Skip to content

Preparing Layouts for Translation (desktop publishing / DTP)

Preparing Layouts for Translation

When creating the layout of a product catalogue or marketing brochure, most companies outsource to a design agency, unless they have their own in-house design department. In either case the focus is almost always a monolingual one. Understandably the idea is to produce a nice-looking document for publication in the original language; and very little consideration is given to the possibility that the document might be translated into one or more languages. However, translating this kind of document has a significant impact on the layout of the document; for reasons that may seem obvious, but that are often not taken into account when designing the original. You will save considerable time by properly preparing your document for translation.

When Preparing a Layout for Translation:

  1. Leave plenty of space within and around text boxes; translations often take up more space than the original.
  2. In continuous multi-page text, link the text boxes from page to page so the text can flow.
  3. Do NOT place soft or hard line endings (or tabs) in the middle of sentences, paragraphs or headings. This applies also to table headings. Bullets (indented text) should be configured in paragraph styles.
  4. Create bullet symbols using a paragraph style, do not place the symbol on the page next to the corresponding text. Similarly, if using non-text symbols (icons, logos) within a paragraph, anchor them directly into the text.
  5. Use InDesign tables wherever possible. Never create a table using lines and tabs, etc.
  6. Use paragraph styles wherever possible. For example, features such as point size and hyphenation can be set in a “body text” style which can then be easily modified for the entire document if required.
  7. For long documents, use an InDesign Book to link all the individual indd files.

1. Text Length — make the space

The first and foremost consideration is the length of the text. For example, English takes up a relatively small amount of space in comparison to most other languages, which use more words to say the same thing. Translating from English to Spanish will result in around 30% more text. If English is the source language of the document, then nearly all the translations will occupy more space. Therefore the original document must be modified to accommodate the longer text; either in advance, or by tweaking the translated document in order to make the translation fit.

However once we enter the realm of multilingual translations we may find ourselves modifying multiple documents to accommodate various language translations. Whereas, we could have simply modified the original document, once. Therefore it is often more efficient to modify the original document in anticipation of the translation(s).

Simple techniques can be employed such as extending text boxes as far as possible to cater for the longer translated text; or reducing the point size of all the text in the original document (if there is very little extra space to play with). Reducing it once in the original will avoid having to do it once for each language after translation.

2. Text Flow — use the space effectively

It is often the case that some pages are more spacious (or flexible) than others. If your text continues across pages (eg. a chapter), link the text boxes on each page, and across pages, so the text can flow. If the text does not have sufficient space after translation, by linking boxes, you will only have one case of overset text (the final page of the chapter) rather than numerous overflowing text boxes on each page.

Consider that columns breaks may change. If you want your headings to always be at the top of a column or page, set the keep options within the paragraph style.

3. Soft Returns and Tabs — don’t break things!

CAT tools (software used by professional translators) will import your text and break it down in segments (a sentence or phrase). Placing a tab, or a soft or hard return in the middle of sentence, or table heading, will divide that segment into two, which could result in mistranslation. Manual hyphenation – ie. Manually placing a hyphen (and soft return) into a word to break it, can also cause issues. Always set your hyphenation choices in the paragraph stylesheet.

For the same reason, format your bullets and indented text correctly (using a paragraph style) — do not use soft returns and a tab to indent each line individually — set the style sheet to indent as required.

NB. Our use of CAT tools benefits you enormously! Find out more here.

4. Bullets and Symbols

Once again, always configure bullets using a paragraph style. This format means that the bullet symbol is attached to the corresponding text and will ‘move’ with the text. If your bullet symbol is simply placed on the page next to the corresponding text, and a translated bullet fills two lines rather than one, each subsequent bullet symbol will now be in the ‘wrong’ place! And you will have to move each one manually.

Likewise, if you have an icon or logo within a block of text, insert it into the text, in the appropriate place, as an anchored object. This way the icon will ‘move’ with the translated text, remaining in the correct position.

5. Building Tables

Always use a formatted InDesign table, the cells within the table will expand, or contract, as appropriate for the translated text length. If you construct your table using lines and tabs or individual text boxes, each box/line may have to be adjusted manually to accommodate the translation.

6. Text Styles

Paragraph styles should be used for all text. This way, if you need to adjust hyphenation or point size you can do so by simply adjusting the stylesheet. Without paragraphs styles, any adjustments would have to be made to each paragraph manually. Bold and italic text should be designated by a character style, to ensure the style will be retained, on the correct words, after translation. Nested and GREP styles can also be very useful for consistently-used bold/italic features.

7. InDesign Books

InDesign books are incredibly useful during the design process, and invaluable when tweaking styles for multiple documents. If you have multiple documents within the same project — such as chapters/sections of a catalogue — collect them into a Book, and select a master document from which to synchronise styles throughout.

In Conclusion

Factors such as these should be taken into account by whoever is designing the document; and/or the person who is preparing your document for translation. This is why it is often beneficial for the language service provider to play an important role in document design.

Integrated design, DTP and translation

We can, of course, prepare your documents for translation, and make the appropriate adjustments post-translation (for shorter documents, or when translating into only one language, it’s sometimes quicker to tweak post-translation).

Post-translation, other issues to consider include converting decimal points (eg. used in the US, China and UK) to a decimal comma (used elsewhere), checking the correct regional or language-appropriate punctuation has been used, or ensuring the hyphenation is language-appropriate (German hyphenation almost deserves it’s own blog post! But only the most devoted linguistic-DTP experts would be read it!)

We also offer a complete design and DTP service — contact us for more information.

Related Posts