Write the Docs  – Localize the docs by Paul Wallace

Catherine Heath | May 26, 2019

As companies turn their attention to global expansion, the localization of documentation becomes more of a pressing concern. Paul Wallace gave a talk on the subject of localizing the docs at Write the Docs Portland 2019. This topic was also covered at STC Summit by Karen Tkaczyk and we wrote a summary of the talk. 

Paul Wallace has formerly been a professional Japanese translator, editor, technical writer, localization engineer, and a developer. He said he fell into localization just like everyone else. 

Localization is a topic that is often shrouded in mystery, not least because of some of the acronyms in use. 

When producing a software product for a global market, you need to follow the GILT process. It stands for: 

  • Globalization – the process of marketing a product or company worldwide
  • Internationalization – creates a product that can be marketed worldwide without changing the design
  • Localization – adapts the product to the linguistic and cultural context of the chosen region
  • Translation – reproducing a source text into a target language

Before you even start the GILT process, you have to ask hard questions related to globalization like can we profit by entering a specific market? What is the current internationalization and localization state of the product? 

In terms of internationalization, is the code structured to support localized resources? Can the UI handle localized presentations? 

When it comes to localization, is documentation content written in global English? Have we identified our domain-specific terminologies?

In terms of translation, what languages and locales should we support? Do we have access to enough translators/reviewers for each language and locale pairing?

Conduct a GILT assessment to understand the scope of your project, and then look for a Localization Service Provider.

Localization Service Providers

Many companies know they want to localize their product and they understand the services they need. The next step is to partner with an experienced organization. 

The missing link in your localization efforts is typically a Localization Service Provider. This is an agency specializing in the localization services need to bring your product to a global market. 

LSPs are extremely valuable in this endeavor because they bring their experience and expertise to the table, and they provide general hand-holding. They should offer experienced industry professionals and guidance on best practices.

It's best to work with the professionals in this case, since there are many opportunities to make large and costly mistakes when it comes to localization. 

How to choose an LSP

It's essential to partner with a high quality and reputable LSP, and expect to pay market rates! There isn't really any way you can cut costs when you localize your product. 

The Nimzdzi 100 list of best LSPs is the best place to look for an agency. Choose an enterprise-scale organization that has domain expertise in your area. Think about accessibility, features and services. 

Your localization project manager organizes jobs and schedules, distributes content to translators, and translators use IDEs to work on data. Using standardized XML tools is also important. 

There are many stages you need to go through, such as taking your source files and putting them through the tooling. Then your LSP translates your content into the different languages.

Managing localization costs

"Computers are dumb and humans are lazy," says Paul. This presents problems for localization. 

Specifically, localization costs a lot of money, and even when you spend a lot of money you can often end up with angry customers. "Don't be penny wise and pound foolish," says Paul. 

There are a number of players involved in enterprise translation services, so even a basic job costs a reasonable amount of money. When companies quote you costs, you should trust their estimates and believe they are accurate. 

Many people are interested in the potential savings offered by machine translation. Unfortunately, machine translation requires consistency since it's intentional and rules-based. If your content has not been written directly for translation it might not work that well. 

The best thing to do is work with professional translators with experience in your specific domain. 

Overcoming localization challenges

Some issues in internationalization include content files being separated from tools, and content files are separated by language. This makes them hard to manage. Diagrams and screenshots also create huge problems since you cannot typically edit the text in these images. 

Check out a podcast called Globally Speaking to learn more about localization and put yourself at an advantage. 

You can find Paul's presentation on GitHub. You can also watch Paul's full talk on YouTube.


About the author
Catherine Heath
Catherine Heath

Community builder at KnowledgeOwl. Blogs. Copy. Documentation. Freelance content writer for creative and ethical companies. Contributing to open source and teaching technical tools.

Catherine blogs on her personal websites Away With Words and Awkward Writer. She runs the Write the Docs Northwest meetup group. 


On the go? Bookmark this article for later with Ctlr + D
Subscribe and get notified as new articles arrive
(No spam, pinky promise)