SDL International Translation Day

LOC TALK: Writing and Optimizing Content for Localization

In this fourth installment of our Loc Talk blog series, SDL's Principal Localization Manager, Silvio Scozzari, talks with SDL Senior Linguistic Solution Consultant Neeltje Stuurman. Neeltje helps technical authors from SDL’s global customers optimize their content for localization with custom writing workshops.

Silvio: Thank you for talking to me today, Neeltje. Would you introduce yourself and tell us a little about your role?
Neeltje: As a consultant on the quality team, I work with SDL Language Services to enhance a project’s success with localization best practices, tools and methodologies. Our team also delivers consultancy training, including our Writing for Localization workshop. 
Silvio: What is a Writing for Localization workshop? 
Neeltje: Writing for Localization is a five or six-hour training for technical writers who work for companies that localize content. Obviously, these authors already know how to write, but they may not realize the way they write can significantly impact translation cost and quality. For example, good source text characteristics like standard terminology and a consistent writing style can improve translation accuracy. If content is developed with localization in mind, there are fewer queries and machine translation automation can be more effective, saving time and money.

Silvio: How much preparation and customization goes into making the workshop relevant for each customer?

Neeltje: That’s absolutely right. We have a basic starting point, but the workshop is tailored to each customer’s pain points. We do a lot of advance research, such as getting feedback from the customer, the project managers and translators. We look for potential issues in the customer’s content, their translation memories and website and review linguistic queries from past projects to spot trends. All this is used to create a custom workshop that focuses on problem areas. I also design exercises using the customer’s content where the attendees need to rephrase the text for translation. This is a really good way to make the workshop more personal, fun and interactive.

Silvio: You mentioned earlier that attendees are typically professional technical authors who write for localization. How do you avoid teaching them how and what to write, and instead focus only on what impacts localization? 
Neeltje: I always start by telling them I’m not going to teach them how to write - they’re definitely the experts. Instead, we talk about what happens to their content after they’ve written it and I provide a short intro to computer-assisted translation tools, like translation memory and term bases. Then we explore how translation can be easier, quicker and better quality if they all write the same way and follow the same rules. This can really be an eye opener, especially when we talk about translation costs. Often at the end of a workshop many writers come up to me and say, “I’ve learned so much and it’s been so interesting.” That’s very rewarding.

Silvio: That’s really powerful. With localization there always tends to be a focus on cost and return on investment. How do you demonstrate that writing impacts localization, not just from a quality perspective but also cost?

Neeltje: Cost reduction is a hot topic. In the workshop we look at an example where the same thing is written in slightly different ways, for example “Click here to do X” instead of “To do X, click here”. The writers think it doesn’t make a difference since everybody understands. From that perspective, they’re right, but if we look at translation costs, there can be a really big impact. For example, 13 minor changes in a 140 word file will cost £50 to translate into five languages. This doesn’t sound like much, but technical content often has tens of thousands of words and is translated into more than five languages. Even if only 1% of the content contains these minor inconsistencies, costs can explode exponentially. When the authors see our cost example, they are really surprised by the impact. 
Optimizing content
Silvio: That slide is compelling. It shows how important it is to be consistent and write in a user-friendly way… 
Neeltje: …it’s not a user-friendly way, it’s a translation-friendly way…
Silvio: Yes, exactly! Let’s now talk about terminology. Do you cover terminology in the workshop?
Neeltje: We cover the basics, especially consistent terminology. If the text refers to a “split pin” and a “cotter pin” - which are the exact same thing – they may be translated differently because different terms are used. This can introduce a quality issue that can be expensive to correct later. This is why it’s important for authors to align on terminology and phrasing.

Silvio: Is the workshop better suited for technical content versus subjective and creative content, such as marketing?
Neeltje: It is typically best for technical content, which uses controlled authoring and consistent phrasing. Marketing content says the same thing in multiple ways, which doesn’t work with controlled authoring. 
However, marketing authors may benefit from learning about translation processes and complexities. We have a one-hour workshop that helps marketing authors think about translation and the cultural implications of certain phrases, metaphors or images. 
Silvio: You certainly seem to cover a lot in these workshops. Do you follow-up with any post-workshop materials for the attendees to reference when they return to their day jobs and writing content?
Neeltje: During the workshop, the authors practice rephrasing and rewriting problematic content in a translation-friendly way. Any decisions on how to do things for their organization are recorded in a reference guide. We also provide more comprehensive authoring guidelines based on the topics we discussed.

Silvio: So, not only are you explaining the importance of optimizing content for localization, but you’re also helping bring the authors together to discuss issues they perhaps haven’t previously been able to resolve internally. It’s certainly a win-win. If someone is reading this blog and wants to learn more about these workshops, who within SDL would they contact? 
Neeltje: If it’s an existing SDL customer, I suggest they contact their account manager or project manager. We can also be reached via SDL’s website using the Contact Us form. 
Silvio: Thank you very much Neeltje for an interesting and informative interview.
Neeltje: You’re welcome!