© 2010 Ugur Akinci
Writing technical documents for an international audience means writing documents that
- translate easily to the target language, and
- are understood easily by the speakers of the target language.
In the world we are living in, technical documents are increasingly translated from one language to another since customers of most goods and services transcend national boundaries.
“Translation” is actually a subset of a larger effort called “Localization” since word-by-word translation usually is not sufficient to do the job. The content (including figure and table captions and web page content) has to be adjusted to the local culture and usage as well.
This includes checking trademarks and brand names to make sure they don’t translate as something totally unintended in the target language. A case in point is the GM debacle of trying to sell Chevy NOVA brand in Latin America. After sales plummeted, the GM executives figured out that “nova” translates as “doesn’t go” in Spanish – not exactly the kind of image you’d like to create for a car.
Here are 3 quick tips for writing successfully for an international audience:
1) Do not use culturally specific expressions.
Don’t say “Open valves A and B when it starts to rain cats and dogs.”
This is better: “When the rain exceeds one liter a minute, open valves A and B.”
2) Do not use two- or three-word verbs.
Don’t say “After lowering Voltage A down to 4.5 volts, carry on with your system check.”
This is better: “After lowering Voltage A down to 4.5 volts, continue to check the system.”
3) Do not use phrasal verbs that start with “have” or “make.”
Don’t say “If you have any reservations about it, consult your manager.”
This is better: “If you doubt it, consult your manager.”