How to standardize manuals for similar products?
Thread poster: Dinny

Dinny  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:30
Italian to Danish
+ ...
Aug 12, 2013

Hello everybody,

Do any of you know, if such a thing as training courses for technicians, who write the manuals for various products, exist? If not, it could be a gold mine to start up such a thing!

I am often translating manuals for various appliances, furtunately among other more funny stuff, and it hits me that the manufacturers could save loads of money, if only their technicians would write the manuals for similar products in a similar way, using the same expressions for the same instructions.

A company might want to translate the manuals for, say, 50 different products in the same area. And, naturally, in 15 or more different languages. These products could be hoovers, alarm systems, radios, television sets, whatever. As a translator, I notice that a little sentence like f.inst.: ”Remove the battery cover and insert the appropriate type of batteri paying attention to the polarity” can be expressed in hundreds of different ways – but in the same manufacturer’s manuals for his various and very similar products. And he is paying for it every single time this sentence pops up in one of it variations.

It doesn’t really bother me, because I don’t work with ”CAT tool discounts” (I pay for it, I gain the advantage), but since most manufacturers require these discounts from their translation agencies, they could make huge savings, if only they would standardize their language for the manuals. It is not more complicated than to set up the nowadays usual ”Corporate Image Manual”.

Is anybody teaching them how to do this?

Or else, maybe somebody should beat them to it!


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Vadim Kadyrov  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:30
Member (2011)
English to Russian
+ ...
I don`t think Aug 13, 2013

that there will be ever a single standard for writing/translating manuals.

First, once one standard has been issued, there will inevitably be issued new standards which will "compete" with each other. This situation will resemble "competition" of different phonetic transcription systems you see in different dictionaries (e.g. Longman vs. American Heritage Dictionary).

Second, I were a marketing manager of any company issuing numerous manuals every year, I would appoint a person responsible for maintaining TMs and/or glossaries. It would be his duty to make sure that manuals are written/translated properly.

BTW, this is a huge problem of the translation industry. I am not even sure that we will see any progress here, since too many players are there on the market, with their own standards and approaches.

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Dinny  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:30
Italian to Danish
+ ...
Not general standards Aug 13, 2013

I realize it would be impossible to have general global standards.

What I was thinking of, was the standards within the same company, i.e. that certain instructions should always use the same wording. Like the one about how to replace the batttery, etc.

If I had nothing else to do, I would approach big manufacturers and show them, how much they could save on translations by doing so, but since I am busy translating and earn good money on translating those instructions in all their different variations, I shall not be the one doing so.

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José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:30
English to Portuguese
+ ...
A profession on its own Aug 13, 2013

My translating life began with technical manuals for heavy machinery. It was the major item among my internship assignments while studying mechanical engineering. Since this was in the early 1970s, the process was manual, no PCs at that time.

Over time, I gradually expanded my coverage. Some locally developed machines had no foreign manuals to be translated, so I had to write them. Technical product literature also required some similar work. However this is only to explain where I came from.

Let's skip to the current state of the art. Many users nowadays complain about software manuals. Most of them are written by programmers, so they focus on how features work, and not on how to actually use these features, how to draw benefits from them. Tutorials often walk through ONE case, and fall short of providing the big picture on how to use that in other scenarios, for diverse purposes.

Later I got involved with training, first technical, and afterwards in management skills development. These taught me a huge lesson on what is known as user-friendliness. When I had to write a software manual from scratch, user-friendliness was my major goal. Users feedback reassured me that I accomplished it.

So let's refocus to something current: cell phone user manuals. Everybody has a cell phone nowadays. I had a long succession of M-brand cell phones for no special reason. Their manuals were never user-friendly, I always felt I was using, at best, 5-10% of the features available. Over time, as I learned more on my own, as soon as I exceeded that level, the unit's battery was no longer holding the charge as before, and it was more economical to move to a new model, than to replace the battery. As technology evolved, the new model had more features, so the learning process with another user-unfriendly manual started from square one.

My last M-brand cell phone had a pretty unfriendly manual. Pages and pages trying to "sell" me the benefits of a whole flock of features that I'd only use if I became a teenager again. The really useful features were covered by skimpy and often cryptic descriptions of which button did what.

What's the point in "selling" there, if the manual came shrink-wrapped inside the box containing the phone I'd have already bought?

So I finally switched to an S-brand cell phone. Its manual was really user-friendly. In less than one day I had mastered, say, 70% of its features. As a cell phone by itself, it's not much better nor worse than the M-brand ones I had before. However by knowing how to use most of its features, it provides me with much more benefits. Of course, unless I find a better option, my future cell phones will be all S-brand.

All sales courses emphasize selling on benefits, not features. Yet the marketing guys at major manufacturers think that rebates, discounts and promos are a better investment than providing good instruction manuals, so their end users may benefit from all those features R&D worked so hard and spent so much to develop.

Some day high-tech consumer product manufacturers will realize that good, user-friendly instruction manuals are a passageway to customer loyalty. If the customer can quickly and effortlessly learn to benefit from a larger number of features, they'll see that product as "better" (even if it isn't), and will prefer to buy that brand next time. Of course, as global suppliers, that user-friendliness must be preserved in the translation into all languages they serve.

Only after we get there they'll think about cutting costs. In the meantime, a low priority task like writing/translating manuals will represent marginal costs. Only after these costs become significant they'll consider having a repository of user-friendly boilerplate phrases or paragraphs that appear in each and every manual. That's when your gold mine, i.e. such phrases being available in several languages, will be exploited.

Until then we'll see "disconnect the power cord" in one manual, and "unplug from the mains" in the next model.

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