The Most Challenging Content Types and File Formats for Translation

The emergence of a global market has allowed many companies to enter markets they couldn't before, attract new customers, and earn millions in the process.
Rodrigo Demetrio
10 min
Table of Contents

The emergence of a global market has allowed many companies to enter markets they couldn't before, attract new customers, and earn millions in the process. However, entering a global market comes with its own set of challenges. Case in point, time-to-market (TTM) can be a major bottleneck and costly endeavor.

Companies that take too long to launch their products in a new market can often lose out to competitors or struggle to gain traction. On average, a product late just 6 months to market earns 33% less. To reduce TTM, you need to localize your content as quickly as possible. Knowing how long the translation process will take is vitally important.

What types of content are the most challenging for a human translator to translate? How long does a professional translator take to perform different types of translation? What affects document translation in the first place? Today, we're going to explore all of these questions.

What Affects the Translation Process

Translation services, while you might not be aware of it, is an industry itself. In 2021, translation services generated over $40 billion and in 10 years, the industry could grow to nearly $54 billion.

There are many translation service providers out there, and they offer services ranging from translating documents to entire websites. Before we can talk about the translation types and formats, we need to go back to basics.

General Translation Terms You Should Know

When talking about professional translation, you need to be aware of these terms:

Human translation - The process of translating a document or text from one language to another by a trained and certified professional translator.

Machine translation - The use of computers to do full translations, aided by modern algorithms, is called machine translation.

CAT - Computer-assisted translation is a form of machine translation with some additional features that help translators work more efficiently.

Source language - The original language of the text that's being translated is called source language by human translators.

Target language - The language you want the source text to be translated to is called the target language by professional translators.

Localization - Adapting content, product info, or documents to meet the needs of the culture and language of users in a different country.

Human vs. Machine Translations

While human translation and machine translation are two different things, the best companies in the translation industry now use a combination of the two. Usually, you can expect a combination of automation, natural language processing (NLP), and human experts to translate your text.

The human translator will process a source language text and let a CAT tool handle the initial translation. Then, the translator will edit the text and make changes to ensure accuracy. That process is called post-editing machine translation (PEMT).

But what does all of that have to do with file formats?

When working on a localization project, a translator will take additional time to prepare and post-process the files. The approximate turnaround time varies, depending on the file format.

Simply put, the process of translating a PDF file differs from the translation of a DOCX. Different file types require different software solutions and come with different challenges.

Factors that Impact Translation Services

Whether talking about commercial translation services or literary translation, the estimated turnaround time is impacted by several different elements. Here are a few you need to consider:

  • Work volume: Obviously, the volume of the source text is really important. Translating a few pages of a medical report takes less time than translating a book. That's why literary translations can last for months, while administrative translations don't take more than a few days.
  • Language pair: A langauga pair is an identifier that describes a combination of two languages as used in the translation process. For instance "UK English > Traditional Spanish" is a language pair. The language combination plays a huge role in determining turnaround times. For example, translating a European language text into an Asina language will take more time than two European languages.
  • Number of languages: If there's a single target language, the turnaround time for the project probably won't be long. However, if you need your documents in multiple languages, your translation project may take months to complete. Besides translation, you have to take in account that quality assurance and project management will affect the turnaround time too.

Common Translation File Formats

Modern translation agencies adopted digitalization years ago and are equipped to handle a variety of different file formats. Whether you're a client or a translator, you need to be aware of the different types of files, how they affect the process of translation, and what sets them apart from other translation file formats.


With over 345 million paid users, Microsft 365 is possibly the most popular office suite today. Microsoft Office documents are usually easy to edit and text-heavy, making them popular file formats for translation projects.

Technical translations often include these Microsft Office file formats: DOCX, DOTX, PPTX, POTX, XLTX, and more. All of the formats we mentioned are compatible with many translation tools. However, how the translator handles the files can either slow down or speed up the process.

The translator must maintain the document layout to ensure the process is quick. For localization, one of the biggest challenges is that many words, diacritics, and even writing directions may differ depending on the target language.


The third-most popular format on the Internet - the first two also have spots on the list - has many uses in our everyday lives. While it's sometimes used in translation, PDF isn't an overly-popular file format among professionals.

For starters, formatting can easily go wrong, recreating various elements like charts is timely, and text within images is often impossible to localize. Moreover, PDF files are often created from a source file in a completely different program. And it's much simpler to take that source file and translate the original text from it.

Of course, if you only have a PDF document with the source text, don't worry. Many translation agencies can help you handle it. Just be prepared to wait slightly longer for your text to be translated.


In marketing, InDesign has been seen as the industry standard for years at this point. A majority of companies with 10 to 50 employees and revenue between $1 and $10 million use InDesign to create marketing materials like flyers, brochures, posters, and more.

