Document Overload

Jan. 15, 2016
If you are thinking about taking your company global, translating the massive amounts of documentation is a detail that should not be neglected

The security industry is abound with documentation. There are policy and procedure documents, product user guides, training and marketing materials, implementation and integration planning documents, checklists, assessments, plan templates — the list goes on and on. With the ever-reaching global economy we work in, professionals in every role within our industry must think internationally when putting pen to paper, so to speak.

For localization and translation to be done effectively, it must be about processes, processes and more processes. I see businesses on a regular basis that do not necessarily consider the challenges that can come along with translation and localization projects — whether for product software, a system user guide or marketing collateral.

Translation is more and more becoming the standard with training development, marketing tools and new product introductions. This is a process to be welcomed, not feared. Translation requirements are the direct result of growth and locale expansion for a company. And if managed the right way, can be painless.

Inside Language Services

Just like the security market, the language services industry is undergoing major technology advances. Manual processes are more a thing of the past. Quality localization is as much about the varying cultures and languages as it is about data mining and document management systems. There are three major categories of work that must be completed when going global:

  1. Pre-production work – includes planning the project lifecycle and workflow and processing documents to prepare for the translation stage.
  2. Linguistic process – involves translating the copy. Most of this work is done in a CAT or computer-assisted translation environment. This ensures an economy of scale on repeated content.
  3. Review and edits – the project is reviewed and feedback is reconciled with the translation process.

Another thing to consider is whether the translation process should be done by working local or by using a service provider and the expertise level of either party. The project manager’s experience level must be commensurate with the task at hand. One benefit of working in-country is typically lower cost, but a con can be resource management. Depending on the number of languages you are translating into, it can mean a lot of project management hours to keep all parties on track. A localization service provider takes on that burden, and you only have one contact for all your translation needs.

Translation Memory

Regardless of the route you take to get the project done, the localization resources need to have the credentials to do the job. This is true in general, but especially with security documentation — as it is very technical in nature.

When looking at a localization project you will very likely hear about TM — or translation memory — which refers to the storage and management of translated content. It is stored and cross-referenced in segments associated with the source language.

TM processes content in segments, such as phrases or sentences, because translators still need context to ensure that the translations are appropriate in terms of gender, number (singular or plural) and usage — for example, the word “bank” when used in “river bank” or “money bank.” This is additionally relevant because most languages have conjugation rules that dictate word selection depending on the object of a sentence.

The benefits of using TM include: Lower cost, thanks to leveraging previous translated content; quicker turnaround, as translators spend less time on repeat content; and increased consistency, thanks to re-use of translation projects

As with any process, there are risks when localizing content of any kind. Typical risk areas include terminology issues, style mismatch, consistency problems, contextual issues, and general misunderstandings and typos. The more you focus on the project processes and adhere to them you will mitigate the risk factors substantially.


Another term to take to heart is internationalization, which refers to adapting a product to support different languages. It is most commonly required in the case of websites, software and eLearning platforms, which work well with English or other common Western languages, but may struggle with non-Latin scripts. Common problems are incorrect handling of right-to-left alphabets and lack of support for different currencies and date formats.

Some internationalization issues can be fixed quickly, while others require a complete overhaul of the platform or even migrating to a different one. It is crucial to check for internationalization issues before a translation project starts to avoid producing work that cannot be used.

Best Practices

Another great thing to do is develop both a termbase — a document listing all technical, client-specific and frequently-occurring terms in the text, along with their explanations, examples of usage and approved translations — and style guide for any documentation being developed.

Many terms have more than one meaning or there is more than one way to translate them. Clarifying this beforehand plays a crucial role in assuring consistency in translation. Similarly, a style guide is a set of rules on how a company wants to present its materials textually and visually. It contains guidelines on presentation of the company and product names, style and language register.

I no longer try to determine at the outset of a documentation project if it will be translated down the road, I just assume it will be based on the nature of our industry. By creating projects with this in mind, a tremendous amount of time can be saved on the back end.

Many localization attempts are met with frustration once the source information is built: text is garbled, fonts are not exact, encoding of exotic languages does not look right, sentences are cut off, and in general, software builds may not work as designed.

Translation quality is a complex and subjective topic. Given the same text, two translators will usually produce different translations and both of them may be correct on a formal level. Which one is of higher quality — or, can both be? While there are objective measures available, such as accepted spelling, grammar, terminology and whether or not the translated text communicates the exact same message as the source, there will always be different opinions about quality of translation.

In an effort to ease your pain prior to wasted effort, here are five translation best practices that will save you time, money and frustration.

  1. Think globally. Many times when we are in the process of creating new documentation for our companies, we can get so caught up in the content and writing process that we do not think about the project from a global perspective. Do not use terms or phrases that are strictly North American in nature, such as “blaze a trail” or “as easy as pie” or “middle of the road.” This also applies to the images used in documents. If your marketing piece or training materials use only images of Caucasian men, you are not thinking very global and your materials will not be easily localized to many places.
  2. Space is your friend. It is important to leave plenty of white space for text to expand when it is translated. Some languages can take up 60 to 80 percent more space than the same paragraph in English. If this is not considered, you could end up with scrambled or missing text.
  3. Annotate. Maintaining a solid document annotation process helps define context or give hints to people working on the document, so the correct phrase or word can be used during translation.
  4. Start at the core. Many companies, in an effort to be inclusive, will invite all regions to be part of developing the product or material’s core message when gearing up to go global. In my experience, this is a mistake, and leads to watered-down messaging that fails to resonate with any audience. Start with the core region and nail your approach there. Then build in time to let other regions make it their own — the result will be a smoother, more effective process.
  5. Consider symbols and syntax. Euros, dollar signs, yen... whilst or while, color or colour. There is nothing worse than receiving a piece of collateral that was clearly written for a different geography.

Connie Moorhead is President of The CMOOR Group (, a provider of security training and education services. To request more info about the company, please visit

About the Author

Connie Moorhead | Connie Moorhead

Connie Moorhead is President of The CMOOR Group (, a provider of security training and education services. To request more info about the company, visit