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international technical communication

Editing for International


BY V A L E R I E R U S H A N A N , Senior Member Audiences

C
ompanies that have em- h u m a n processes, and how to enforce a n d consistency, a n d the correct applica-
braced the global market- standards across their organizations. t i o n of style guides and templates. They
place in their efforts to grow check automated references. The
and r e m a i n competitive are Where We Are luckiest are able to r e c o m m e n d a n d
constantly l o o k i n g for ways to localize In the past few years, technical com- i m p l e m e n t broader changes, such as re-
their products a n d content faster, bet- m u n i c a t i o n teams have been severely structuring content.
ter, and—most of all—less expensively. downsized a n d simultaneously expect- That said, few technical communi-
Technical editors, in cooperation ed to w o r k across m u l t i p l e time zones. cators or editors focus on content vol-
w i t h technical communicators, manag- Many teams no longer include editors, ume—page or topic count, graphics
ers, a n d localization coordinators, can a n d some teams do n o t even have time count, and especially w o r d count—and it
contribute to these goals by increasing for peer editing. This situation has ren- is extremely rare that editors cut content
content reuse a n d m u l t i l i n g u a l usability dered the challenges technical c o m m u - appreciably. U n t i l recendy, volume d i d n ' t
while reducing volume and e l i m i n a t i n g nicators face m o r e difficult. matter, so editors usually weren't asked to
culturally sensitive language. Editors also Editors check documents for gram- control it and weren't used to d o i n g so.
need to understand the role of tools a n d mar a n d spelling errors, terminology O n l y once d i d one of my previous em-

