Writing Archives | Rubric

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If you’ve ever been involved in the content authoring and publication process, you’re probably already familiar with how quickly costs and timelines can get out of hand once you factor in localization. Even for a short document, when you’re translating into 10 or more languages the workload can be immense.

But this doesn’t have to be the case. If you take localization into account right from the outset when you approach global content authoring, it is possible to drastically streamline the process and make major cost savings.

The key here is writing English content that is both easy to translate and easy to reuse. When your original text is clear and concise, it will be cheaper to translate. And if your content can be reused across multiple deliverables, you only have to pay for that translation once. It’s far more efficient to optimize the English version at the beginning of the process than it is to fix individual translations that were based on unsuitable source material.

As with most simple ideas, following these principles is easier said than done – so we’ve put together this article to share our best practices for authoring with localization in mind. Applying these tips should help you save time and money on translation, while maximizing the quality of your localized content.

 

English as one of many

When writing your initial English content, think of it as having two purposes: it’s not just for consumption by English readers, it’s also the master template for all the other localized versions you’re going to create. It’s important to balance both of these purposes, and that means creating content that is both effective in English and easy to translate.

In practice, writing translation-friendly content comes down to clarity and concision. The shorter the document is and the easier it is to understand, the faster and cheaper it will be to accurately translate. And as the potential for errors drops, the quality of the content will rise. Keep it simple with these guidelines:

  • Avoid ambiguity – Try not to use words or phrases that could have multiple meanings. For example, “manual” could be both a noun or an adjective, but “user manual” and “manual pump” leave no room for misunderstanding. Ambiguities can easily lead to misinterpretations and translation errors.
  • Be clear – Ensure content is easy to follow by avoiding long, nested sentences. Even when multiple thoughts are closely connected, it’s best to separate them into simple, discrete sentences. In particular, it is essential to ensure that the subject of each sentence and clause is clear, since in many languages the subject directly influences word formation for the rest of the sentence.
  • Keep it consistent – Don’t use synonyms for their own sake. If you mean the same thing, use the same word or phrase. Keeping terminology consistent will make the content much easier to follow for both translators and readers. (More on this later.)
  • Short and sweet – When it comes to translation, every word costs money. With that in mind, you should ensure that each word in the English version is delivering value and deserves to be translated. Avoid using many words when a few would do. Modern content typically aims to inform readers rather than overtly sell to them, so there’s no need for flowery language – the goal should be to clearly convey meaning in the most concise way possible.

 

Writing for reuse
The value proposition

Before going any further, it’s worth taking a closer look at how translation costs are typically determined. The primary factor is word count, and the best way to reduce the number of words that need to be translated is by reusing existing content that has already been translated in the past.

Translation memory software stores all your previous translations, so if you employ exactly the same English phrases or sentences that you’ve used before, there won’t be any translation cost. That being said, the match has to be perfect. The smallest inconsistencies – even as minor as a single space or capitalization – will turn a precise match into a “fuzzy match” that still needs to be translated (albeit often at a reduced rate).

ORIGINAL CONTENT RE-USED CONTENT CHANGED CONTENT
46 words in English =
598 words in 13 languages
Exact matches 18 new words in English =
234 new words
28 edited words in English =
364 edited words (fuzzy matches)
$140.78 $0.00 $100.20
The motors are reversible and come in 12V DC versions with a choice of speeds. The motors are reversible and come in 12V DC versions with a choice of speeds. The motors are reversible and are available as 12V DC and 24V DC versions with a choice of speeds.
They are robust but very lightweight and are easy to use. They are robust but very lightweight and are easy to use. They are robust but very lightweight and are easy-to-use.
The motor weighs 2.6 pounds with a maximum rotational speed of 50RPM The motor weighs 2.6 pounds with a maximum rotational speed of 50RPM The motor weighs 2.6 pounds with a maximum rotational speed of 50 RPM
Simple installation with simple instructions. Simple installation with simple instructions. Simple installation with simple instructions.

In this example, we have 46 English words that need to be translated into 13 languages. The first time we translate this content (column 1), it will cost $140. In a subsequent project (column 2), we have an opportunity to reuse the original content word-for-word, so there is no translation cost at all. However, if we had instead rewritten the original content with minor changes (column 3), rather than exact matches we would have 18 new words and 28 fuzzy matches. As a result, we would have to pay $100 to translate the changed content – effectively paying 70% of the cost again due to trivial differences that add no value to the new copy.

Consider your content landscape

From a mechanical perspective, using the DITA content authoring framework is an excellent way to simplify reuse. DITA encourages a modular approach to writing, where sections of content are designed to stand alone and can easily be pulled into many different documents. But this is only one piece of the puzzle. DITA is a great tool for content reuse, but it won’t work without the right mindset.

