Translation of hardware manuals: when things go wrong

Operation manuals and user guides belong to the texts that require special attention and careful proofreading to communicate the message correctly and precisely. The last thing you want to find in your translated manual is unclear instruction, incomplete information or awkward wording.

When things go wrong

Even if the original text is flawless, the multilingual versions may fail to stand up to the high quality standards and confuse or mislead the reader. In many cases instructions are rendered fully into a foreign language, but the style and terminology are barely acceptable. And then you may end up with a text similar to the one presented below. It’s a quick installation guide of a motherboard produced by one of the leading brands. The text was translated from English into multiple languages, but I’ll focus on the Polish version only. The highlighted parts show phrases that definitely should have been corrected before printing the manual, or in other words: mistakes that normally don’t occur if you hire professional translators and proofreaders.   

Polish manual translation
Polish version of the manual with just a couple of mistakes analysed…(Click to enlarge). You can view the English version here


When things get worse

It seems that nothing more could have gone wrong in this translation. The text perfectly encompasses all types of translation mistakes:

  • incorrect grammar forms
  • literal translation
  • inconsistent translation
  • incorrect punctuation (often influenced by the punctuation in the English version)
  • mistranslation
  • awkward wording and unnatural style
  • extra spaces
  • no spaces before measurement (required in Polish)
  • wrong collocations
  • incorrect sentence structure, influenced by the English version
  • incorrect terminology
  • inconsistent formatting

And all this in a text of about 600 words…

After reading the manual an experienced user may still know what to do to install the motherboard. However, those less skilled will either need to refer to the English version, ask for help or read some sections more than once to guess the meaning lost in translation. But then what’s the point of translating and localising manuals, if the text fails to convey its message correctly?

First things first

Translation of manuals or user guides makes sense only if it’s correct and properly instructs users how to proceed. Any mistake in the text may lead to mistakes in operation, installation or usage of the product. That’s why the very first step to do is to find professionals who will ensure that the manual reads well, is consistent, contains proper terminology and provides proper instructions. The next step is to double check the text and make sure that formatting will be preserved in the printed version. This is how you can deliver high quality to your readers and ensure that your texts won’t become a subject of scrutiny or extensive criticism of meticulous linguists… 



Dorota helps digital brands infuse their content with a local touch. She is a localization consultant, translator specialized in IT, prompt engineer, and a book author. Dorota teaches online courses on localization, writes for her blog and a Medium publication. She also runs a Small Biz AI, a Substack newsletter for freelancers and small business owners ready to discover handy AI tools.

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