Technical documentation constitutes a substantial part of many industrial and technology companies’ activities. Most products are usually accompanied by a range of texts. These might include installation instructions, user guides, training materials, or service and maintenance instructions. When such content is produced in greater amounts, the documentation and its localization start to require significant resources and financial measures. In such situations, modular writing may just be the right answer.

Modular writing: can your company profit from it?

If one deals with a large collection of texts that need to be updated and translated regularly, it only makes sense to invest in adequate documentation policies and tools. In this way, it is possible to avoid unnecessarily producing and translating the same content. Such situations are bound to happen if technical documentation and its translation are managed solely by means of basic word processing software such as e.g. Microsoft Word. Another consequence, apart from the otherwise avoidable costs, are inconsistency and elementary mistakes.


Does your company produce large amounts of documentation with often repeated content? You should consider introducing modular documentation. Modular documentation content is created in the form of separate units, i.e. modules. Such modules function independently from the whole and can be later reused in all sorts of publications. The content is dealt with separately from editing and the mode of publication. Modularity enables effective content management, translation and publishing in a variety of channels.

Incorporating documentation and translation into the same process

Several different types of solutions and applications are available for the production of structured documentation. However, it is a good idea to be careful while selecting the tool. Technical documentation intended for international market must be translated into a number of languages. Thus, the whole process can be significantly facilitated by choosing documentation system compatible with translation tools.


Web-based DoX provided by Fenten Oy is a good case in point. This cloud-based service is equipped with a direct interface to Navitep enabling automatic transmission of documents between the two systems.


Mikko Tauriainen, Fenten’s managing director, points out another advantages to the customers: ‘The production of documentation takes less time and becomes more effective if the customer uses just one system both for producing documentation as well as its localization’.

What does modular documentation require from the text?

Technical documentation is closely connected to the quality of the language used. In technical documentation such as e.g. user guides, the text’s uniformity, clarity and simplicity are of the utmost importance. It means that the ultimate goal of such contents is to be free of ambiguity and redundancy characteristic to the everyday language.


As a result, there have been created guidelines and dictionaries aiming at eliminating the ambiguity of the natural language. The systematic application of such rules is referred to as controlled language use.


Simplified Techical English (abbr. STE) is an example of such controlled language based on controlled vocabulary and technical writing rules. The main idea is for each word to have clearly defined meaning in order to avoid the risk of misinterpretation. According to rules of technical writing, the sentences should be possibly short, easy to read and understand.


When using the right software, the controlled vocabulary and writing rules can implemented already at the stage of writing the documentation. In this way, the source text will be written according to the STE-principles and so will be its translations.


In technical documentation, the controlled language use

  • improves the readability and comprehensibility of the text and thus enables safer use of the product
  • enables the production of coherent texts of uniform quality
  • improves the reusability of the content
  • facilitates and speeds up the translation process.

So, what does the translation of modular documentation require?

Well-designed and implemented technical documentation facilitates and speeds up the translation process. The modular writing usually requires for each module to work as an independent unit. In this way, the translator should be able to quickly grasp the context of the text they are to translate. Furthermore, the translation process and the quality of the end-product are enhanced by the fact that the source text follows the rules of controlled language use, i.e. simplicity, consistency and readability.


And if the content has been expressed using the same, repeating constructions, it can be retrieved from the translator memory so that only the new phrases need to be translated. The customers can clearly see the difference just by the look at the bill.


In practice, translation of texts employing modular writing presents its own challenges. If only the new parts are translated, it often happens that these short phrases occur somewhere in the middle of a larger whole. Thus, sorting out the context takes some time. Also retaining the consistency of terms and other expressions is worth paying attention to.

Technology at translator’s disposal

Therefore, the translator should be able to take advantage of all the tools available, such as translation memory as well as customer or project specific vocabulary. There is also a variety of quality assurance tools aiming at controlling the quality of large amounts of text by checking e.g. whether a given term was always translated in the same way.


The translator will also profit from the ability to inspect the elements of structured documentation. After all, it often makes a difference, whether the translated text constitutes a headline, part of a body paragraph, illustration description or index reference.


One should also bear in mind the importance of obeying the principle of universality. So, if in the source text we refer generally to a ‘machine’, the translation cannot refer to a ‘coffee machine’, even if the specific expression would fit the context better than the more general term. The very same sentence could later occur in another text, in which referring to a coffee machine would be wrong, if not absurd.


So, translating documentation written according to principles of modular writing requires extensive expertise. However, when all pieces fit into place, modular writing makes life much easier for the writer, translator as well as the end-user.