In our experience, authoring in a vacuum is the most common mistake among businesses creating global content, and it’s the biggest obstacle to effective translation reuse. Content doesn’t exist in isolation. It’s part of a wider landscape that spans different deliverables, products, and brands – and authors should always consider this landscape when working on new projects.

This comes back to the point we made earlier about consistency: if a customer starts by looking at a product brochure, and then decides to read the datasheet for that product, they should encounter the same terminology and messaging. This is a perfect opportunity for content reuse. A datasheet author that is aware of the wider content landscape will know that they can leverage a significant amount of text from the existing brochure. By reusing the content, they will improve their own productivity and cut hundreds of words from the translation workload.

To maximize consistency when it comes to product details, we recommend treating your product information management (PIM) system as the single source of truth. Whatever type of content you are creating, you should be able to pull the same data and copy from the PIM system every time. Errors in technical details are unacceptable, so having a master version to draw on is invaluable for both accuracy and localization efficiency. Stay tuned for an upcoming blog where we’ll dive deeper into the best ways to leverage PIM systems.

 

Send us your content!

If you’re curious about the potential improvements and savings you could make in your own localization process, why not send us some of your collateral? We’ll assess your content for repetitions, and we’ll get back to you with advice on how you can optimize your approach for ease-of-translation, reusability, and quality.

At Rubric, our specialists have almost 25 years of localization experience, and they are ready to provide their best practice expertise to help you transform your content strategy.


Ian Henderson
May 14, 2019
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Technical writing invariably involves a great deal of content reuse. If you’ve ever authored technical documents across multiple products and projects for the same organization, you’ve undoubtedly found yourself repeating elements of text and style many times over.

Streamlining this content reuse can be one of the best ways to improve the efficiency of your authoring and localization processes. And, with the right tools and strategy, it’s easier than you might think.

The Darwin Information Typing Architecture (DITA) is an open standard, XML-based architecture for writing and publishing technical documents, and it was built from the ground up to support content reuse. DITA encourages a modular approach to technical writing where topics – the basic units of information within DITA – are capable of standing alone and being reused in many different documents. The focus is on content rather than layout, with the goal of maximizing reuse to save time and resources.

DITA was originally developed by IBM almost 20 years ago. It has received numerous updates since then, and it is experiencing a renaissance with the release of new tools and Lightweight DITA – a simplified version for those that do not require the full feature set, or prefer to work in HTML5 or Markdown.

Switching from traditional word editors to DITA can seem like a daunting prospect, but if used correctly, DITA is an invaluable tool that drives effective writing and localization. That’s why we’ve put together this article to give you some tips on how to get started.

 

The right tools

The first stage in any DITA implementation is choosing your tooling. If you’re new to the architecture and looking to explore its potential, the DITA Open Toolkit is an excellent starting point for experimentation. It’s a free, open-source publishing engine, and it actually serves as the foundation for much of the DITA software ecosystem – including many of the most popular, proprietary authoring and content management applications.

Oxygen XML Editor 21.0 interface
Oxygen XML Editor 21.0 interface

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When you’re ready to implement DITA in earnest, tools such as Oxygen XML Editor are the natural next step. This kind of software provides an easy-to-use visual interface for creating and editing technical documentation, much like a typical word processor. But unlike a word processor, these tools come with built-in DITA support, enabling writers to manage their modular content units and effortlessly reuse them via content references.

Content References can be used to pull a huge variety of previously-created content into a new project. This can range from a single phrase, to a topic, to an entire collection of connected content.

 

Don’t let localization be an afterthought

The benefits of DITA aren’t limited to the initial authoring process – it can also significantly streamline localization. The key here is to make sure that you factor in localization right from the outset.

Content created in DITA can be easily converted to XLIFF for translation. But before you get to that point, there are a number of things you can do to make your content more localization-friendly:

  • Write in International English rather than American or British English. Avoid colloquial expressions, idioms, and overly complex sentences.
  • Determine whether there is anything that should not be translated, such as lists of parameters and part numbers. Most DITA tools will give you the option to flag this content for exclusion, which can make a huge difference to localization costs by reducing the scope of work.
  • In cases where you need to customize your content for different products within a range – or for different outputs for the same product (e.g. PDF manual vs online help manual) – use DITA’s conditional text feature to clearly indicate which content should vary, and in what way.
  • Develop a glossary to precisely define terms, especially acronyms and abbreviations.
  • Consider using a controlled language (for instance, Simplified Technical English) with a limited vocabulary and fixed style guidelines. This will improve the consistency of your content and minimize the risk of ambiguity for localization service providers.
  • Use the SVG format for images that include annotations or callout text. SVG graphics are the easiest to edit with computer-assisted translation tools.

Following these suggestions from the start of a project will enable you to move seamlessly from the initial content creation to localization. And once the localization is complete, you will be able to use a DITA publishing engine to generate deliverables for each of your target languages with just a few simple commands. Authors simply have to create and follow well-defined layout rules, and DITA takes care of the rest.

