Create technical documentation – Tips for professional translation


create documentation for translation

Simply put, a technical documentation includes all documents describing a technical product. It ensures that all information is systematically processed and subsequently structured. The ultimate goal is ultimately to secure the manufacturer of a product under copyright law, to ensure reproducibility and to permanently archive all information on the basis of the legislation.

Therefore, if a technical documentation is to be produced, a legal and structured approach is required. This applies in particular if the technical documentation is also to be translated into other languages.

Technical documentation: Content comes first

Exactly what is contained in a technical documentation is governed by legal and partly company-internal guidelines. It is always crucial that the content and not the linguistic quality is at the forefront. The aim is to make it as precise as possible how a machine can be used. According to the Machinery Directive, the following documents are part of the scope of a technical documentation:

  • General description of the machine and explanations of how it works
  • Technical drawings
  • Operating instructions
  • Schematics
  • Documents for risk assessment, test reports and a summary of the applicable standards
  • EC declaration of conformity

All necessary documents must be translated if the respective product is to be used outside the home country.

Create technical documentation and pay attention to different requirements

technical scheme

A technical documentation can therefore occur in a wide variety of forms. The type of the documentation is important not only for legal purposes, but also, in particular, for the translator to meet individual requirements.

  • Technical Drawings 
  • If a drawing is to be translated it is usually complicated to get to the actual text at all. For example, the direct translation in the CAD program is associated with an uneconomical extra effort by the translator. A possible PDF conversion must also be made usable and converted further by OCR. Subsequently, a back-conversion is necessary, which can also lead to problems again.
  • User Manual 
  • However, certain phrases must be translated strictly according to legal requirements. The translator must be aware of certain standards or technical terms in the foreign language.

The list can be continued as desired for all types of technical documentation, but one is already clear when comparing technical drawings and user manuals: every project has to be worked out individually and in close cooperation with all interested parties. Only in this way is it possible to translate the technical documentation not only in a meaningful way, but strictly according to the regulations.

Legal requirements for the technical documentation

Technical documentation is not an end in itself. As mentioned earlier in this blog, they are created mainly to legally secure companies or meet certain legal requirements. Consequently, the translation of the technical documentation must also satisfy precisely these requirements. Operating instructions for machines can be used as a good example:

  • The instructions must provide information on the “intended use” of the machines. This term is contained exactly in the text in the European Machinery Directive.
  • This results in a requirement for the translator to use the exact translation for “intended use”. Otherwise the reader and also the legislator will not be exactly clear what is the translation about.
  • The same applies to further signaling and keywords, such as “warnings” or “commissioning”.

Translation problems can arise not only in the case of specialist covers, but especially in the case of figures. Thus, the conversion of Celsius degrees or meters into the Anglo-American system is often associated with difficulties. When the translator has to decide where and whether to round up or down, there may be errors. It is therefore advisable to have a translation of all the figures by the technical editorial team before the translation of the technical documentation.

create documentation for technical translation

Appropriate text requires proper translation

Companies often have extensive documentation on how to draw up a technical documentation, for a good reason, the texts serve a specific purpose: the legal representation and description of the use of a technical machine. For translators, this results in a number of challenges, for example, subject terms must be exactly researched and translated. This takes away the usual linguistic freedom in other translations, but it is absolutely essential. The translation must also be exact, if units such as temperature, speed or distance have to be converted. In order to avoid mistakes in the translation of a technical documentation, technical editing and translation agency should therefore work together as closely as possible.