Often quite detailed and complex, InDesign documents can often be tricky to translate. But you can find a specialist DTP translator to use the file and directly translate the source text. They can even review the characters, imagery, and colors to ensure everything aligns with the culture of your target audience.

There are two file extensions for InDesing files: IDML and IDD. If you want to give your translator greater flexibility to make changes, you should supply your target text in an IDML format.


Adobe FrameMaker is an easy-to-use document editor designed to process large and complex documents like reports, white papers, and books. The tool has a large user base among professional technical writers but is also often used in the automotive and engineering industries.

Although it may take some time for your translator to finish the job, you can make things easier for them by tweaking your file settings.

For starters, you can save your files with the MIF extension, giving the translator more freedom to edit and make changes so that the localized document looks just right.

Also, send a PDF document showing the original file format as well, to make things even easier.


XML, HTML, and HTM files are used by nearly 95% of all websites online. These files contain the language translators can use to create, translate, and, most importantly, localize complete websites.

Thankfully, manual localization is a thing of the past, and most professional translation agencies either use APIs to translate entire websites. Others will import/export your text files without messing with the source code of your website, ensuring the whole localization process remains seamless.

What's more, popular CMSs out there like Drupal and WordPress make things even easier for translators by allowing them to work directly on your website.


Finally, we have the XML Localization Interchange File Format (XLIFF), a file format that provides a standard format for your file data to be localized. The file format allows the translator to see what parts of a file need to be translated and shows them how to do it easily.

The idea behind the format was pretty simple: XLIFF is meant to give translators just the elements they need to translate a text, nothing else. While the source text is extracted from the original file, the structure is saved in a "skeleton file" that contains tags and placeholders for the translation.

All of that makes XLIFF the perfect file format for professional translation companies who need to work on multiple file types. So if you want to save your translator time and yourself money, using XLIFF is the way to go.

Different Types of Translation

File type, translation method, and language pairs affect the time it takes to complete a translation assignment and move on with your project. However, one thing that affects the completion speed we still didn't discuss is the type of translation you need.

If you weren't aware, there are several different types of translations. And each of them comes with its own unique set of challenges.

What do we mean by "different types of translations" exactly? When discussing different types of translations, we refer to different types of documents rather than different languages.

For instance, literary transactions deals with poetry, playwriting, and fiction. Technical translations cover things like user manuals and software strings. And technical translation is mainly used for manuals and instruction books.

But there are many more types of translations. Now, we'll look at some of the more popular ones, in-depth.

Literary Translation

Translating literary works like books, novels, and poems requires special attention to preserve the original tone of the work. Naturally, literary translation takes much longer than other types of translations.

What Is It Used For?

Authors of books and novels who want to publish their work in other countries mainly use literary translation. It allows people to enjoy literary works even if they don't have a high knowledge level of the original language.

Literary translators often have writing experience themselves, and they use their creativity to make sure that the text stays as close to the original as possible. They also focus on keeping all of the nounces of the original while making the text enjoyable and witty in another language.

Who is This Translation Type For?

Authors, publishers, bookshops, and literary agents who want to make certain writing work available in one or multiple countries often require literary translation.

In literary translation, omissions, additions, and changes of any kind are not allowed without the authorization of the author. That means the author and translator usually have to collaborate closely.

Commercial Translation

Translating a source text into another language for commercial purposes is reffered to as commercial translation. Commercial translations require accuracy, understanding of business jargon, as well as subtle cultural overtones of certain phrases of other languages.

What Is It Used For?

Compared to other translation types. commercial is a pretty broad category. Translation of documents relating to sales, marketing, advertising, and other business activities into other languages can be considered commercial translation.

Material rela ofted to company accounts, product descriptions, document translation for forieng markets are some of the most often used commercial translation service.

However, nowadays, commercial translation is usually sued to translate website content, copy, and even apps into multiple target languages. That helps brands reach people from a foreign country and compete with regional businesses.

Who is This Translation Type For?

Every business that wants to expand, localizes makreting materials, and business documents can make use of commercial translation services.

With the help of commercial translation, businesses can easily expand their reach online and break the language barrier between them and potential customers from other countries.

Technical of Translation

In industries like health care, engineering, or aviation, technical translation is of essential importance. Technical translation refers to the translation of long, challenging documents like manuals, instructions, and reports.

What Is It Used For?

When it comes to technical translation, word-for-word translation is the norm. The documents that need translation contain essential information about products, services, and processes.

Professionals use these services to ensure they understand the product or service, its safety, and environmental regulations. Compared to others on the list, technical translation takes even more time, because it requires so much attention to detail.

Who is This Translation Type For?

In companies in the industrial and engineering sectors, scientists, professionals, and technicians often use technical translation services.

Translators that specialize in this type of translation can translate industry-specific phrases accurately. If you're developing a new product in multiple languages, for example, you could use some technical translation.

