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Content Ops
May 18, 2020
xx min read

Translating Your Documentation: A Start-To-Finish Guide for Fast, Accurate, and Affordable Translation

Your content is more valuable when more people can read it. Content planned around global distribution is ready for worldwide accessibility.

Humanity is global, shouldn’t your content be as well? Language barriers have historically prevented ideas from crossing the lines that delineate one society from another. Modern tools and technologies have made translation and localization accessible for organizations of any size. The value of content is determined, not just by its quality, but also by how many people can read it. In this article, we’ll look at how the landscape of translation has changed and how you can get started today no matter your budget or company size.

Why We Translate

Albus Dumbledore once stated that “Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic.” Good content educates, excites, and enables readers.  However, as good as the content may be, it is only effective if it’s in the language of the reader.

Readers (and people in general) automatically prefer content in their own language. Making this desire a reality is more complex than simply asking Siri how to say “Where’s the bathroom” in Spanish because there are innumerable languages all with regional dialects, expressions, and variables.  

Fortunately, we can lean on technology and automation to unlock the power of translation and localization. With modern translation tools, we unlock the dual-power of decoding language and contextualizing meaning. By maximizing the tools available, our content goes from cloistered and regional to widespread and global.

The process of doing this, to borrow from Harry Potter again, isn’t magic.

All businesses have two aims:

  • Make something useful
  • Make people good at using it

It’s pretty straightforward. You want to make something that is useful and that makes a difference in people’s lives. However, for that thing to actually make a difference, it’s important that people actually, you know, use it. When you do make something useful, helping people learn to be proficient at using it also makes more people want to use it in the first place.

We all agree that your product should be used, but people’s ability to use your product is entirely dependent on your ability to educate, excite, and enable. To do this, you need content that they understand in their native language. Put even more simply: Product usefulness depends on content quality, which depends on translation quality.

For this reason, translation mustn’t be an afterthought.

Why not?

When content translation is treated as an afterthought, it renders the quality of an afterthought. When it’s integrated into content planning and development, the quality of your content remains consistent across whatever languages you wish to reach.

Obstacles to Translation & Localization

It doesn’t take a linguist to understand the difficulties that language barriers magnify. Add technology to the mix and those barriers have a new level of complexity. Translation doesn’t happen with a wand flourish, though many businesses might think it does, so let’s look at the most formidable obstacles to translating content.


Accuracy, or the lack thereof, is the most formidable and obvious obstacle. The reality is, in order for your content to be valuable, it must be understandable. Inaccurate translations, even with seemingly minimal errors, can change your content enough that it becomes frustrating to navigate, contextually muddled, or totally unusable.

Understanding the difference between translation and localization is important to achieving accurate content translation. Where translation decodes words from other languages, localization imbues contextual meaning. They have to be used together for your content to be properly translated.

Designer Price Tags

Content translation is notoriously expensive. Translation software charges by the word. As you can imagine, as companies and content libraries grow, translating massive bodies of documentation can rack up a hefty tab. Then, when those documents need to be updated, you’re shelling out cash yet again. There are a couple of key reasons why it’s so expensive, too, but we’ll unpack those a little later.

It Takes Forever

Translation can be time-consuming from start-to-end. This comes down to many factors, but the top culprits are:

  • Volume: How much are you translating?
  • Complexity: Complex products or complex languages
  • Content Organization: Is your content organized as linear documents or modular building blocks? (We’ll come back to this later)

Word-by-word, line-by-line translation is akin to how Medieval scholars would translate it. For example, they’d receive a massive tome in Latin, then copy it line-by-line into another massive tome, but in French.

That’s more or less how translation works now, too, but with some help from software. Still, it’s done line-by-line, which is why your content architecture can make or break how fast it’s translated.

It’s Not In Your Workflow

Returning to the point where companies haven’t included translation in their content development workflow, this afterthought makes translation much more difficult. Anything is more difficult when it’s not in your overarching plans and workflows. Translation shouldn’t be an interruption to your workflow, it should be a crucial part of it.

Structured Content Makes Translation Fast, Accurate, and Affordable

The obstacles in the previous section all have a common denominator. They occur when translation isn’t an integral part of your content development process. The way you plan and construct your content lays the foundation for making translation smoother down the line.

Speaking of content, it’s important to note that not all content is created equal. Structured content is built with versatility and longevity in mind. You can learn more about structured content here. Structured content enables some powerful capabilities that are crucial to translation:

  • Componentization:
  • As opposed to one long document, component content is a document broken into pieces. These blocks of content can be moved, edited, and reused endlessly to create different documents. Think of these components as building blocks that can be stacked into something bigger.
  • Translation Memory:
  • When content is in separate smaller blocks, each block can be translated on its own. Once it’s translated, translation memory marks that block as already translated. Knowing what’s already been translated makes sure you don’t waste time and money translating it again.
  • Content Reuse:
  • Because your content is in blocks and translation memory tracks what’s already been translated, these blocks can easily be reused, moved, and translated into any number of languages. They’re also easier to find. Rather than sifting through paragraphs in a long document, you can look at the components that build a document and find the ones you need.

