Translation Projects – a Checklist

By Sanjivani Iyer

User guides and online help files authored in English alone will be of little use in non-English speaking parts of the world such as Latin America, Middle East, and also some parts of Europe. To make them usable in such parts, they need to be translated in to the desired language.

We, as Technical Writers, need to bear the following points in mind when planning for translation of our deliverables:

Format of Documentation

Translation techniques differ from one platform to another. For authoring, you may use MS Word , FrameMaker, or XML authoring tools. For translation, source files need to be shared with the translating agency. Make sure you know what needs to be translated. Usually, charges are applied for every word that is translated.

Translation Scope

  • Text: Verify whether translation of the complete set of user guides is required or only incremental portions of the documentation based on whether the base set has already been translated.You must delineate the incremental portions appropriately based on the documentation tool or platform used. For example, in MS Office and FrameMaker, it could be in track change enabled mode. In  XML authoring tools, a separate tag could be used to identify incremental portions.
  • Screenshots: Screen labels are translated in to the desired language and then integrated with the application. As a technical writer, you need to verify as to who will replace the updated screenshots in the translated user guides – your team or the translating agency.  If it is your team that needs to do it then the team should have a thorough understanding of the product or application’s navigation path and basic functionality. The task becomes extremely complicated in case of languages that read from right to left, such as Arabic . This is because, the translated screens will also read from right to left. They may bear no semblance to their original English counterparts. If the translating agency is to replace the updated screenshots then you need to ensure that timely access to the product or application is given to the agency. Also share your company’s style guide for agency to refer when replacing screenshots.


The user guides and help files are your intellectual property (IP). You are accountable for the quality. If translation is being outsourced to an external agency, make sure that the translated content is proof-read by a resource from your company who knows that language. During translation, certain hardcoded terms of the application or product may also get translated. Only a person who understands the application or product can spot such errors.

Packaging Activities

The translated content, after being thoroughly reviewed for content correctness, needs to be packaged as per your company’s standards. Templates (especially of MS Office) are invariably affected during translation. You may have to format the translated files thoroughly to ensure that the content is standardized. The headers, footers, page numbers, logo, etc. may also get affected by translation. The page numbers for Arabic manuals may read from right to left. It may help if you verify with the translating agency if they will be able to do a basic formatting using your template , if  cost permits.

Effort Estimation

Effort estimation is more critical for projects where the customer is billed for the translation. The effort taken to have a translated set of user guides and help files ready for shipment varies from one project to another. You need to estimate the effort (and timelines) allowing a buffer of at least 20-25% extra person days to accommodate slippages from the translator’s end and iterative reviews.

About Sanjivani Iyer

Manager Consulting Documentation
Oracle Financial Services Software (Bangalore)

I built my early career as a Journalist from 2001 to 2004. My stints were with Hindi (Rajasthan Patrika) and English (The Asian Age) newspapers. I then moved to IT with i-flex Solutions (now called Oracle Financial Services) as a Technical Writer. I, currently head the Consulting Documentation team at OFSS.


  1. Very Good Effort Sanju. Made for easy reading and assimilation even to a non-technical person.

  2. Congratulations Sanjivani!!!

    The article covers all important aspects of localization that every technical writer should be aware of. This is more so in the recent days when cost is becoming a deciding factor in business – big or small.

  3. Hi
    Very useful inputs. One point i would make is that in Arabic & Urdu while they are read right to left, the numbers are read left ti right. Does that impact the page numbers?

    • Thanks for the comment. Yes, if numbers are written from left to right, then they just add to the confusion:).

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