Legal Translation

Legal documents like certificates, contracts, and other court documents often need to be translated into multiple languages simultaneously. Legal documents must be translated with utter precision and accuracy since they involve the legal system of a country.

What Is It Used For?

Criminal laws, personal contracts, court documents, and employment contracts are some of the most common types of legal documents that require translation.

If a company is doing work outside of the country, it also needs legal translation services to translate local laws and legal requirements.

Physically disabled people may also need legal translation services. The Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) provides interpreters for the hearing-impaired.

A single error in legal translation can have disastrous consequences for both the translator and the customer. Misinterpreting a legal document is a finable offense in some parts of the world.

Who is This Translation Type For?

Governments, international organizations, and law firms mainly use legal translations.

Also, organizations that often work with foreign clients often make use of legal translation to make sure contracts and other legal documents are properly understood.

Court interpretations and notaries, for instance, use legal translation services to help claimants understand the proceeding in their own language.

Medical Translation

There's possibly no more serious and demanding field for translators to tackle than medicine. Medical translation usually deals with documents that are used in a professional setting, contain professional jargon, and often need to be updated regularly.

What Is It Used For?

Patient records, medical documents, research articles, clinical studies, patient information, and healthcare marketing materials all require medical translation services.

At least 14 million non-English speakers in the United States use healthcare services. These people rely on accurate medical translations to understand and make informed decisions about their care.

Who is This Translation Type For?

Small hospitals, large clinics, pharmaceutical companies, healthcare organizations, and research institutions all use medical translation on regular occasions.

Not only do these institutions treat foreign patients, but they also do business with organizations and individuals around the world.

So they use medical translations to make sure their patient records, medical research papers, and other documents are properly understood.

Financial Translation

Despite what many think, financial translation is a lot more than translating a financial document from one language to another. The translator needs to understand the document and the law it abides by. They need to have the ability to convey the message the document carries in another language accurately.

What Is It Used For?

Financial translation is used for documents related to banking, investments, and accounting.

Some of the often-used financial documents include quarterly and annual reports, balance sheets, profit and loss statements, investment papers, and tax returns.

Companies also need to ensure that their financial documents align with the laws, regulations, and standards of the countries they do business in.

Who is This Translation Type For?

Translating financial documents is important for foreign banks, insurance companies, and other institutions looking to do business in foreign markets.

Although regulatory requirements often drive the need for financial translation, organizations also use it to build trust with their target audience and strengthen relationships with foreign customers.

Localizing websites, customer service, and financial documents, such as balance sheets and annual reports, are all critical components of financial translation.

Judicial Translation

While legal translation refers to the translation of all legal documents, judicial translation is a type of legal translation that focuses on translating documents for the court system. Accurately rephrasing the language used in the court is a must for any judicial translation service.

What Is It Used For?

Court documents like minutes of meetings, expert and eyewitness testimonies, interviews, and judgments all require judicial translation every now and then.

In states like Alaska, Arizona, and California, where a large number of people don't speak English, court documents occasionally need to be translated in order to be understood by everyone.

Who is This Translation Type For?

For courts, law attorneys, firms, and other legal organizations, judicial translation is an essential service. Without it, they wouldn't be able to accurately convey the message of their court documents in another language.

Furthermore, people who use legal services sometimes need to have documents and court hearings translated for them to understand and follow the proceedings without confusion.

Administrative Translation

While similar to commercial translation in its goal - help businesses reach a worldwide audience - administrative translation is a little different. It is used for a variety of tender documents like letters, press releases, contracts, and employee documents.

What Is It Used For?

The name administrative translation is pretty self-explanitory, however, some people don't really understand why it's so important.

Same way your marketing content needs to be optimized for your target market, you in-house documents have to contain carefully translated text. That's what administrative translation is thee for

Informative content like instructions, reports and HR materials are regularly translated to ensure every employee understands the company's goals without any ambiguity.

Who is isThis Translation Type For?

Companies nad businesses that employ workers across the globe use administrative translation services a lot. These days, businesses have workers in multiple countries, so having a common language between them is essential.

Closing Thoughts

Easy-to-process file formats, straightforward translation types, and good communication are all elements of a good project.

While machine translations are now the norm, you can't simply use Google Translate and expect a perfect result. A human touch is essential to provide accurate and nuanced translations.

Whether you need legal paperwork, user interface, or management texts translated into English, Spanish, or any other language, Burau Works has got you covered. We specialize in all types of translations with an emphasis on accuracy and fluency.

With the help of the latest machine translations tools, our team of professional linguists can ensure that your project is done correctly and on-time.

If you need general translation services or you're looking for someone with specialized skills for technical content, we're here for you/ Don't wait, contact us today take your business to the next level.

Rodrigo Demetrio
Steering the marketing ship at Bureau Works with 17+ years of MarTech under my belt, I transform mere ideas into tangible realities. Passionate about languages and their power to build bridges, let's build a new one?
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