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The use of Source Files in Translation Services

document translation and source files

Last updated on June 14th, 2023 at 03:53 pm

translation services and source files
In the world of translation services, the file types and source files are fundamental pieces of the project. It is the raw material that you use to quote, execute the translation, and deliver the complete work.

What is a source file in the translation industry? It is the original file where the content was created. For example, you have a brochure that needs translation and you have a pdf file of the brochure, however, if that brochure was created in InDesign, the InDesign file will be the source file. In other cases, a pdf file was created from a word file. The word file will be the source file.

In general, to translate a PDF, it is better to have the source file. But source files are not always available since the client might not have it or received the PDF from another organization. What are the options?

Why is it important to go to the source?

In the translation workflow, most providers – ourselves included – prefer to work with source files whenever possible. Working with source files has plenty of benefits for both the translation company and the client.

  • Reduce or even eliminate file preparation work and the associated fees
  • Reduce human error introduced in copy and paste work
  • Reduce the overall time required to complete the translation project
  • Can return a fully editable document for future use or internal edits or visual changes
  • Depending on the situation, can also reduce or eliminate typesetting work and fees

Basically, it saves time and money!

Types of Source Files use in Translation

Now that I have you convinced, let’s talk about source files themselves!

Source files are editable files. That means we can work with its content. The project manager and professional translator working on your file need to be able to make changes within the document.

Ideally, editing the document should not include having to bring the file into a photo editing to cover preexisting text. Additionally, the files should not be flattened (become non-editable or uneditable) and then need to be reprocessed for editing every time the document is saved or closed.

For example, here are some examples of source file extensions:

  • Microsoft Office documents such as .docx, .xlsx, .pptx, .pub
  • Adobe Suite Documents such as : .indd, .idml, .ai, .psd, .prproj, .eps
  • Text formats such as .html, .yml, .rtf, .txt, .srt,. xml
  • Misc. files that are used to export into uneditable files types: .story, .avp

File extensions that are NOT source files:

  • Ready for print file extensions, such as .pdf
  • Flattened Image files, such as .png, .jpeg, .tif, .gif
  • Audio files such as .mp3, .mp4, .wav

A good way to tell if something is a source file is to see if you can edit it yourself. During the translation process, all text in the document will need to be changed – can you change all the text in the document? Try selecting all the text in the document and change the font color – is there anything left in the original color? That text is uneditable.

Note that some files include images that have been placed or copied into the document, and thus are not editable. Make note of which of these you do and do not need localized and provide sources for these images as necessary – either with an image and text layer or provide the image with no text at all.

It is a good practice to translate all the elements of a file including tables, graphics, diagrams, infographics, etc. so the experience in the translated languages is as clear and as effective as in the source language.

Why can’t you just use my pdf for the translation?

While Adobe Acrobat Pro allows you to edit PDFs, the process of doing so is wrought with places for issues to arise. From the outset, you must take one of two approaches: convert the PDF into Word and wrestle with the adobe-generated formatting post-translation, OR extract the text and paste the translations into the PDF.

The first option can cause frustration due to the unexpected and inconsistent ways that the word document was created. The latter causes issues due to the lack of page guides/rulers, paragraph styles, and how the text is rendered each time the typesetter saves the document. Additionally, editing a PDF does not guarantee that the program will accurately process the document’s text.

Both options create costs and extend the amount of time it takes for a translation order to be completed and introduce the possibility of errors in the manipulation of the content.

A byproduct of having the source file is that the format of the translated document will be identical to the original document and most of the time can be done without file preparation before sending the document for translation.

What if I don’t have the source files?

That depends! Send us the document and we will let you know what options you have. File recreation may be an option, depending on what your file looks like.

If you recreate my document, can you make it look exactly like the source doc?
This also depends! Some source documents are easier to recreate than others. It is also important to keep in mind that the document will be translated, so there is no need to get it perfect before changing all the text in the document. Each language will sit slightly differently in your document, as each has its own sentence length and grammar structure to take into consideration. Most translated documents need to go for multilingual DTP before they can be used.

Why do I even need file prep and Multilingual DTP?

File preparation is needed to ensure that when the files for translation enters the translation environment, the translator has access to all the text in the document, and the translated phrases are formatted in such a way that makes sense, by following the original document format.

Multilingual DTP, Desktop Publishing (Often referred to as Typesetting) is necessary as each language conveys the message with different amounts of words or characters. That brings contraction and expansion of text plus. Also, different fonts, special characters that need to be checked for proper display as well as languages that display right to left, like Arabic and Hebrew, that need a different treatment all play a role in the translation process equation.

Once a document is translated, it is important that a typesetter with an understanding of the language goes through and ensures that the text is all visible, and the visual design of the document is as close to the original as possible without throwing off the translation.

Better Looking Translated Document

Source files are an important resource that will make the translation of your document flow faster, so it is important to have them all before starting any translation project. Also, they are a way to obtain final translated files that look like the original.

Victoria Wildow
Victoria Wildow
Since 2018, Victoria Wildow has put her problem-solving, technology-centered mind to use in her roles as a Translation Project Manager, Typesetter, and now Marketing Associate at JR Language. She is a graduate of the Rochester Institute of Technology’s Media Arts and Technology program. Victoria helps ensure our clients' various designs maintain the same look and feel in their new languages while also managing projects in various media. She loves learning about new technologies and is currently developing websites in her free time.