Following a short break after Joe Welinske’s talk about Multi-screen Help Authoring, Val Swisher took to the stage.
Val is the founder of Content Rules, Inc., and she spoke about eight simple rules for technical communicators to follow to make content global-ready–now! Her specialty is doing translation work, so she knows a thing or two about making content ready for a global market. As she went through each rule, she would explain the impact of the rules and why the rules were in place, although some were self-explanatory.
The rule she listed were as follows:
Rule 1: Not all errors are created equal. Some can cost you thousands of dollars!
This is one of those obvious rules. Taking the time to write content carefully as well as making sure proper editing is done is a necessity. Even one small typo can make a difference.
Rule 2: Creative Writing is a myth. Standardize.
Val’s point with this rule is that superfluous writing is not necessary. Keeping content clear, concise, cogent and correct is especially important in translation, and allows for better reuse of content.
Rule 3: Real copy editors don’t do it without a terminology manager.
It is vital to use the same terms for certain words, especially for translation purposes. For example, the words “puppy”, “dog”, and “canine” all refer to the same animal, but are clearly different words, even though they essentially mean the same thing. In translation, there are times that this much word variation for a single item isn’t available in a different language, so choosing one word as the referential term is recommended. It keeps terminology within the content–especially if reusing content–consistent. Style guides are, unfortunately, not followed as often as they can be. A system is needed to manage terminology and help prevent problems like this example from occurring.
Rule 4: Have you got translation memory (a translation database)? Your vendors do. Use it. It keeps content standardized and saves money.
This is another fairly self-explanatory rule. I was not aware, since I’m not in the translation business, that there are such things as translation databases. From what I could understand how it works (and someone please correct me if I’m wrong), a translation database has features that when a specific turn-of-phrase is used on one language, there is a specific translation for that combination of words into another language. When a translation is done, the database looks for that word combination and translates it accordingly. This, again, allows for consistency in translations between the different language editions of content. As a technical communicator who does translations, Val is saying that if you don’t have such a database in place, you should have one because in the long run, it will standardized content and save money.
Rule 5: Don’t complain about quality of your tech writers. You agreed to outsource docs to ___ in the 1st place.
Val pointed out that while there are good outsource resources for writing and translation out there, sometimes the quality is not as good as keeping it in house or closer to home, especially if the content is written by someone whose first language is not English. Good quality source material is key! Having good quality source material helps control costs, especially with translation!
Rule 6: If you write flabby copy, even the nicest vendors will email you a bill for localization that will astound you.
Again, this comes back to having quality content in place. Val’s point was that if you do write weak content that is difficult to translate because it is not quality content, even one’s best clients will send you a bill for the translation for localization purposes, and the bill will be VERY HIGH. Again, having quality content saves money!
Rule 7: Get rid of extra adjectives and superlative words! Delay this product launch, and there’s no next product launch.
This rule is a strong recommendation related again to how content should be written. The use of extra adjectives, adverbs and other superlative words do not enhance the content. Using such words that have to be rewritten or translated can delay a product going out, and for a client, that can be a deal-breaking move. By delaying the product due to not meeting a deadline due to overdue time for translation, and there will be no next time being able to help with a product launch. Obviously, that would be bad business.
Rule 8: Translation is a team sport. You want to work alone? Become an accountant.
While this rule elicited a laugh from the audience, it was a point well taken. Teamwork is KEY! A better source of English content will result between source writers and translators if they work together.
Val was asked the question at the end of her presentation, “What alternative tools for style guides are on the market?” She responded that there are lots of software tools out there, but to be careful about push technology within those software items.
I found this presentation rather fascinating, especially since Val presented it with a sense of humor. But her point was clear. Content needs to be as precise as possible when it will be reused and especially when used in translation for consistency. By following her basic rules, costs can be controlled, and the quality of the content can only get better.
I thought about what it takes to do translation, searching my own memory banks from when I almost minored in French during my undergrad years and had to do translations, to the present day watching my husband translate literature written in German to Spanish for a group he’s been involved with for years, to my own struggles to translate what I want to say to my in-laws into my broken Spanish. Translation is not an easy task, but when thinking about translating my English thoughts into another language, it can get tricky because of the turn of phrase or colloquialisms used from area to area. Even in talking to my husband about the topic, he will say that there are different idioms used between Spanish speaking countries, although Spanish will still be relatively “standard.” Being from Ecuador, he can still understand someone from Spain, Mexico or Argentina as much as an American can understand someone from the UK, Canada, or the Australia. But I’ve even found in my own teaching of a business and technical writing course to a corporate group in Asia is that English taught globally is not consistent due to the source English being from different countries, so I have to go and set the record straight. I can certainly appreciate where consistency and choice of words can lead to better quality content and communication in the long term.
The next presentation, and the last in this series: Adobe Day Presentations: Part V – Mark Lewis and DITA Metrics.