Jean-Luc Mazet, Hewlett-Packard Company

Herding cats … this image comes to mind when you mix multiple language versions of your deliverables with content management, technical writing, customer training, technical support, and other areas that are impacted once you decide to go global. Now, if you are a lucky company able to plan in advance around your global audience and not just your original market, then you are safe—or are you? You may think you have thought of everything to internationalize your offerings, modularize your content, leverage your translation assets, and build overarching stories in your sprints for localization preparedness.

However, there are many traps and pitfalls that pave the way to a truly global product. Have you considered that translating or even trans-creating your deliverables into other languages is not just about getting a job done with X amount of words, videos, and graphics, and in X amount of days, weeks, or months?

If you want to reach and conquer a market abroad, then you need to saddle up and prepare for a long, bumpy ride. If you believe that you have scoured the galaxy in search of the answers before you start your endeavor, then, I definitely need to hear more about your time management techniques.

Over a series of CIDM e-newsletter issues, I hope to capture best practices, lessons-learned, and concrete examples, but most importantly, I want to hear from you, readers. Let’s adopt the format of an advice column (for those familiar with the “Dear Abby” column): Send your questions and problems to the CIDM team (, and I will weave them into my articles. This way, we will address your questions and concerns. I do not claim to be an expert on every topic under the sun, but I may have some experiences that I can share with you to hopefully provide you my point of view. Who knows, this may turn into more than just a few short articles!

For this first article, let’s consider a friend of mine who ran into a problem:

“We have decided to start translating our manuals and help systems, and we want to add as many languages as possible. But we do not want it to be too expensive, and we may have to restructure our content. Please help!”

My response is: Don’t worry, your experience is really very common. And the longer answer is: When you are going into several international markets, consider a global strategy with the following in mind:

  • Create a group or tiered approach for your deliverables and languages. For example:
    • Identify Group 1 languages. These are languages that fall under a legal mandate for translation in certain countries. Your legal team should have all the information you need to select Group 1 languages.
    • Move on to Group 2 languages. They could be those languages that your marketing and sales teams need to reach customers that are closer to signing a deal or those that could help address emerging markets.
    • Finally, consider Group 3 languages. These languages could be required by a potential customer or they could increase your corporation’s opportunities for expansion into new markets and territories.
    • Look at which deliverables are the most critical (poll your user or customer base and support teams for that). You may end up merging or removing some deliverables altogether.
    • Start with the deliverables that are not on a project critical path if you need to test your translation process before you move on to more important deliverables.
    • Determine how stable your content is; the more that the content changes during the translation process, the higher your final costs will be.
  • Use a consolidated, cross-organizational approach: depending on your organization’s localization maturity model, approach localization together from a joint budgetary, planning, and implementation perspective. Participate in the requirements gathering and make sure all groups that need translation or language services are part of the process from the get-go. Typically product marketing, development, sales, support, and training and learning development, should be involved.
  • Standardize translation tools and processes: ensure that your suppliers use the same tools so that the integrity of your data is not compromised. It’s easier if you need to change suppliers or use several Single Language Vendors (language service providers that provide translation into one language only, not multiple ones, for your company).
  • Send out sample deliverables to several suppliers or freelance translators to get an idea of the cost. You may also receive suggestions about your deliverables that will help you reshape or review them.

For content development specifically, consider these questions to discuss with your team:

  • Have you looked into Controlled Authoring tools and practices?
  • Are your style guides already incorporated into your controlled authoring tool or even XML-CMS environment?
  • Do you have a well-defined terminology set? And how up-to-date is it?
  • Have you identified your information structure and decided on your global content strategy?
  • Centralize your Localization assets: Glossaries and Translation Memories (TMs) are crucial to allow a robust end-to-end globalization plan. You may want to purchase a Translation Management System (TMS). Centralizing your assets is a key to your success, especially if you have a company-wide TMS or have implemented controlled authoring.
  • Evaluate your graphics and multimedia assets. Do you have the original graphics and diagrams? It can be costly and lengthy to recreate graphics for which you do not have the source. Have you used call-outs and layers to facilitate text expansion and text extraction for translation?
  • How chunked is your content? Are you using too many XIncludes, entities, and variables? Are your conditional settings (the ways that you create different output for different operating systems, for instance) clearly documented so that the translation provider can follow them to recreate the same output (that is operating system-driven, for example) as in English in the target languages? Your translated deliverables must be identical to your source documents after assembly.
  • Will any content be created by customer or by people who are not professional technical writers? Do you have content coming from all directions and sources and ending up into a knowledge base?
  • Can your technical editing and SMEs review your existing processes and accommodate changes driven by problems found during translation?
  • Reach out to other groups and the industry to find out what they have done and if they can share their lessons-learned and best practices, especially their top ten issues with Localization.

There are several precautions to be taken and areas to consider when translating structured content and other deliverables. If not considered this may prevent your organization from scaling and growing its international offerings with speed and agility. It may also create irreparable damage to your company’s branding strategy and quality reputation. In this article, I have provided just a few examples that allowed my friend to address this dilemma. Your source material—be it in English, German, Chinese, or any other language—must be carefully reviewed. Just like in software development, when your company performs an internationalization audit, your documentation team (including your editors and technical CMS personnel) should review the source deliverables for localizability. This may include restructuring your content, getting rid of some deliverables, or even consolidating your content assets. Investing in this upfront work will save you time, money, and headaches once your translation suppliers start translating and finding issues. Bottom-line, try to use an approach that I call “C2AI” (Consolidated, Common, Aligned, and Inclusive). Till next time …