Authoring for Localization

July 28, 2019
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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).
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.

46 words in English
= 598 words in 13 languages

Exact matches

18 new words in English
= 234 new words in 13 languages

28 edited words in English = 364 edited words (fuzzy matches) in 13 languages

$140.78 $0.00 $100.20
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, structured content – for example using the DITA content authoring framework, MadCap Flare or Ixiasoft platforms – is an excellent way to simplify reuse. Structured content 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.
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.
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