Top tips for readable technical translations

Every translation job brings its own challenges, no matter the field. But it’s fair to say some jobs are more specialised than others. They may require specific knowledge, a tightly defined style, perhaps even additional formal training. Technical translation can potentially cover all of these requirements and more, which is why it sometimes gets set apart from the rest of the already-demanding translation business.

The actual term is usually quite broadly defined: at its loosest, “technical translation” covers any job involving engineering, hardware, software, heavy industry or other similar subject matter. (It’s not a world away from scientific or medical translation, but these still tend to be treated as separate fields since they often require particularly advanced knowledge and experience.) When translating a technical document, it’s even more important than usual to stay faithful to the precise meaning of the original version: after all, a translated novel might allow some leeway with its imagery, but a user manual can’t afford to be anything other than perfectly accurate. If you give the user false information, the result could be a malfunctioning product, damage to personal property, or potentially even serious injury to the user or to other bystanders.

Technical documents are often, but not always, written for an audience that is already familiar with the subject matter, which makes it easy to assume that the readability and accessibility of your translation should be secondary priorities. “The reader already knows what I’m telling them, right?” Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, readability is an essential criterion for a successful technical translation, for the same reasons we’ve already discussed – the user has to be absolutely clear in their understanding of what they’ve just read. How many poorly-worded assembly instructions have you seen for flat-pack furniture in your life? Now imagine scaling that up to an enterprise-level software solution, or an industrial production line, and you can begin to see why clarity matters so much. With this in mind, here are some of our favourite tips for improving your

Be critical of the source text

Readability matters as much in the source language as it does in…

You can read the full article in our ebook The Ultimate Guide to Becoming a Successful Freelance Translator.

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