Interface (UI) and Do Not Translate (DNT)

We have arrived at a very different point as a result of recent developments in technology, especially in terms of practicality and multifunctionality. With the increasing field of use for screens, virtual and adaptive buttons were introduced to replace physical buttons. But even though the global trend has shifted to virtual design, there are still devices, machines, and other products with physical buttons. The text and abbreviations on these physical buttons are largely prepared in English.

What is DNT? What are the Words that Should not be Translated?

User manuals for products that are prepared and made accessible to the world are prepared according to these buttons in English. Therefore, it may not be necessary to translate the words “ON” or “OFF” on the machine’s physical buttons, or you could translate them in a bilingual format, such as “ON (AÇIK)” or “OFF (KAPALI)” in Turkish. The text on the button may not always be as easy to understand or commonly known as “ON” and “OFF”. For this reason, you should request a DNT (Do Not Translate) list from the client or project manager, especially regarding which parts to translate or not, and you should review the client's instructions before starting translation.

Which Criteria are Used When Determining User Manual Translation Prices? How Do the User Manual Translation Prices Differ?

Many different factors are taken into account when determining the user manual translation prices. For this reason, factors may differ according to each translation company. Prices are calculated according to criteria such as the language of the text to be translated, the target language, the number of words, how much time the translation will take, and the level of urgency. That is why it is important to determine your needs correctly with your service provider.

Written By: M. Furkan Şahin

Date of Publication: 01/14/2020

Target Audience: All Translators, People Who Need Translation Services

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