March 2017
By Louise Law

Image: © cybrain/

Louise Law is global communications manager at Welocalize, managing a global team of writers. She has over 20 years’ professional experience in marketing and content creation. She held senior marketing posts at Hewlett-Packard and also ran her own B2B copywriting consultancy.[at]


Eight steps to successful localization

For every product or service launched, thousands of words are written for technical manuals, product guides, marketing documentation, software Help, websites, blogs, articles, health and safety warnings, and more. Taking a few steps to incorporate localization early in the documentation process can save time, resources and money.

Many global brands and organizations embark on a globalization journey with the intention of creating value, equity and, ultimately, revenue. Content is developed at many stages along this journey. It may start with protecting intellectual property by registering an innovative patent in multiple locales and continue through to creating user manuals and marketing material.

In a global organization, everyone is affected by content and localization. Whether your job is in legal services, finance, engineering, technical writing, marketing, sales, customer support, human resources, or product development, you are dealing with content that needs to be written, engineered, and translated to reach multiple audiences.

Translation of technical communication

Specific priorities apply when it comes to translating and localizing technical content. Translated technical documents, or any complex or regulated content, must be as accurate, relevant, and concise as its source. Technical documents are high-impact content requiring both linguistically and culturally accurate translations. Other information, like user-generated content (UGC), has a lower impact: Its translation can reflect the message or concept, but does not necessarily need to stay linguistically faithful to the source.

Here are eight best practices and techniques to ensure the successful localization of technical documents in today's content-rich world:

1. Use consistent style and tone

Localized technical documents not only need to achieve a high level of quality and accuracy, but also maintain a consistent style and tone of voice across multiple languages, content types, file formats, and platforms. Each translation project cannot be dealt with separately, but must be considered strategically as a whole. The style of technical manuals, marketing and training materials, and their terminology must be consistent. This is possible through tools like translation memory (TM) and terminology management. It ensures consistency for global brands at every touchpoint and in every market.

Providing linguists and translators with subject matter expertise further ensures consistency. A consistent team dedicated to localizing company content creates multiple benefits: Teams are familiar with how a product works and the value it delivers. They understand the customer experience and ensure that it is delivered across all locales.

2. Garbage in, garbage out

Poor, nonsensical input will produce undesired output, regardless of the target language or the quality of the translation. If, on the other hand, the source meets required levels of quality and business objectives, then any translations or transcreations will meet set standards. A common complaint from in-country translation reviewers is that a delivered translation project may be "accurate" but, due to errors and bad copywriting in the source, the localized versions are just not great. The same applies to graphics, engineering diagrams, audio, and video.

Keep content and graphics as culturally neutral as possible to prevent having to make significant, costly, and time-consuming changes at the localization stage. Each culture has a different value system: varying beliefs and interpretations of non-verbal communication. Even in complex technical communication, culture needs to be considered.

3. Help localization teams to get to know the product

Many global organizations send teams of translators to product training sessions so they can truly experience the product or service. As global business evolves, providing in-context information to localization teams is crucial to gain commitment to a brand. In-context information also helps at a granular level: When illustrations or software user interfaces are translated, a linguist can deliver a more accurate translation by getting the whole picture and learning where the content is used. Investing in permanent, well-informed translation teams paves the way for great global technical content.

4. Be open to transcreation

Translation of technical documents requires high quality and accuracy. However, developing content that is linguistically and culturally appropriate may require some transcreation work. This means tweaking the translation while retaining key concepts, messages and facts. Transcreated content and illustrations may not linguistically represent the source 100 percent, but they are better received by the end user, which is the ultimate goal.

5. Prepare graphics well

Technical manuals and documents contain many complex graphics that may require the insertion of [translated] text. Including original graphics in translated documents is important, but not always possible. Graphics such as flowcharts and diagrams may have been obtained from a variety of sources within an organization or from previous documents. Over time, it is common for the original source files to become untraceable. Graphic files may have been converted into formats that can't be edited, such as JPG or TIFF. This can cause challenges in the localization process.

Providing access to text layers in the original graphic files will increase cost savings and reduce turnaround times. For example, in order to localize a GIF or JPG file, the original Photoshop (.psd) or Adobe Illustrator source file is needed along with overall style guides that were used to create the original graphic: color information, fonts, design specifications and export or save settings. The number of target languages will only multiply the challenges with graphics in the source language.

When possible, also supply a list of all graphics, along with their respective formats and information. Describe which graphics do or do not have text to be translated and where the files are located.

6. Consider text expansion

When you translate from English into another language, the translated text will take up more space. Most languages are longer than English by about 15 percent. Languages such as Russian can be up to 40 percent longer than the English version. Once the text in the graphic is translated, text expansion can cause problems with the original layout of the graphic, see Figure 1.

Figure 1: ranslations from English into French causes text expansion.


You can reduce issues by using numbered callouts rather than including copy in the actual diagram, see Figure 2. This allows for text expansion.

Figure 2: Use numbered callouts in diagrams to allow for text expansion.


7. Consider the use of CAT tools

Graphics are usually localized with the use of computer assisted translation (CAT) tools. There is software available that allows translators and DTP engineers to automate the extraction and insertion of text from graphics created in software such as Illustrator or CorelDraw into RTF files.

If text is adjacent to graphic elements, try to position it in a way that leaves some horizontal space for text expansion, ensuring that the text is in a text box and no hard returns are contained within the paragraph. When the TM tools analyze segments, the text is usually segmented at a logical break, such as a hard return. Inserting a hard return into a paragraph – for example so that a long sentence description can fit into a narrow text box – can negate the benefits of using CAT tools or simply mean that file preparation takes longer.

8. Consider multimedia content

As content volumes grow, content types will continue to evolve. Multimedia, especially video, will continue to drive communication. According to YouTube statistics, 3.25 billion hours of video is watched on YouTube each month. Consumers all over the world are spending increased amounts of time viewing multimedia, using a wide variety of devices. Technical information is no exception. Instructional and training videos are frequently used to convey complex data and information. Localizing multimedia involves a wide range of formats: text, graphics, audio, video, digital, presentations, software, animation, voiceovers, captioning and subtitling. Good practices, such as source quality, provision of in-context information, supply of original files and transcreation, all apply to multimedia content as well.

As the volume of multimedia in technical communication increases, so does the use of techniques such as on-screen-text (OST) transcription and synthetic voice translation (text-to-speech, TTS).

For TTS solutions, scripts are loaded into synthetic voice software and turned into phonetic text. Technological advancements make TTS techniques a viable option, opening video as a key communication tool for more organizations and product areas.

Product videos and advertisements often include images and instructional illustrations of a product – shots of the user interface and sample text to highlight product features and functionality. OST is often more cost-effective and quicker than voiceover work. As is the case with most source files, original files aren't always available, and techniques such as OST and transcription can overcome this problem and deliver impactful localized video content.


Technical communication requires high levels of quality and accuracy, both at the source and in translation. With increasing digitalization, evolving content types and consumer habits, there are a number of emerging best practices and techniques that can be applied to the preparation and successful translation of technical content. A strategic approach to localization enables global business growth and ensures products and services are safely distributed around the world, driving revenue and creating value on the globalization journey.