16 intercom ImageZoo/Punchstock
international technical communication

ployers tell me I needed to pay attention O t h e r tools, technologies, and meth- How We Can Get There
to volume (I had inherited a 500-page odologies exist and are being devel- Perhaps some day, technology will
book that wouldn't fit in the product box oped, but so far, CMS, D I T A , X M L , a n d help us efficiently prepare content for
if it reached 550 pages). Now, the limit- TM are the most useful for preparing localization, but u n t i l then, we are going
i n g factor is n o t the size of the box but most types of technical content for lo- to have to do most of the w o r k ourselves.
the size of the localization budget. calization. W h i l e these solutions focus We must pay attention to areas such as
T h e content that technical c o m m u n i - on reuse—saving some time and money content volume, usability, cultural neu-
cation groups painstakingly create and —they d o n ' t address the issue of con- trality, and coordination across teams.
edit (sometimes having made an effort tent volume.
to prepare for localization) is still far Consider this: the time and cost sav- Impetus for Change
f r o m optimized. Most technical docu- ings of content w i t h reduced or con- Linguists, usability specialists, a n d
ments are unnecessarily l o n g and are t r o l l e d volume far outweigh the benefits others have l o n g felt that localization
n o t as prepared for the localization pro- of reusing content. is the r i g h t t h i n g to do. But what's re-
cess as they c o u l d be. ally d r i v i n g the recent focus on creating
Where We Are Going m u l t i l i n g u a l content—especially con-
Existing Strategies—Not Recommended Tools help improve many processes, t r o l l i n g volume—is the business need to
Content volume is the chief factor in but, fortunately for technical c o m m u - expand globally a n d the perceived h i g h
the cost of localization. Companies of- nicators, there is still a need for the cost of localization.
ten make desperate attempts to c o n t r o l h u m a n m i n d to make value j u d g m e n t s W h y perceived? Because over the past
volume by l i m i t i n g the components that required to produce technical content two decades, the localization industry
are translated. For example, a company (see Figure 1). has driven translation costs d o w n about
may deem the user guide less i m p o r t a n t Editors need to t h i n k in terms of the as low as they can go, and the cost of
than the installation guide and choose b i g picture as well as p e r f o r m granular localization in most cases is a tiny frac-
n o t to translate the user guide. For p o i n t work. They may need to eliminate use- tion of the r e t u r n that companies get
releases, some companies do n o t local- less content "limbs" and also p e r f o r m in the target markets. C o m m o n Sense
ize any product content ( i n c l u d i n g soft- content "liposuction" ( t h r o u g h t h o u - Advisory's research has f o u n d that com-
ware, o n l i n e help, p r i n t e d documents, sands of tiny cuts)—and develop strate- panies that earn almost h a l f their rev-
Web content, and marketing collateral). gies for b o t h . If they d o n ' t i m p l e m e n t enue f r o m outside the U n i t e d States
These localization decisions, w h i c h these strategies while the content is still "spent between one-quarter of one per-
are driven solely by cost considerations, i n their hands, the result will be wasteful cent and 2.5 percent" of their annual
amount to p r o d u c t amputation. They content that proliferates across markets international market revenue on lo-
are patently illogical for users w h o need a r o u n d the globe. calization. A c c o r d i n g to this study, one
the content in their own languages— F r o m the start, technical c o m m u n i - company "spends more landscaping its
and they d o n ' t support the company's cators must develop content w i t h lo- campus than it does localizing."
global image. calization and m u l t i l i n g u a l usability in T h a t said, sizable budgets are some-
m i n d — a n d we need practical methods times needed to localize large volumes
Tools and Technologies of achieving those goals. This requires m u l t i p l i e d by a h i g h n u m b e r of lan-
To address localization cost issues, significant changes in b o t h our organi- guages. Therefore, editors must focus
some technical c o m m u n i c a t i o n groups zations and o u r own t h i n k i n g . on c o n t r o l l i n g volume in the source
are m i g r a t i n g toward tools and tech-
Figure I. Strong processes need both technology and human input.
nologies such as content management
systems (CMS), D a r w i n I n f o r m a t i o n
Technology Humans
Typing Architecture ( D I T A ) , and X M L .
Consistency: reuse of existing Consistency: creating reusable terms,
Language service providers employ
information phrases, sentences that get put in
translation m e m o r y ( T M ) technology, tools
Databases / file management:
w h i c h uses databases that store the orig- storage, retrieval Value judgments (what makes sense,
i n a l text and its equivalent (translated Source control is right / wrong, better quality)
by humans) in each target language. Consistent application of rules Creating strategies, standards
TM allows the reuse of translated seg- Predictability Coordinating efforts for which there are
(yet) no tools
ments (similar to sentences), thereby
speeding up the translation process. If Weak-
the segments are consistent enough,
nesses in; they usually do not fix what's authors, documents, products, and
wrong; cannot even identify what's time:
service providers can offer discounts on useless, frustrating to users: too - Rules
translation costs. For content that has voluminous
- T e r m s , phrases, sentences
m u l t i p l e revisions—such as technical m Application of rules may be too • Application of rules is often inconsistent
rigid
c o n t e n t — T M technology is ideal. (but uniqueness is sometimes needed)

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international technical communication

