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Truncate to fit, reduce to understand

Truncate to fit, reduce to understand

A very common issue when it comes to translating websites or software is length restrictions. Indeed, truncation makes things fit almost everywhere. But is it enough just to… fit?

Clients tend to manage multilingual projects independently of language, without taking into account the peculiarities of each and every language. As a result, translators are often asked to truncate as much as possible, no matter what the actual impact to the target user would be. As for the results? They can be a real disaster.

Going back to the basics of technical writing, the most fundamental question is raised once again: What does the user need? As for the answer, it is more than clear: The user needs to easily understand how things work.

Going back to the basics of technical translation, the fundamental question is quite similar: Can the user understand? Instead of struggling to decode the meaning of the options in a standard main menu, a potential user needs to be able to see things clearly. Always keep in mind that a frustrated user is potentially a non-user. Especially nowadays that words spread more easily and more quickly than ever before, frustrated users can also be harmful to a brand name.

So, if not truncation, then what?

Technical translation is somewhat similar to Mathematics. Let’s put it another way. Would you ever truncate a number?

In linear Algebra, reduction refers to simplifying an expression. For example, the fraction 128/256 can be gradually reduced (that is, simplified) to 64/128, 8/16 and finally 1/2. All four fractions give the same result: 0.5. However, the higher the fraction numerator and denominator are, the more difficult it is to solve the fraction and come up with the final result.

The same should apply for translation: The simpler a translated text is, the easier it is to transmit its message to the target reader. Or, going a step further: the simpler a source text is, the easier it is for the text to be clearly translated and successfully presented to the final user.

But what does “simple source text” mean? This issue is further investigated in Simplicity, the ultimate sophistication.


Author: Yannis Evangelou