Technical Translations: 6 Rules for Readable Content


Technical content

Have you ever read an instruction manual and not understood a word, even if it was written in your own language? Or have you ever sent out a manual for technical documentation for translation and suddenly received countless questions about it from your translators? 

Unfortunately, experience has shown that technical documentation or user manuals are often too complicated, poorly translated or simply not adapted to the local market or reader. Although the reader is initially happy to find the operating instructions in his or her own language, their euphoria often disappears as they begin to read. The most common reason for this is the lack of controlled language in the source document. The reader is left with no understanding of what they have just read and their problem remains unsolved - the worst-case scenario for customer experience and therefore for your brand.

Woman with head on table

But why are operating instructions often incorrect, misleading or too complicated? Is there a way to make users' lives easier? In this article, we would like to show you how simple and controlled language can have a positive effect on the readability of your technical documentation and share some simple rules for optimizing your technical content for translation.

The goal of technical writing, and therefore technical writers, is to provide the end user with information that is easy to understand, clear and unambiguous. Our technical content translators take this very seriously and have high quality standards. In order to ensure a high-quality translation, the quality and simplicity of the source document itself is crucial. To ensure good, easily understandable translations, we recommend using controlled language.

Are your documents written in controlled language? Contact us!

Why is controlled language so important for technical translations?

Controlled language (such as simplified technical English) aims to make technical documentation simple and understandable, but also to optimize translations and reduce costs.

A controlled language is basically a restricted form of a natural language like English or German. Since all natural languages have different grammatical rules, it follows that the rules for controlled language differ from one language to another. In general, however, all controlled languages generally consist of:

  • simplified grammatical rules (which are more restrictive than the general language)
  • a limited vocabulary (only a relatively small number of words are permitted).

ASD-STE100 Simplified Technical English 

English-based controlled languages such as Simplified English, Global English or Standardized English are all attempts to write technical documentation in a simple, clear manner that helps to improve the user experience for native and non-native English speakers. One of the most popular controlled languages is the ASD-STE100 Simplified Technical English, also known as Simplified English. Originally developed in the early 1980s for the aerospace and defense industries, the principles of the ASD Simplified Technical English specification have been adopted in many different industries. You can download a free copy of the latest issue here, for example.

Advantages of using controlled language

  • Source documents are more consistent, structured, and easier to read
  • The source document is more easily understood (reduces questions or clarifications)
  • Language technologies such as translation memories and machine translation can be used optimally thanks to the improved structure and consistency of the source documents

All of this results in higher efficiency, both in terms of time and costs.

technical documentation

An excellent example of controlled language rules and the benefits they can have for translation is the CLOUT™ (Controlled Language Optimized for Uniform Translation) set of rules developed by localization industry expert Uwe Muegge.

With this article, we do not claim to write a detailed and scientific article on technical writing, but rather to provide a set of simple rules for using controlled language while writing and translating.

6 rules for using controlled language for technical content

As a language services provider and technical translation expert, we would like to show you how you can improve the readability of your texts, simplify the translation process, and even reduce translation costs. Take a look at the following general guidelines that help technical translators to write in what we call "controlled language". Your customers and readers will thank you for it.

6 rules for technical content

How can you improve the readability of your technical texts?

  • Leave enough blank space, don’t fill every page with content.
  • Use vertical lists like this one.
  • Use tables, diagrams or graphics, but only if they add value to the written content.

If you’re not sure whether your writing is clear and concise, send a document to your translation service provider, who specializes in applying these same principles to technical translations. They should be able to give you suggestions for improvement.

If you would like to see some examples of good technical writing, take a look at this article. And please note that the above guidelines don't apply if you're a budding literary writer. If Shakespeare had followed this advice, the famous line from his sonnet "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?..." might have ended up as: "You look good".

Do you have questions about your technical content? Contact us!