language before the cost is m u l t i p l i e d ten based on user profiles. But techni- Here's another critical p o i n t : phras-
by the n u m b e r of target languages. cal c o m m u n i c a t i o n teams rarely have es such as Click OK are n o t only m u c h
Well-established organizations often access to solid user data (let's hope this shorter than Click OK to save your changes
have large volumes of legacy content changes!), n o t to m e n t i o n the fact that and return to the Configuration Options dia-
that was created before localization was m u l t i l i n g u a l users are rarely consulted. log box, b u t are infinitely more reusable.
commonplace, and the need to localize Editors can at least focus content on
this content puts pressure on managers the data they're able to get. For exam- Industry Standards
t r y i n g to c o n t r o l costs. Even younger or- ple, i n c l u d i n g a statement such as This W h y does it seem to be the industry
ganizations w i t h smaller budgets and a manual is for the beginning through the standard to include so m u c h waste?
need to localize in many languages are advanced user is useless—the statement Because that's the way everyone else
feeling the p i n c h . could refer to all the world's users, and does it, the way we were taught to do i t ,
therefore, all the content that could and the way our style guide says to do
Cultural Neutrality possibly be w r i t t e n about the product. it. Editors need to learn to identify op-
Most technical communicators know Instead of accepting such an unfocused portunities for i m p r o v e m e n t and adapt
they should pay attention to cultural is- user profile (which may come f r o m to the idea that users want only the con-
sues when creating m u l t i l i n g u a l content, p r o d u c t management or m a r k e t i n g ) , tent that they actually need.
b u t many have l i m i t e d knowledge in this try getting user data f r o m those in your Change is painful—especially when it
area. Well-meaning strategies that advo- organization ( i n c l u d i n g offices abroad) involves l o o k i n g at how we create con-
cate learning about other cultures and w h o have direct contact w i t h users. tent. It's easier to clinically analyze the
avoiding certain colors or numbers can seemingly inorganic and objective—
be misleading. For example, in Chinese What's Next? such as tools and technologies—than
culture, the n u m b e r 4 is considered u n - O f course, you can't j u s t chop o f f i m - our own content. W h e n one of my stu-
lucky (it sounds similar to the character portant i n f o r m a t i o n . Editors need to dents learned how the use of "all caps"
for "death"), b u t you still have to use it learn to find the fat, isolate it, and re- created p r o d u c t i o n problems in local-
in procedures that contain at least four move it methodically. Take the quiz in ization and made readers in some lan-
steps. Similarly, the use of color, while Figure 2 to see whether you can deter- guages uncomfortable, he decided to
i m p o r t a n t for Web sites and marketing m i n e what should follow. find o u t why his organization used this
materials, has m i n i m a l impact in techni- Figure 2. A localization quiz.
cal documentation. Certainly, studying
cultures is an admirable goal, b u t the 1. What happens after c o m p l e t i n g this instruction?
time required to have sufficient depth Click O K
outweighs business benefits. We must a. Your changes are saved.
focus on cultural issues that affect tech- b. The dialog box closes.
nical documentation. c. B o t h of the above.
Writers d o n ' t always avoid slang and
j a r g o n , so editors can start by replacing 2. What paragraph tag comes after this introduction?
such terms w i t h standard language. Follow this step-by-step procedure:
Another type of cultural issue to look a. Bullet
for, and one that can help reduce the b. N u m b e r e d step
amount of content, is the use of a conver- c. H e a d i n g level 2
sational tone. Consider these examples:
3. In a wizard, what happens after a user follows this command?
That's it! Simple, right? You're
almost there.
Click Next.
a. T h e wizard closes and the product's m a i n window appears.
Congratulations! You've completed b. You enter a U R L and click Go.
the lesson.
c. You continue to the wizard's next page.
Some teams make a concerted effort
to create friendly content, b u t it often Answers and Comments:
doesn't translate well—and usually cre- 1. c: This is standard behavior for most any application. If the result is predict-
ates verbosity. Editors must remember able, why d o c u m e n t it?
that users want to solve problems quick- 2. b: N u m b e r e d steps clearly indicate a procedure. There is no need to tell users
ly, so having to read more words—in any a procedure is c o m i n g up next.
language—is frustrating. 3. c: W h y are sentences such as Click Next to continue to the wizard's nextpageso com-
mon? T h e p o i n t of wizards is that they already contain the instructions for the
Multilingual Usability user. D o c u m e n t i n g those instructions again is pure waste.
We know that content should be writ-

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international technical communication

