User manuals serve to provide instructions to end users on how to properly and effectively operate the product. Other names or forms of user manuals include user guides, technical documentation, or operational manual. For software, this could include terms such as quick start guide or software manual.
In today’s globalized economy, products are manufactured all across the world. That makes proper user manual translation crucial in ensuring international end users have an understanding of how to use your products safely and effectively.
As the official source of technical communication from the manufacturer, properly translated user manuals are not only important for international end users but are also a legally mandatory prerequisite for selling in many regions around the world.
As a key part of user experience, a great user manual should be crafted with the end user in mind. User manuals should aim to be clear and concise, including key product information and warnings of potential hazards. Users should be able to quickly find what they need to get started with using your product.
User manuals should always be written with the end user in mind. Limit the use of technical jargon and superfluous language to keep the document as accessible to as wide a range of users as possible.
As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. Regardless of language, everyone can understand pictures and the more visuals your user manual has, the more you save on translation fees. A key part of IKEA’s international success has been their prioritization of visual instructions over written instructions.
Keep the manual brief and concise. This includes not only text but also visuals. The simpler the user manual, the more likely end users will actually end up reading it.
Focus on the Problem
Understand why users need to read the user manual in the first place – to use your product to accomplish tasks. When writing about product features, focus on direct and simple explanations of how users how users can use each feature to achieve their goals.
Logical Hierarchy and Flow
Develop the user manual according to how the end user will be using your product. Focus on the basics of the product before explaining advanced features. Use headings and subheadings to categorize each step.
Table of Contents
Ensure that when a user reaches for the manual, they can find what they are looking for within a few page flips with a table of contents.
With the ubiquity of internet access, today, user manuals are also hosted online. Ensure your user manual is optimized for the best features of internet browsers – the search function. This way, users can instantaneously scan the entire document for keywords they need to solve their problem.
Creating accessible content doesn’t just mean having the manual in a variety of languages. Ensure your user manual is still accessible for end users who may be hard of hearing or visually impaired.
Design for as wide a range of audiences as possible. Keep white space to a maximum and break up long lines of text. Keep graphics simple and make sure they translate across cultures. Ensure consistency in visual and written style across all documentation.
Sometimes, working on a product or a project for too long will bias you towards how you see the product. Getting feedback from end users help ensure you’re creating the user manual for them.
Links to Further Resources
Keeping your user manual simple is important. You don’t want to be overwhelming users with advanced information. Consider providing links or QR codes that lead to more detailed information for advanced users. For print documentation, this can also include an email and customer hotline number.
Each market has their own legal requirements for how user manuals are written and what it must include. For example, the European Economic Area (EEA), consisting of all 27 EU member states and Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway, has a standardized set of directives for CE marking, which stands for European Conformity.
The CE marking, required for specific products, indicates that the manufacturer declares product compliance with relevant EEA product safety legislation. For products that fall under the 25 CE directives or regulations, a CE marking is mandatory if it is to be sold in the EEA. These requirements include mandatory translation to language(s) of the country where the product is sold, intended use of the product, descriptions of foreseeable misuse of the product, risk analysis of the product, safety information, and information on packaging waste.
Aside from visuals, all parts of the user manual should be translated. The user manual should have corresponding translations of the below information in all target languages to guarantee legal compliance:
- Intended use
- Description of the main product elements
- Description of the user interface
- Safety warnings
- Installation instructions
- Description of how to use/operate the product
- Troubleshooting section and instructions on how to solve problems
- Maintenance information
- Repair information
- Information on disposal of the product and packaging
- Technical specifications
- Table of content
- Warranty information
- Contact details
User Manual Translation Process
Helpful Tools for User Manual Translation by Yourself
CAT stands for Computer Assisted Translation Tool. These are translation memory tools that split large multilingual documents into segments. CAT can help save translators up to 35% of the workload by memorizing previously translated content. These tools not only save time, but also ensure style consistency and translation accuracy across various sets of documentation.
Professional User Manual Translation: Professionalism and Peace of Mind
Hiring professional translators for user manual translation provides more peace of mind for businesses. As user manuals are required for safety and legal reasons, and more importantly for end user well-being and overall user experience, hiring professional translators for the various languages included is advised.
Professional translators are able to localize to target area requirements. They understand the legal issues involved and are able to take responsibility for the accuracy of their work. Finding professional translators well versed in the industry of your business is important to ensure accurate translation of technical terminology.
Readers can tell when a product manual is translated professionally. Grammatical errors and incorrect terminology will at best come off as untrustworthy to foreign users and at worst cause end users to improperly operate your product and open up your business to risk of potential legal troubles.
At HI-COM, we have a wide network of professional native translators specialized in all major industries. We offer professional full-suite multilingual user manual translation, saving your business costs and time looking for translators for each target language. As a China-based translation agency, we specialize in helping China-based companies expand abroad and international companies enter the Chinese market.
Every modern translation agency provides desktop publishing services, or DTP. At HI-COM, we value your time. We provide not only multilingual user manual translation but also DTP services to help your user manual look as professional as it reads. Our DTP team of technical designers help work on page-layout, graphic design, and international typesetting.
With native translators specialized in your industry and experienced technical designers to integrate all languages into your preferred format, (InDesign, AI, PDF, etc), HI-COM provides a one-stop solution for your multilingual technical documentation needs.