Best Practices

Translating Technical Manuals from English to Spanish

Let us divide and conquer. There are several types ofmanuals. Our interest here are technical manuals and their translation. Theyprovide detailed information about a product or system.
Romina C. Cinquemani
5 min
Table of Contents

Let us divide and conquer. There are several types ofmanuals. Our interest here are technical manuals and their translation. Theyprovide detailed information about a product or system. Their contents include,in most cases, similar sections. You can find product's design, operation,maintenance, troubleshooting, safety information, and repair procedures. Eachsection typically provides diagrams, parts lists, charts, and pictures forclarification purposes. Engineers, technicians, maintenance workers are theirtarget readers. At least, they should be.

By the Book

Technical manuals are crucial to the proper usage, handling,operation, and maintenance of equipment. Not following their instructions mightensue personal injuries or even death. Therein lies their relevance. In thetranslation world, we must pay the utmost attention to words. They are notleisurely interchangeable. Not ever, least of all in “Technicaville”.

Stepping Stones

Here, terminology is king. Updating regularly athorough term base for each client will save you hours of headaches. Trust me. Efficientterminology management comes with big rewards. Use your specific software tocreate a consistent glossary of technical terms. Make sure to include client’sapproved translations, context, and examples in use. This will get you as closeras possible to full document’s coherence.

Style guide: most manuals include similar texts, but manyset phrases might be used differently by each client. Make sure to take notesof their preferences. Your style guide should include guidelines for the use ofabbreviations and acronyms, sentence structure, formatting, and punctuation.This relevant step in your process will help you maintain readability andconsistency.

Text space: as we discussed in a previous article,Spanish text can be around 20% longer than English. You need to considerateadjusting your translation. It has to flow properly and provide full details,without hindering your visual aids in the document.

Experts review: leave nothing to chance. Engage bilingualsubject matter experts (SME) to review your translation for technical accuracy.This is a major step to guarantee compliance with industry standards. Get ridof concerns before they arise.

Tone and voice: save warmth, enthusiasm, and drivenengagement for other tasks. Technical manuals should be formal, instructive, tothe point, and neutral. When you establish the right tone, stick to it untilthe last full stop.

Localization: Spanish includes many varieties. Youneed to focus your text according to the specific Spanish-speaking audience.Rules and regulations differ between countries. Make sure to localize your translationto adjust it accordingly. Consider legal requirements, industry standards, andbest practices. Do not risk compliance.

Final Touches

Visual elements should match perfectly your writtentext. Consistency is a must to avoid confusion and misuse. Diagrams, charts,and tables should complement the text seamlessly. Be thorough and leave noimages hanging. Apply bilingual labels, captions, and annotations with noexception. Clearer is always better.

Usability: you need to make sure that the manualfulfills its purposes properly. Usability testing by native speakers is yoursecret weapon. They are the perfect audience to test drive your work. And theywill review how clear, comprehensible, and user-friendly your translationturned out. These insights will allow you to sharpen your work, and make itcrystal clear.

Version update: products are constantly renewed.Therefore, technical manuals go through countless versions, updates, andimprovements. Make sure to apply a powerful control system. This will help you keepclose track of revisions, updates, and changes. You do not want your initialwork to become obsolete after merely the second version.  

Technical manuals are a commitment betweenmanufacturers, technical writers, translators, and professional users. Actualwork improves greatly, if all the participants hold their end of the bargain.

Romina C. Cinquemani
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