source content and i n t o the localized


versions of the p r o d u c t and content.
Perhaps because we are involved in
creating high-tech products, o u r com-
m u n i t y tends to believe that technology
w i l l p e r f o r m miracles. Some companies
invest large amounts of money in tools
and expect a h i g h R O I after a year or
two; the R O I f r o m volume r e d u c t i o n
most often occurs in the first project.
W h i l e tools are very good at enabling
reuse (which helps humans—it's dif-
ficult for us to remember potentially
reusable material across topics, help
systems, products, w r i t i n g teams on sev-
convention. It turns o u t that it had been time r e q u i r e d for localization. A n d j u s t eral continents), they do not, in and of
i m p l e m e n t e d twenty-five years ago, and t h i n k about how m u c h less time y o u ' l l themselves, create reusable topics or
no one had questioned it since. need to edit the next revision! sentences. T h a t requires a symbiotic re-
It all comes back to a cultural shift lationship between humans and tools.
w i t h i n our organizations. To address is- Tracking Progress W i t h their broader view across docu-
sues such as these, we have to reexamine We must learn to better prepare con- ments, products, and w r i t i n g teams,
o u r style guides, templates, and other tent for global users, and to do so while editors are in a good position to make
structures. This takes committees (with controlling expenses. This involves recommendations to their teams and
plenty of disagreement, no d o u b t ) , con- foreign languages and math—togeth- companies. Editors should evaluate and
sensus, testing, and time. er—two things that do n o t come natu- r e c o m m e n d tools and lead in the devel-
rally to editors in general. Being fluent o p m e n t and r e c o m m e n d a t i o n of rules,
Quality, Quantity, or Time? in another language or two is helpful, some of w h i c h can be integrated w i t h
L i k e most people in business, editors although it isn't necessary. We need to t o o l use. As many teams have discovered
are faced w i t h the classic trade-off of learn to avoid things (such as text in all since m o v i n g to topic-based w r i t i n g , we
quality versus quantity versus time. In caps) that unnecessarily hamper local- need to define o u r w r i t i n g rules and
the past, the editor's task has largely fo- ization or impede m u l t i l i n g u a l usability. strategies for reuse before i m p l e m e n t -
cused on quality, b u t time has become A n d it's i m p o r t a n t to track, c o n t r o l , and i n g a technology solution. I n c l u d i n g
a m u c h m o r e significant factor, and the predict content volume. volume c o n t r o l and reuse o p t i m i z a t i o n
quantity of content has exploded as nev- Tracking volume is easy. You can in the p l a n n i n g , i m p l e m e n t a t i o n , track-
er before. count words in a Microsoft Word docu- i n g , localization, and revision processes
Accompanying these shifts in empha- m e n t by selecting Tools > Word Count. is imperative. ©
sis has been a b o o m in tools enabling In A d o b e FrameMaker, select File >
reuse and increased productivity, a fo- Utilities > Document Reports > Word SUGGESTED READING
cus on simplicity in the field of usability, Count. After l e a r n i n g the type of con-
and increased attention to w r i t i n g con- tent to avoid or delete, y o u can track DePalma, D o n a l d A . , and Renato Beni-
cisely. M o r e editors are w o r k i n g elec- the w o r d c o u n t again and r e p o r t p r o g - natto. Beggars at the Globalization Banquet:
tronically rather than i n h a r d copy. I n ress to the management. Optimizing the Return on Investment of
a few groups, editors even make volume Localization in the Enterprise. C o m m o n
reductions direcdy in files. This requires Editors as Leaders Sense Advisory, Inc. November, 2002.
consensus, as well as integration i n t o Editors can lead by creating lists of ac-
the team and comfort using a u t h o r i n g ceptable and unacceptable t e r m i n o l o - Valerie Rushanan (valerie@architext-usa
tools—trends that are g r o w i n g for all gy; chairing style-guide committees; and .com) is a multilingual technical content
the r i g h t reasons. suggesting, d o c u m e n t i n g , and enforc- expert with twenty-four years' experience in
T h o u g h it is an editor's nature to fo- i n g changes w i t h the aid of technology. teaching, technical translation, and techni-
cus on quality and details (that's a g o o d Try to include an editor in cross- cal communication.
t h i n g ) , remember that overall volume functional teams, and to have an editor
and usability (that is, quality) are also coordinate terminology and phrasing
related. C o n t r o l l i n g volume serves o u r across products. Quality, consistency,
employer (by reducing p r o d u c t cost reuse, and avoidance of cultural issues
and m a k i n g editors m o r e valuable em- ought to start w i t h i n the product, or
ployees) a n d users, a n d reduces the flaws can proliferate t h r o u g h o u t the

December 2007 intercom


THE MAGAZINE OF THE SOCIETY FOR TECHNICAL COMMUNICATION SIC

December 200 SIX TIPS FOR


CONSULTING
SUCCESS

EDITING FOR
INTERNATIONAL
AUDIENCES

HONE YOUR
PROFESSIONAL
SKILLS:

1 l v l » l i « Ui R

pr
i.!..).ii....i.i.ii..i.,i.,i«i...,mi 111 with Document Design
112948 ICOft and Development
PAULA H HARLOW ??94B
BECKMAN COULTER> INC P14B
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INDIANAPOLIS IN 46268-5103