"Garbage in, garbage out" goes the old warning: If the source text is of poor quality, expect the translated text to be no better.
English is the main language used by global medical device and pharmaceutical companies. But drug and device companies must provide instructions for use in the native language of the countries to which they export.
Up until a few years ago, little thought was given to improving the source materials for translation: few companies had any meaningful control over the authoring of content and translation was not a big ticket budget item. Non-native speakers writing in English? Sure! Using different terminology for the same thing in different documents? No problem. Engineers writing end-use instructions? Why not?
As the number of languages continues to grow and the time allocated to translation continues to shrink, pharma and device companies have started to realize that better authoring can lead to better, faster, and less expensive translations. Content management systems are being implemented across device companies like never before. Writing for translation is suddenly a topic for discussion. And pharma companies are increasingly looking to technology (e.g., translation memories, electronic data capture) to streamline global trials.
Larger drug and device companies are starting to pay attention to controlled authoring and Simplified Technical English. Long a mainstay of quickly and accurately producing voluminous documentation for cars, airplanes, weapon systems, and other heavy equipment, the practice is gaining favor in the life sciences as a way to combat GIGO.
In addition to time and budget pressures, industry's interest in controlled authoring is aided by the emergence of XML. More and more companies are already deploying XML for structured product labeling, authoring systems, e-submissions, and document management.
You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, but drug and device companies can use controlled authoring to improve the quality, timing and cost of their translation efforts.
For further insight into controlled authoring, take a look at these resources:
- Frans Wijma's audio conference Achieving Compliance and Beyond with Simplified Technical English shows companies how to address 99% of the challenges behind global documentation processes, such as high cost, ease of translation, damage to product, delayed time-to-market and inadequate customer support.
- Uwe Muegge provides a good summary of how to use controlled language to streamline translation processes.
- Updated: The "godfather of machine translation", Jeff Allen, compiled an extensive list of resources around controlled language, authoring systems, and related topics as part of his LinkedIn page (scroll to the bottom to "Jeff Allen's Files") and on his new blog.
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