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Properly Formatting Word Documents for Translation

by Joseph 12. February 2015 12:32

I have often said that you can tell a lot about a person by how they format a word document. It is something that I teach my project managers from the very beginning, things that lead up to properly prepare documents for translation memory.

 

Things that have often been noted or submitted by translators that are examples of improper ways of formatting a translation include the use of text boxes, recreating a table with hidden borders using tabs or spaces, columns or section breaks, improper use of the hard return (such as using them to get the cursor on the next page), soft return, and breaking and non-breaking spaces.

This post on formatting documents for translation will address the first three issues. These three, the use of text boxes, re-creating tables with tabs and spaces, and the use of columns all revolve around the free movement of text and the problems that arise with target language expansion and bringing the document into a translation memory program.

 

Text Boxes

Text boxes should never be used in Microsoft Word. They are extremely troublesome to deal with if you want to change any aspect of formatting. They can obscure text beneath them, and if the entered text is larger than the original size, text may be hidden. From a more technical aspect, the contents of text boxes are imported out of order in translation memory programs and may lead to illogical translations as they may not be placed in the proper sequence when presented in the translation window.

 

Solution: tables. The problems associated with the use of text boxes can be alleviated with the use of tables. Tables are placed in line with or include text and can be customized to include cell borders. Table cells expand to show the text contained, and when brought into a translation memory program, the text is presented in a logical order.

 

Re-creating tables with tabs or spaces

As bad as the use of text boxes is, re-creating tables with tabs or spaces is, in my book, the number one, worst offense a translator can commit. Nothing is ever truly aligned, if you make one change, the whole thing gets messed up and text that should stay together doesn’t. Rule of thumb, if you have to use a hard return followed by a series of tabs or spaces to get text together, you’re doing it wrong. Moreover, translation memory programs do not work well at all with this type of formatting.

 

Solution: tables. Again, in using tables, all of the problems that come with using tabs and spaces to align text are eliminated. When the document is then translated, the text stays together and the tables adjust to allow expansion or compression of text.

 

Columns and Section Breaks

The final method of improper document formatting for this post is regarding the use of columns and section breaks. Again, with this method of formatting, the text moves too freely and in instances of text expansion or compression, the rows get misaligned, there is too much space between columns, and the flow of the text lends to continuity issues when the text reaches the bottom of the column. Furthermore, the use of section breaks creates odd continuity issues as well. There’s only one type of section break that should be used, the “Next page” section break.

 

Solution: tables. Properly created tables keep text together and create a rigid structure to hold the contents of the cell together. The “Next Page” section break is the only one that should be used as it allows for the changing of page orientation within the document.

 

 

That’s all for this first installment of blog posts on document formatting. The next one will be posted next week.

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