Friday, November 11, 2011

Summary of Translating Technical Manuals – by João Roque Dias

João is a translator from English into European Portuguese, specializing in translation of “nuts and bolts, and everything between the bolt head and the nut”, i.e. technical manuals. He gave a presentation for ATA Science and Technology Division during the ATA conference in Boston on his specialty, “Translating Technical Manuals”. His definition of a technical manual is “a roadmap for the user, the bread and butter for any technical translator. Nobody reads a manual but everybody uses it.” He points out that, technical manuals should be translated by technical translators with a deep knowledge of the subject matter, impeccable writing skills and an excellent command of the style for the manual. Unfortunately this is not always the case and some translators have no idea of what they are translating. He points out that there are different types of technical manuals and different audiences. The translator should take this into account and adjust the style accordingly. The translator should use clear and simple style, master the correct technical terminology and read each sentence as you were the end user. One of my favorite comments from him was “If you don’t understand what you are reading, you should also not attempt to translate it”. He also gave many examples of being precise and on false friends, with references in his native language, European Portuguese.
João continued his presentation with some practical tips, such as:

-          never translate the names of the support department, or else the letter may obviously not arrive to the correct place

-          pay attention to numbers and measurements since they are not written the same way in all languages

-          find out if labels and controls should be translated in the software or in the machine itself

-          do not translate the names of buttons on the actual machine

-          refuse to translate picture captions without seeing the actual picture

-          have a check list for your work so you do not miss anything, such as manual spell check on top of machine spell check

-          read the whole manual (not literally, of course) before you start translating it

-          collect, study and learn the main terminology that will be common in the type of manuals you translate

-          use a controlled and simplified (not simple) language

João displayed a great knowledge on the subject matter and presented a rather “dull” subject in a very entertaining and humorous way. For more information on João himself, or his work you can go to his website: To download his presentation (extended version in PDF format), this is the link:

Penned by Tess Whitty, English into Swedish translator specializing in IT, software and manuals for consumer electronics

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