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A diagram showing content reuse in translationContent reuse in translation can be a great way to maintain brand messaging, shorten turnaround times, and decrease costs. But it has to be done right. Since another election day will be here before we know it, we’re revisiting a news item from earlier this year that highlights an unfortunate consequence of doing it wrong.

A Spanish translation of a Sonoma County voter information guide published this summer included two incorrect dates and an incorrect location. Multilingual, the publication that brought this incident to our attention, speculates that these errors occurred because Sonoma County reused a document previously written for a special election held in the spring. This certainly seems plausible, and if it’s true, goes to show that content reuse in translation can go wrong when the process isn’t properly managed. There are many ways to implement version control, and we recommend investing in a functional content management system or source authoring tool that systematically tracks updates for you.

Content reuse in translation can also be practical when the task at hand is creating several concurrent versions of the same document. We see this every year with content reuse at Open Enrollment time, when companies with employees across various regions are sharing their health plan offerings. Much of the content in their benefits guide applies to all employees, but since not all health plans operate in all US states and territories, they have to edit this information for each region. And just like the author of the source language benefits guide uses a “base” copy and then makes whatever changes are necessary for each region, we do the same in translation. This does require a bit more project management, but the time and cost savings on other processes (such as typesetting and QA) easily cancel out any additional project management involved. If the document is something small like a one-pager or a mailer and the edits across each version reach a certain level, we may ultimately choose not to use a “base” version for translation. Fortunately, we have other tools at our disposal, such as translation memory (TM) and termbases, to ensure that we’re still maintaining consistent translations of repetitive content across all the versions. And we discount our per word rate for repetitive content, so the cost efficiency is still there as well.

A PDF compare report from DraftableOne potential danger of only translating the changes between multiples versions of the same asset rather than translating each version in its entirety is translating without context. You would never copywrite without context, so you should also never translate without context. As part of our project management around content reuse in translation, we always make sure to provide the context of the changes to the source document. This means that we never send a single word or phrase for translation. A single sentence would be the smallest amount of copy we would ever ask a translator to work with (unless of course the source asset only includes single words or phrases, such as signage). When we’re working with lengthy documents such as benefit guides, we include all the text surrounding the change in the translation file, send a PDF with all the updates called out, and/or provide background as to why the change was made (if that’s not immediately evident).

Two different layouts of the same line of text in Czech

The layout on top may be more pleasing to the English-speaking eye because the lines are more even in length. A translator assured us that a Czech reader would prefer the lower layout because of grammar rules in the Czech language.

Once updates have been translated and the base document has been edited accordingly, we implement our multi-step QA process to ensure that the layout and formatting look as they should, no typos were introduced, and the updated copy is arranged correctly. For example, many languages have rules and preferences for words that cannot be separated from each other (split across 2 lines, for instance). So, when I sent our typeset layout of a poster encouraging employees to complete a satisfaction survey in Czech to the translator for linguistic quality assurance (LQA), she informed me that in Czech, there is a preference to keep prepositions on the same line as the following word. All the right words were included in the layout, but we needed to arrange them differently to localize the poster appropriately for Czech-speaking employees.

Reusing previously written content, using tools to ensure consistency, and version control are some of the objectives in our client SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis. We translate updates to documents frequently, and the time and cost efficiency that we can achieve depends heavily on how well these objectives have been accomplished. When source authoring is chaotic, the risk of something being overlooked or an inconsistency being introduced increases. This means additional time spent to avoid those outcomes. Content reuse in translation that is systematic and organized not only decreases your costs and timeframes for each update, it also keeps your messaging consistent, which helps keep your brand trustworthy. Accidents happen, but with the right processes in place from start to finish, we can avoid errors like the ones Sonoma County made.