Special Ops – Document Formatting

Translation basically means putting the text content of a document into another language. Most documents these days exist in some electronic format. The large majority of these electronic documents contains formatting information, which rules the layout of the document.

Since most translators today use tools to handle their translations, such as e.g. a translation memory, some source documents need to be converted into a processable format that the translation tool can accept. Only some translation tools process the text independently of the formatting. This conversion process largely eliminates formatting and other non-textual information and leaves only the translatable part (i.e. the pure text) for processing in the translation tool.

So, how does the formatting information get back into the text after translation?

Well, some translators don’t bother at all and leave this entirely to their clients, who sometimes end up with documents that resemble a newspaper after a close encounter with an angry cat. The text is shredded to bits. I believe that clients should not be left alone in that matter.

Usually, the translation tools support the conversion back into the original format. In other cases the formatting must be re-applied manually. In all cases, however, formatting must be checked before delivery, if it was agreed with the client that formatting of source and target must be identical.

Generally, whether it is necessary at all to preserve formatting during translation depends on the text type and on how the translation is going to be used. It may not be necessary that the target text looks exactly like the source text. This is the case, for example, when the text is later layouted, say, into a sales brochure. Of course, how formatting should be handled is something to agree before commissioning a translation.

If the target text must have the same look and feel as the source text, formatting must be dealt with. Here are some examples of texts where formatting is relevant and others where it is not.

Text types where formatting (and document type) may have to be considered:

  • User Manuals
  • GUI Source Texts
  • Marketing collateral in certain document formats
  • Texts in graphics

Text types where formatting may be of lesser relevance:

  • Notes, mails or other in-house messages
  • Documents not meant for publishing
  • Some legal texts
  • Texts that are known to get transferred to some other content container, such as a CMS, an online help system, etc. but are translated outside of their final destination format

As a general rule, client and translator should agree whether formatting is relevant before a translation project is started, because this might require pre and/or post processing of the document either by the translator or by the client.

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2 Responses to “Special Ops – Document Formatting”

  1. Michael V. Says:

    Luckily, Trados & Co. support DocBook and DITA source translation. Who cares about style maiming?

    • www.dokuconsult.at Says:

      Yes, luckily they do. But if only life were that easy! 😉
      Currently, only about five percent of the documents I have to process are in such conveniently structured formats. The rest is – no, not silence, unfortunately – but busy fidgeting with crumpled layouts. The vast majority of clients/companies/people (delete where applicable) still uses the very traditional formats, some due to ignorance, most due to lack of choice. At present, it is still only a rather small number of early adopters who have completely switched to the advanced document formats. Most of those are in some way related to the technical writing industry, I presume.
      Maybe, some time in the future, all will be structure…
      Nice thought, or is it?

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