How to decide what documents to translate?

How do you decide what documents to translate?

If you’re operating with a global supply chain and global customers, or your workforce includes foreign-language speakers, you will have already realised how important it is to communicate to them in their own languages. We have written numerous times about how this increases engagement, productivity, sales and, ultimately, profits.

But you have thousands of company files and documents. How do you decide which ones to translate?

An opportunity to audit your paperwork and training documents

If you’re thinking about having some of your documents translated, this is a superb opportunity to audit your processes and paperwork and decide what is actually useful. Once you have trimmed it down to what is truly necessary in your own language, you can begin to think about what needs translating into other languages.

If your company or your production department uses any of the LEAN or 6 Sigma principles, the chances are you are going through some of these processes already. If not, it is a great place to start.

To assess how useful the documents are to your productivity, ask yourself:

  • Are the documents used anymore or are they obsolete?
  • Is the information still current and correct?
  • Are the documents easy to understand? (Written clearly and concisely)
  • Do they contain a lot of unnecessary padding that could be edited out?

By going through the above efficiency exercise, you will very likely have cut out a lot of unnecessary paperwork. You are now ready to decide how much of it you want to translate.

Why are you translating it?

This may seem like an odd question. Surely the answer is so that it can be understood? However, this is actually fundamental: understanding the words is simply a necessary part of achieving a much bigger goal for you and your company.

For example, if you are translating a technical manual, it is because you want your workers to operate their machines correctly and be productive. If you are translating the letter from the CEO, you are probably doing so in order to make them feel like a valuable part of the team, and increase their motivation. Knowing why you are translating something will help you understand what to translate.

With this in mind, you can begin to sift through your documentation with a view to what you would like to have translated. You might decide to prioritise documents that affect peoples’ safety levels, such as PPE instructions, or operating procedures, or legally required documents, like data sheets. Alternatively, your company may be suffering from a poorly-motivated workforce, with the attendant absence and sickness record that comes with that lack of engagement, and decide to start by investing in translations of some of the human resources-related documentation.

Knowing why you are translating something will help you understand what to translate.

A picture is worth a thousand words

Before rushing into hiring a professional translation agency though, there is one more thing to take into consideration. Do you actually need words at all?

Take another look at your documents and assess whether they need to be communicated with with words at all. How much of your message could be communicated through diagrams or pictures? What about video?

The picture superiority effect means information presented using images is more likely to be remembered than just words. In fact, it is claimed that when we read a text without images we will only remember 10% of the information 3 days later. If the text is combined with images, we are likely to remember 65% of it 3 days later.

One study states “Visually framed messages were more effective under the condition where the audience was less motivated and had less ability to process information semantically”. This quote refers to advertising, but there are clear parallels to be drawn when applying the idea to a poorly motivated staff who cannot understand semantics due to their language ability.

One of the most famous examples of using this picture superiority effect for better communication is the Ikea Group: the Swedish store has 355 stores in 29 countries. It uses largely word-free diagrams to guide customers through kit assembly. 80% of instructions are pictures only; only 20% requires text to communicate safety information.

Having taken a proportion of the words out of your documents and substituted them for visuals, the text that you do ultimately need translating will now cost less and be quicker to translate, since there will be less of it.

You now know exactly which documents to translate!

Now that you have selected the relevant, useful documents you know, without a doubt, need translating and why, you can feel confident that every penny you spend on having them translated is justified.

Rather than passing thousands of pages and manuals across to a translation agency with the niggling worry that actually you might be wasting your money, you can now rest assured that you have performed your due diligence with the documentation and every file you make available in other languages has clear justification.

Download our article on calculating the ROI of translations

Wondering how to justify investing in translations? Download our in-depth guide on how to calculate and measure the return on investment (ROI) of translations, including practical examples and exercises. Tailored for the manufacturing environment.

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