Technical translation

Five challenges for technical writing and technical translation

Technical communication is critically important in all areas. While industries drive development, it is up to intermediaries to keep pace to make products and results understandable and accessible to users in different languages. The challenges for technical writing and technical translation are correspondingly high.

Although the job title “technical writer” is still relatively new, the job description has already changed profoundly. Wikipedia says: The technical editor designs, creates and updates technical documentation, such as operating instructions, installation and assembly instructions and training documents or online help. Increasingly, technical editors work in-house and write, for example, requirements specifications and specifications or take care of terminology or user interfaces during development.

In Germany, according to the tekom industry association, around 90,000 people are currently employed in technical communication as technical writers, but also as “technical authors”, “technical editors”, “technical writers” or “technical editors”. In general terms, we speak of technical editing.

Speaking of generalisation: without exception, all industrial sectors are characterised by new technologies and trends. With noticeable effects for the technical editors, because their work is gaining in importance and appreciation. At the same time, it is facing new challenges and opportunities, which we elaborate on a little below.

Challenge: Digital documentation

While technical documentation in previous years was dominated by print formats, digital formats are becoming more and more common today. In industrial sectors with heterogeneous machinery, this means that some equipment is equipped with “traditional” documentation in the form of manuals, while other equipment already comes with video material, online help or other digital documentation formats that can also be accessed on mobile devices.

In general, customers and users today expect more digital and interactive presentation of technical content. These now play a decisive role when it comes to purchase decisions. The question of the feasibility of innovative digital content is more important than ever in technical documentation planning.

In addition, the media is undergoing huge change, especially in mechanical engineering and plant construction. For example, augmented reality (AR) applications are increasingly becoming standard in maintenance and repair (article only available in German). The situation is similar with artificial intelligence (AI) (article only available in German). This also increases the demands on technical editing, because information must be prepared in such a way that it is available in individual or curated formats (smart content) and situationally when users call it up (information on demand) in order to be able to react promptly.

Challenge: Homogeneous documentation infrastructure

The machine parks themselves pose one specific challenge. This is because the machines there usually come from different manufacturers, who are supposed to supply all the necessary technical information for the correct operation of their machine(s) bundled together. However, this information encounters a heterogeneous infrastructure with a wide variety of interfaces at the customer’s end. And the users at the machines must know where to find the relevant documentation and information elements. Here, too, the technical editors must deliver.

In addition, there are high customer requirements for one of the major goals of Industry 4.0: The customisability of the individual machines. From series production to customised production, where machines are (or can be) used for different and changing purposes. The requirements for fast, mobile, demand- and process-oriented documentation by technical editors are correspondingly high. It is no coincidence that documentation is becoming more and more modular and is created with the help of content management and editing systems.

Challenge: Regulatory

Since GDPR came into force, there has been a fundamental change in processes and procedures for companies. Since then, compliance with the GDPR must be documented and proven in such a way that it can also be traced retroactively.
Guidelines, laws, regulations and standards are to provide orientation and stability.

In practice, this increases the pressure on companies, especially when they are increasingly networked with partners, suppliers and customers in the course of digitalisation. Even more so if they are internationally oriented.
Therefore, regulatory issues also need to be reconsidered and redefined. Both overarching regulations such as the GDPR and specific standards – such as the IEC/IEEE 82079-1 standard (article only available in German), which specifies what documentation must look like – and sector-specific regulations. This once again increases the documentation effort for companies and thus also the demands on technical editing.

Challenge: Software development and application

A significant part of technical writing and documentation today takes place in the software industry. With its own and high requirements, because it makes a big difference, for example, whether only one or several versions of a software product are to be documented in parallel. The degree of complexity also increases if the software can be configured individually for each customer and the editors do not know which service package the users are actually working with when creating the documentation.

Editorial processes have also changed because software development usually follows agile methods. As such, the needs of the documentation must be systematically taken into account in the agile process design to ensure that the documentation is available to customers at the same time as the software.

Finally, users also have high expectations of support services and digital information provision. Professional users in particular want to find detailed information easily, quickly and in relation to the problem. Document-based approaches that hide these details in manuals of hundreds of pages miss the need for immediately available knowledge.

Challenge: Technical translation

Because almost all the companies involved operate internationally, there is a constant need for translation in technical communication. According to tekom (article only available in German), at least 46 per cent of technical communication is currently translated into more than ten languages.

For technical editors, this means further high demands and time expenditures, because they are also responsible for information management and act as the contact person for translation when it comes to content-related issues.

In this respect, networking is added as a central requirement. This is because technical editing requires close and reliable cooperation with competent technical translators who meet a wide range of requirements, depending on the challenges they face. These must, for example, be able to mirror the terminology work of the technical editors and ensure conformity with ISO 17100 or ISO 18587 in translations. In addition, they must be able to maintain the balancing act between cost pressure and high quality.
Nowadays, technical translators not only need skills in the domain, for example, they also have to deal with topics such as “Controlled natural language” and STE (Simplified Technical English). Style guides and guidelines are therefore becoming increasingly important, and their creation and maintenance is time-consuming for technical writers and translators alike. Rulebooks for “Translation-oriented writing” are an important tool. These guidelines are intended to simplify technical documentation and make the documentation or translation processes efficient.

Conclusion: New challenges mean, above all, new opportunities

The challenges are great – and in view of advancing technical developments and increasing demands, they continue to increase. Conversely, however, the possibilities for technical editing and communication have never been as great as they are today. It is therefore important to use them effectively and efficiently.

We provide support all along the line, in close cooperation with the technical editors or the language management in the company. Two decades of experience in technical documentation translation services, seamlessly controlled translation quality and individually tailored project, terminology and translation management form an excellent basis for perfect technical translation.
As a certified technology partner of SCHEMA ST4, Across and Trados Studio and as an active member of tekom and the DIN, we are very familiar with leading solutions and technologies in editing and translation management – and are optimally prepared for the new and future challenges of technical editing.

We relieve you of the entire quality-building translation and terminology processes, already in the source language and in all target languages, so that the effort on your side can be reduced to a minimum over time and you ultimately benefit from a quality and service that

  • sustainably reduces costs and efforts
  • reflects a high-quality product to your customers
  • is based on technical and methodological innovations
  • is compliant with ISO 17100/ISO 18587 standards
  • smoothly slots in with your processes and resources

Talk to us. Our technical translation experts will be happy to advise you on sensible measures and options.

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