Food for thought on document maintenance

Sarah O'Keefe / Conferences4 Comments

[Updated to add link that I rudely left out.]

In a report from tekom (link in German), we hear about a session on translation reuse strategies.

The presenters point out one underappreciated risk of translation management — language evolution. They note that as languages evolve, information stored in translation memory could become out-of-date. In particular, they noted that Polish has changed significantly in the past few years. (translation and paraphrase mine)

And today, there’s an interesting article at Gryphon Mountain Journals. Ben Minson points out the conflict between writing content that is easy to maintain and content that is most helpful to the reader:

Generic: “To turn on the machine, press the Power button.”

Specific: “To turn on the machine, press the Power button, which is located on the top of the device.” (…plus an image of the button, plus an image pointing out where on the machine it appears.)

Which one is easier to maintain? Which one is more helpful?

I’ll ask a different way. Which one is better for the writer, and which one is better for the audience?

We need to learn to strike a balance between efficiency and usability. That said, most of the authoring environments I see have a long way to go before they reach “overly efficient” and need to swing back toward usability.

About the Author

Sarah O'Keefe


Content strategy consultant and founder of Scriptorium Publishing. Bilingual English-German, voracious reader, water sports, knitting, and college basketball (go Blue Devils!). Aversions to raw tomatoes, eggplant, and checked baggage.

4 Comments on “Food for thought on document maintenance”

  1. I hate to throw around an old cliché, but a picture is worth a thousand words (or characters depending on the language). A good illustration is almost globally understood and remains as current as your product’s design, completely independent of the evolution or changes in languages.
    While the “specific” example might seem like a hassle to the author (unless you’re crazy about drawing pictures), it’s not only more valuable to the audience, but also to the publisher.

  2. I want to chime in: The most efficient sentence (with less problems during translation) combined with an updated image seems to be the obvious combination.

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