User manual translation

by Teresa La Torre | 12 June 2018

Opened book with coloured sticky notes: symbolic image of user manual translation

Image: pinkomelet /

As a manufacturer you’re obliged to have the user manuals of your software applications and operating instructions of your products translated into the official language of the target country. That means that if you want to sell your product in the USA or the United Kingdom, you need a technical translation. To avoid product liability claims because of errors in your technical documentation, you should commit yourself to quality in your user manual.

Role of user manuals

The role of user manuals or operating instructions is to explain how to use a software package or operate a device. They contain troubleshooting information, safety information and numerous instructions in addition to descriptive passages. The more complex your product, the more important it is to choose clear and intelligible wording: improper operation can result in damage or even injury.

How to contribute to a good user manual translation

Writing a user manual often means acting under time pressure. You collect the required information from different parties and gradually collate it to create a text. While you are producing the documentation, changes are made to the product, making revisions to the manual necessary. Additional correction runs require you to reword single passages. By observing the following tips, you’ll be able to write comprehensible texts, even under high time pressure:

  1. Use short sentences – one sentence for one thought.
    The more concise your sentences, the better users will be able to digest your information.
  2. Avoid passive constructions in manuals and instructions because they’re often misleading.
    Use the active voice in handling instructions to underline the subject of the action.
  3. Make sure to use verbal constructions as they lead to a concise formulation.
  4. Use “must” whenever a step in an instruction is obligatory even though “should” sounds more polite.
    “Should” has nothing to do in instructions, unless you don’t make an express recommendation.
  5. Make sure to use terminology consistently.
    Using synonyms and short forms of terms is not welcomed in user manuals as they are confusing for the users.

Professional translations are worth their money

According to the Product Liability Act the documentation is part of the product. This is also true of the translation. The translation of your user manual should underline your product’s quality, especially when your product is good.

The number of free online translators on the Internet is gradually increasing and the translation quality of these tools is improving. User manuals, however, are no candidates for online tools. If you enter a badly formulated sentence into the tool, the resulting translation will also be of low quality. What makes the difference between tools and professional translators is that human translators take into account what is common and idiomatic in the target language. Moreover, language experts with experience in user manual translation know the criteria that good documentation must fulfil.

Your benefits

If you hire a translation expert, you will have a double benefit: a high-quality translation with added value. Most pros offer the following optional services with user manual translation:

  • They point out misleading text passages. If requested, they will also suggest improvements.
  • They team up with you by thinking like one of your employees and ask the necessary questions. That way they make sure that the translation will be of good quality and intelligible.
  • They act as editor and assist you in improving the quality of your source language documentation.
  • They detect inconsistencies in terminology usage and help you to create consistent texts.

If you’re interested in benefitting from this added value, you should hire a pro. Any questions? I’ll be happy to answer them.


Teresa La Torre freigestellt zoom 2

My name is Teresa La Torre. I work as a translator, SEO expert and copywriter, thus combining three skills that complement one another perfectly
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