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Posted on15 March 2016

Translation Agency Tips: #15 Translating PDFs

Translating PDFs, atlas translations, tips, freelance, translators, how to translate

Thanks for checking out our blog series on tips for language professionals! While we appreciate that freelance linguists are of course experts in their respective disciplines, we’ve learnt a thing or two since we opened for business in 1991, and so we wanted to put together this list which will hopefully be of help to freelancers of all levels of experience. And if you have anything to add to the conversation, please leave a comment at the bottom of the page!

This week, we look at translating PDFs. There are two or three different types of PDF we generally receive, so the first thing to do is to ascertain which type of PDF you’re working with. It’ll be one of the following (please note the terminology used to describe the different types of PDF is only our in-house lingo!):

1)    A ‘Dead’ PDF. This is usually a scan or photocopy and the text is not editable.
2)   A PDF created from Word. Word files which are saved as PDFs can usually be re-opened with Word, which makes editing and translating the content fairly straightforward.
3)    A designed PDF. Usually these will have been exported from a design program such as InDesign or Quark Express. These usually contain a lot of design elements with graphics and images often rendering the file too large to open with a program like Word. You may need a PDF conversion software to create an editable document to work with.

Translating ‘Dead’ PDFs

‘Dead’ PDFs are the most time consuming to work on of the three different types of PDF, because there’s usually no way to format them other than manually reproducing them in a separate document. Luckily, more often than not, the source materials we receive as ‘Dead’ PDFs to translate are short documents such as birth certificates and university transcripts, but I know there are some translators who refuse to work on ‘Dead’ PDFs at all, understandably so in some cases!

Is all the text in the scanned document legible? Check this first and if not, point this out to your customer. If just a couple of lines then they may ask you to proceed anyway and just mark illegible parts with a note in your translation. But it is better to check at the beginning than halfway through the project.

When replicating the source document in your translation, be sure to check and double check all of the names, dates and numbers. These are often aspects you normally wouldn’t touch when working in an editable format so it’s always worth checking you’ve copied them across correctly, and make sure numbers are included in the word count – if you have to type them out then you should be paid for doing this. On this note, you should always check the word count the client has given you is correct.

Don’t worry too much about the formatting unless the client specifically says this is important. A basic level of formatting (maintaining headings, paragraphs etc.) should suffice. If the source ‘dead’ PDF contains tables or diagrams check how the client wants these to be presented in the translation. Maybe a simple bilingual table will serve for a diagram.

When you’ve finished your translation check over your translation thoroughly (more so than you usually would) against the source document to make sure nothing has been missed off in your translation.

Translating PDFs from word

These are the simplest of the three types of PDF to deal with. More often than not these can be opened with Word (or alternative word processing software) and translated. When you do this, check carefully that everything has opened correctly in Word against the original PDF, as sometimes the formatting can become corrupted and text is hidden. It is worth asking the client if they have an editable version to work from (they should do if it was created in Word).

When it comes to finalising your translation, you can even save the document in PDF form, so you can deliver in the same format your client sent the source in. As always though, do check your translation against the source PDF, taking extra special care to make sure everything in the source is in the translation.

Translating a Designed PDF

If you don’t have a design tool (like Adobe InDesign) then you can pick up some PDF conversion software to work on these. We don’t use any at Atlas, but I’m sure you’ll be able to find recommendations of software for translators on a forum (perhaps someone would be so kind as to recommend a product in the comments below?). Proceed with caution when using PDF conversion software – we’ve seen lots of documents with missing paragraphs, pages and pictures as they were missed from the conversion. These issues were a lot more common with previous versions of PDF conversion software, and generally the programs out there now are pretty good and such problems are less of a concern, but be aware that it can happen!
Check with the client if the translation is going to be typeset. Generally source materials in this form are things like brochures or leaflets, so translations will usually be typeset by a professional. If this is the case, there’s no need to spend loads of time formatting something that someone else will be paid to do anyway!

PDFs aren’t always the most straightforward documents to translate. If you’ve any tips we’ve not covered, please share in the comments below!

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