Three steps to making your documents translation-ready.

Instinctively, you know that some documents are harder to translate than others. Sometimes there’s not much you can do about it. Medical and legal translations require specific knowledge and research. But in most cases, there are steps you can take to make your documents translation-ready. Even for complex projects.

If you follow this simple guide, you’ll save money and receive your translated documents sooner.

Scanned or non-editable documents are not translation-ready. Choose another format whenever possible.

Person scanning a document for translation. Not the best way to get a document translation-ready.
Choosing the right format can save time… and reduce translation costs.

Non-editable PDFs, pictures of documents, and other locked documents take longer to translate. The reason is not so much in their content rather than in their format.

Because the text can’t be easily selected, it can’t be transferred to other documents. Translation project managers (or translators themselves) will spend a good deal of time manually transferring contents into CAT tools or other writer-friendly format. That time will be billed one way or the other, lest the translator work for free.

Sure, sometimes you have no choice. If you need the translation of an article you find in a magazine, your options are limited, outside of scanning it. But when you do have the choice, what formats should you prioritize?

There are several good choices, but electronic documents such as text editors (think Word, LibreOffice) or PowerPoints are safe choices, with spreadsheets and Excel at the top of the list.

Why is Excel the most translation-ready format?

Spreadsheets allow for a clear organization of the content. If you edit a Word document, you might write your translation over the original content, or need to constantly switch between documents.

With Excel, you can keep the source text in a column, the translation in another. You can add more columns for revisions, comments, back-and-forth between the translator and the reviewer. You can do conditional formatting or enter formulas that signal changes. You can filter the content too, which is great for going over certain changes or checking for consistency in your terms.

Excel is one of the most translation-ready formats.
Translations look organized on a spreadsheet. That’s a fact.

Most importantly, it’s great with computer-assisted translation. You can enter Excel content into CAT tools and it’s ready to go. On top of that, the opposite is also true. Most CAT tools exports will give a spreadsheet, ready to be delivered back to the client.

So if the content is in Excel to begin with, translation project managers won’t need to spend time formatting these exports into whatever format the client requested. Which saves money on both sides.


Rewrite your original documents in a translation-friendly way

Go over your documents with a layman’s eyes. Is there any jargon or terminology that you can simplify? Any expressions you could do without?

Using simple English is not only a valid choice for overly technical documentation. Unless it’s a stylistic choice, translation quality won’t suffer if you remove idiomatic expressions and heavily cultural references. The translator’s job will be simplified, as they won’t need any specific knowledge. Nor will they need to get too creative, thus reducing the risk of misinterpretation.

Your job is not as simple though. You will need to go over some of your documents with a fine-tooth comb if you want to remove these expressions. So if you prefer hiring someone to edit your texts, that’s understandable.


Group your documents into translation-ready bundles

Bundles of documents ready for translation.
Grouping documents saves on project management and set up.

If you have several documents that will need translations, you might want to hold off sending them until they are all ready.

Two situations generally occur here.

The first situation is when a client sends a document to their translation agency without finishing the proofing process. They will keep editing it after the translation has begun. Not only does it mean the translating team will need to stop to implement these edits, it also increases the likelihood of a misunderstanding or an edit getting skipped over.

The second situation is when a client sends some documents, with more on the way. Here both the agency and the client will spend more time than necessary discussing prices or establishing delivery schedules and expectations.

The solution is simple: if you can afford it, wait until your internal QA team has finished their job, and send all the documents at once. If you really need some documents urgently, notify your translation team so they can get those translated first.


To sum up, the three steps you can take here are:

  1. Make sure the format is readily editable. If you have extra time, break down the source text into different Excel cells.
  2. Go over the source text and rewrite any complicated, idiomatic or heavily cultural expression.
  3. Bundle your documents and send them all at once.

These three steps will ensure your documents are translation-ready. Of course, you don’t have to do this. Professional translation agencies and freelance translators know how to work with all sorts of formats and document types.

Just know that simplifying your translator’s life will not only result in lower prices. Your efforts will be noticed, and they will do their darnedest best to keep you happy. As your relationship with your translation provider develops, you might notice it becomes easier negociating deadlines and revisions, or getting extra work done in a hurry. Doing this effort will surely speed up this process.

What do you usually do to get your documents ready for translation? Do you provide templates for your translators to work with? And if you are a translator, how do you prefer receiving your source documents?

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