It’s been a few years now that I’ve been dabbling in the wild and wacky world of localization. I really like the people I’ve met. Most are smart and passionate about what they do. They care deeply about accuracy, readability,  and quality. They care about translation costs and keeping them as reasonable as possible.

And they have plenty to complain about.

I still shake my head at the divide between content creation and translation. I am mind-boggled that so many excellent content developers still have little knowledge of what it means to make their documents global-ready. I know that they care about the quality of translation. I’ve never met a writer who was absolutely fine seeing their original meaning completely misconstrued in another language. In fact, most writers I know (present company included) care so much about their prose that they are  personally offended when their intent is mistranslated.

You see where I’m going here. On my left, we have a group of well-qualified and well-intentioned professionals who spend hours and hours creating content. Day after day, meeting with SME after meeting with SME, all in the name of creating understandable and useful documents. On my right, we have an equally passionate group of folks who spend hours and hours localizing and translating content. Day after day, in-country review meeting after in-country review meeting, all in the name of creating understandable and useful translations.

Yet, the lack of collaboration continues. Rather than working together to ensure well-written and accurate information for all readers in every language, these two groups of professionals either ignore each other or blame each other for what went wrong.

Management plays a key role in this. Although it appears that upper management often sees documentation as a necessary evil and something not worth the amount of resources it really needs, the cost of creating content is finite. All things being equal, I can estimate what content creation is going to cost and that amount isn’t going to change dramatically over time (unless I have more products to write about).

Contrast that with translation. Over time, the same quantity of content needs to be delivered to more customers around the globe. And to do this, that content needs to be translated into an ever-increasing number of languages, with an ever-increasing price tag. Think about it. Let’s say I pay a writer $1 to create a piece. Then, I pay each translator $.25 per language to translate it. As the number of languages goes up, I keep paying. So, the pressure is really on the localization groups to control their costs. Even though there is an equal and opposite pressure to translate content into more languages.

Sure, content creation has taken a real beating in terms of budget, too. Jobs have gone offshore. Products ship with nothing more than a napkin’s-worth of instruction. But the translation groups are really under the gun, because their expenses are multiplying at a rapid rate.

You would think that these groups would join forces and work together. You’d think that the people creating the content would be single-focused on writing and editing in a way that increases translation accuracy and reduces translation cost. There are a number of fairly straightforward things that writers can do that have an enormous impact on the quality, cost, and speed of translation. I’ve spoken about them many times in the past. And there are great tools available to help, too. But the tools cost money. And the management of content creation groups just isn’t willing to spend a little bit of money to save the translation group a large amount. Afterall, my budget is my budget. Yours is your problem.

Almost every day, I am in the field meeting with localization teams and writing teams. I see the problems. I can help with solutions. But nothing is really going to work until management mandates that these two groups of like-minded teams collaborate on the end-to-end, soup-to-nuts, start-to-real-finish work of writing for the global marketplace. To me, the first step in this process would be to combine the budgets of content development and translation. Then, we can spend a little bit of money on the left, and save a lot of money and time on the right. In the end, everyone, including the customer, wins.

Val Swisher
Latest posts by Val Swisher (see all)