An additional advantage to using DITA for localization is that after a topic has been translated once, it does not have to be translated again – reducing both cost and turnaround times in localization when content is reused.

 

Leverage the experts

Working with experienced specialists is the best way to guarantee a smooth DITA adoption and avoid localization complications. At Rubric, our experts know DITA inside and out, and they are ready to provide their best practice expertise to help you plan your DITA implementation strategy.

Send us some of your own collateral and we can advise on DITA best practices! After clicking, attach some of your source documents to your email and Ian Henderson, our CTO, will reach out with some tips and guidance to help you embed structured authoring and simplify your content management.

Stay tuned for the next couple of weeks as we cover Content Authoring, Product Information Management (PIM) systems and other topics that can help drive your localization strategy.


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Whether you’re dealing with an aircraft, an industrial robot, or a pump, when it comes to configuring and maintaining machinery there is no room for error. Mistakes during installation or servicing can lead to equipment failure, accidents, and even fatalities. That’s why it’s so important for technical documentation to be clear and concise, with no room for misunderstanding.

But achieving this level of clarity can be a major challenge, especially when you factor in language barriers: even though English is the prevailing language for technical documentation, engineers and end-users are not always native speakers.

Standardize and simplify

The proven solution to this problem is Simplified Technical English (STE). Originally developed for the aerospace industry, STE is a controlled language that utilizes a limited vocabulary where each word has a single, clearly defined meaning. By keeping word usage and linguistic construction simple and consistent, STE minimizes the potential for misunderstandings.

Today, STE is seeing growing popularity outside of aviation. In the manufacturing sector in particular, businesses and technical communicators are increasingly seeing the advantages of employing a preexisting, standardized framework for their technical writing. Internal style guides and glossaries are not new concepts, but developing them from scratch and keeping them up-to-date can be immensely time-consuming. In contrast, STE is a premade and proven system, and organizations can easily adopt it with just minor customizations to suit their industry.

But how can you tell if STE is right for your business? Well, consider this question: Is proper understanding of your installation and maintenance documentation critical to safety? If your answer is “yes”, then STE is almost certainly a good fit.

From simplified English to simplified translation

STE is an excellent way to make your technical documentation more consistent and easier to understand for non-native English speakers, but it isn’t always enough on its own. Sometimes you will need to go one step further and translate your content.

Target audience is the biggest factor here. If your end user doesn’t speak English at a high enough level, or at all, then translation is obviously the best option. This situation is especially common in B2C scenarios where the customer base is wider and potentially more varied.

When localizing technical documentation, STE still offers the ideal starting point, since the benefits of STE (reduced ambiguity, improved clarity and consistency) are passed on to the localized content.

By localizing your existing STE style guide and glossary for each of your target languages, you can maintain the same degree of clarity in your translations as you have in your source content. This approach reduces ambiguity from the localization process, minimizing the risk of misunderstanding or error and resulting in a higher quality, easy-to-use end product.

Additionally, authoring source content in a concise and standardized way will enable you to make the best use of translation memory (TM) technology. TM systems automatically provide suggestions to translators by remembering past translations. And when sentence construction, word usage and grammar are kept consistent in the source language, the potential for TM leveraging – and the resulting time and cost savings – goes up significantly.

Benefits for writers, readers, and businesses

Improved end-user safety is the main reason for adopting STE and standardized translations, but it is far from the only benefit. The approach we have described in this blog can make life easier for technical writers, translators, and customers, while also delivering considerable savings to your business., using the same controlled language across all projects makes content creation much more straightforward. With this methodology, technical communicators typically make fewer errors, spend less time worrying about word choice, and gain more benefit from TM systems – all of which help them to work more effectively and productively.

  • For writers, using the same controlled language across all projects makes content creation much more straightforward. With this methodology, technical communicators typically make fewer errors, spend less time worrying about word choice, and gain more benefit from TM systems – all of which help them to work more effectively and productively.
  • From the business perspective, STE keeps content concise and wordcount low. This leads to lower translation volumes and lower costs, especially when combined with improved TM system utilization.
  • Last but not least, implementing these standards will greatly enhance the consistency of technical documentation across your company as a whole. When instructions are always written in the same way, repeat customers will have a far easier time safely getting to grips with new products.
Partnering for success

Adopting STE principles in other languages can seem daunting, but that’s where Rubric comes in. Our expert team will work with you to develop bespoke localization style guides and advise on how to embed best practice terminology processes into your business.

Our experts can also help inform your decisions on the tooling and architecture used in your localization process. These choices will have a major, multiplicative effect on the quality of your content and the efficiency of your processes – so the earlier you involve us, the better!

If you’d like to learn more about STE or our localization services, we’ll be at the STC 2019 Technical Communication Summit & Expo in Denver, CO next week. Come visit us at Booth #304 from May 5th-8th – we’d love to meet you! If you aren’t in the Denver area, be sure to follow us on social media for the latest updates.


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