As a technical writer, you probably have extensive knowledge of your product specs and design details, but you probably also know that that knowledge is worthless if you can’t communicate it properly.
Technical content follows a more rigid structure than most other forms of writing, so there are certain considerations to keep in mind when working on a new piece of content that is directed to a global audience and it will possibly end of being sent for translation.
The following three points are by no means the extent of these, but they are considered core tenets in the field and provide a good starting point when planning for document translation.
Technical writing must be clean and precise, so a formal style with few additional trimmings is usually your best option.
Don’t worry so much about providing a hook or trying to engage your reader; your goal is not to draw readers in, but to inform the ones who have already come to you. Your text should read like the professional publication it is.
- Keep your sentences short and succinct
- Don’t use contractions
- Avoid using slang, idioms or humor
- Avoid using acronyms and abbreviations
- Stick to the point as much as possible
While you are aiming for brevity, it should be noted that this does not necessarily mean that your overall document will be short. It is still your responsibility as a writer to be thorough and diligent, particularly when attempting to convey the kind of detailed information that technical writers are often assigned. If you feel the need to elaborate on something, don’t be afraid to do it, but keep it in small chunks that your readers can easily digest.
Another important thing to keep in mind when writing content for translation is whether the words on the page are truly effective at communicating your ideas. As a technical writer, your job is all about taking a complex subject and breaking it down to manageable parts for people with less expertise, so you can’t afford to be sloppy or imprecise. For that reason, it’s imperative to write and rewrite with clarity in mind.
The more levels of complexity you add to your sentences, the greater the chance that something will be misconstrued and mistranslated.
Here are a few examples of some surprisingly ambiguous words, as well as some suggestions for more precise replacements that more clearly communicate the first meaning:
- Keep your grammar simple and straightforward
- Choose accurate words that have as few alternate meanings as possible
- ‘outstanding’ (can mean exceptional or overdue) -> ‘excellent’
- ‘put’ (can mean to place or to express) -> ‘position’
- ‘marked’ (can mean denoted or obvious) -> ‘designated’
Choosing the second option in cases like these is an easy way to make doubly sure that you and your readers are on the same page.
Perhaps most importantly of all, though, a good piece of technical content keeps things strictly consistent through the entire text.
- Be sure to confirm that you’re using the proper terminology for specific things as you write
- Avoid any general references at all costs
- Use the same words and phrases to describe the same things
- Be sure to pay attention to smaller stylistic details like Oxford commas, titles and honorifics
- Check whether numbers are spelled out or written in numerical form and be consistent
Consistency is especially critical when writing for a global audience, given that you will often be referring to specific equipment, files and configurations that have only minute differences to set them apart from others.
Your readers need to know exactly what you mean in order for your text to be useful to them – any confusion could have serious repercussions if it results in, for example, a poorly constructed health device that injures a patient.
Following these tenets ensures that the global content you write will carry the professional authority it requires. The more you live by these principles as a writer, the easier it will be to follow them instinctively and produce a great piece of technical content with much less deliberation.
Start practicing now, stay diligent, and you’ll reap great rewards in terms of productivity, effectiveness and ease for translation.
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