This all starts with the foundation of structured content, which is building content in components. Instead of how we typically create content, component content requires a different approach to content planning. In doing this, you’re already preparing your content and your workflow for translation. 

Enough Chit Chat, Let’s See Translation In Action

Over the years, translation technologies have gotten a bad rap for being too expensive, and clunky. To cut costs associated with translation, companies would cut corners that resulted in haphazardly translated content. In the long run, the costs cut are eclipsed by potential customers driven away by content that’s translated and localized poorly.

We’ve already spoken about the value of structured content in translating content. These traits get maximized in the context of one particular structured content architecture: DITA XML.

DITA XML is optimized for maximizing the capabilities of your content from reuse to publishing to, you guessed it, translation. Heretto was built to make the power of DITA XML simple to use.

To translate and localize your content in Heretto, the process looks something like this.

 Localization with Heretto

 Creating Content as Components

Like we said earlier, translation isn’t an afterthought, you start preparing for it when you write your first line of content. Fortunately, while Heretto creates robust DITA content, the interface is intuitive and familiar to anyone who has used Google Docs or MS Word before. Sharing UX familiarity with the most widely used word processing programs in the world, it allows anyone to get started with very little training. Check out a walkthrough of how it works here:

Your content is created in components. Individual components can exist by themselves and can be combined to create larger documents; recall the building blocks example from earlier. These components are stored in our Component Content Management System (CCMS), organizing, managing, and making them easily accessible. It’s up to you if you want to translate and publish content as individual components, or if you want to assemble those components to form a publication.  

Localization Management

If you translate a large amount of content, you need a way to manage it. Fortunately, Heretto’s Localization Manager gives you complete control and vision over the translation status of each component. It shows which components are: Current, Out-Of-Date, and Unavailable. These statuses ensure you’re only translating parts of your content that need to be translated.

Package, Download, Send

Heretto packages the content you want to be translated, allows you to choose the language(s), and prepares files to be shipped to your preferred Translation Management Software.

Wait, Upload, Match

Once the translator has finished translating your content, they’ll return it to you. Simply upload the translated file into Heretto’s Localization Manager, and it will add each piece of translated content into your translation memory and content library.

Publish Without Formatting

One of the unique things about DITA is the way it handles publishing. In typical systems, the formatting is part of the writing. Authors have to think about the look and styling of the content as they write it. This adds an incredible amount of time to the process and it complicates translation as you must adjust styling to accommodate different lengths caused by linguistic variances.

In DITA XML, content is written by the authors, but styling and formatting is automatically applied as a final step when the content is published, after the translation is completed.

This saves a great deal of time. Within Heretto, you can simply select your translated languages and publishing outputs and voila! you can publish multiple pieces of content in multiple languages to multiple publishing outputs in mere seconds. It’s not magic, but it sure feels like it.  

Repeat Endlessly

No matter how much content you have, Heretto gives you a way to choose what you need to translate. Gone are the days of shipping hundreds of pages of documentation. With content components, translation memory, and the Localization Manager, you’ll always know what’s done and what needs to be done. That way, the job is only exactly what it needs to be, making sure you don’t pay for something twice.


Localization packages refer to formats content is shipped to be translated. Localized content in Heretto can be packaged in four different ways.

  1. XLIFF: This is an XML based format that stands for XML Localization Interchange File Format. It’s a standardized localization format used across the world for content translation, hence it’s the most commonly used.
  2. Source: Our CCMS works in DITA XML, thus a source package will be shipped in DITA XML. It’s less commonly used unless the translator you’re using works with DITA XML.
  3. Media: XLIFF and Source packages can’t translate text in media like pictures and videos. The Media package is meant for translating text in images and the like.
  4. XTM: This is a partnership between Heretto and Translation Management System (TMS) software XTM International. It’s an automated API connector that allows you to send, receive, manage, and track translated content all in one place. It’s wonderful for keeping your translation in-house. This does require purchasing an additional software license, though the cost is minimal if you intend on keeping translation in-house.

Summing it all up, you have incredible control over translation with Heretto’s Localization Manager. Organization, status tracking, and shipping, all in one place.


Getting started is less costly than you think. Besides, you can’t ignore the value potentially gained by good translation and localization. When you effectively communicate with unlimited locales, your product becomes useful and valuable to more people. Why limit your reach to one language?

Still need more? We’ve got you covered. Request a demo today and see it for yourself.

Create great content together

Write, review, translate, and publish all from one system. Heretto is the only ContentOps platform that allows multiple authors to work together at the same time.