The hidden cost of technical writing – localisation

I met up with a Technical Author at the Technical Communications UK 2013 conference whom I’ve been talking to on the phone over recent months. She’s been trying to convince her bosses that they should take a less chaotic approach to producing user documentation.

I’d previously suggested she look at how much it was costing them to translate their user documentation, so they could build a business case around that. She thought they were translating the user documentation into eight languages, but, at the conference, she told me that she’d discovered it was actually 24.

With that amount of localisation, there’s an opportunity for some significant savings if they could re-use content from one Help system in another.

Translation services are often charged on a per-word rate, from around £150 per 1,000 words. With a typical 75 page user guide containing 20,000 words, that means the cost of translating it into one language is approximately £3,000 (£150/1,000 x 20,000=£3,000). Translating the guide into 24 languages would be costing the organisation approximately £72,000. If they had just 14 products, each with a single user guide (or a Help system), they’d be spending over £1 million on translation.

Most service providers will create a Translation Memory for your translations. Translation Memories are databases of previous translations; they save time and money for future translations by allowing translators to re-use your translations for your subsequent projects. When that happens, the translation provider typically offers price reductions based on the number and quality of translation memory matches – exact matches are usually free.

This means if you can re-use the same content across the publications you write, you only need to pay for the content to be translated in the first manual you produce, not all 14. In some cases, up to 33% of the content from one publication can be re-used in others. In our example, that could save the organisation £311,968 (£72,000 x 13 x 33%). If the same content could be re-used in product descriptions, websites and training courseware, the savings would be even greater.

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