(LONG!) Summary of Multilingual User Guide thread
Larry Grinnell <Larry_Grinnell -at- PTS -dot- MOT -dot- COM>
Thu, 6 Jul 1995 18:31:25 -0400
This message is being cross-posted to TECHWR-L, Framers, and the INSOFT-L
=46irst, thanks to everyone for their participation in this exercise. Within=
hours of the posting, we received over 50 replies to our request for comment=
about whether or not it was a good idea to produce multilingual user guides
(with an admitted bias against such an idea, for reasons of cost and cycle
The comments presented below were edited down from the original 50 responses
for a management presentation. To have had so many responses from our peers
was a delightful surprise. The main reason for editing was to obviously
remove any reference to "bonehead" managers. To see some of the names of
companies from whom these responses came further added that ever-so-importan=
air of "professionalism"--that maybe Motorola's technical communicators aren=
"professionals" (view of some managers here), but that ones from companies
such as HP, 3Com, Sun, and so many other venues, big and small, are
professionals whose views are worthy of careful review.
The end result was that we won with compromise. We agreed, even before the
posting to these lists, to place the name of the language (in English) above
the barcode located on the back of our manuals. We have also agreed to
examine the production of bilingual manuals where they make the most sense--
we are already doing it for Canada. An English/Spanish user guide could be
very useful in locales along our southern borders and in many large urban
areas. A Spanish/Portuguese user guide could be useful as a standard "South
American" edition. Things like that. Marketing has also agreed to work with
us (and not against us) to reduce the overall word/page count (something the=
never would have done, had it not been for this overall exercise), making ou=
standard guides smaller (hence cheaper) and making a bilingual book not much
larger than our current monolingual documents. We will be working with our
industrial designers to make things more graphic and less textual in nature,
hopefully making a sometimes complicated product a little easier to use.
Thank you one and all for taking the time to read our original plea and even
more to all of you who responded to it. As promised, here is the summary.
Larry Grinnell and the rest of the staff
Motorola, Inc., Paging Products Group
Integrated Technical Communications
Boynton Beach, Florida
I used to work as a consultant in localization at HP. They localize
everything from manuals down to the labels on the hardware. They currently
translate manuals into about 25 languages, and they are all separate
manuals. I personally think it's very important that a customer sees
his/her own manual in his/her native language, and not four different
languages. If you have a choice, I would keep the languages separate, and
put the name of the language somewhere on the front or back cover of the
Kelly Horton - Mentor Graphics Corporation
I suppose that writing the name of language on the cover discreetly but
clearly would not work?
Lindsey Thomas Martin - San Francisco University
I guess I'd have to be there...but isn't the problem rather simply resolved
by adding a language "symbol" as the ultimate element of the part number?
James Eric Lawson -University of Washington, Bioengineering
I discourage multilingual documents for longer texts. They're obnoxious from
a usability standpoint. I think some human factors folk have done some
studies to show this to be the case. I have many other reasons to offer for
why it's not a good idea to have multilingual docs, but I don't have all
Print stickers of the world map with the countries for the language version
filled in with black ink. (No need for color coding--just a visual cue
here.) For instance, English version would have the U.S., most of or all of
Canada, Australia, Great Britain, and New Zealand filled in. There might be
other countries, depending on what your marketing department recommends,
but these are good starters. All other countries would be in white with
black outlines. And so on. Cheap solution. Allows for expanding markets
(multilingual docs don't allow for global growth). Doesn't rely on words or
numbers. Supplement the stickers with posters that can be read from a
distance and if space permits, hang the posters over the bins where the
language versions are sorted. These would serve as legends to the maps, so
to speak. Simple and inexpensive solution.
Nancy Hoft - INTL TECH COMM SVCS - Temple, NH
The problem is neither a marketing nor a technical writing one; it's a
production problem. If manufacturing cannot package the hardware and its
manual in the proper language, what assurance is there that other errors
aren't being made? In fact, they probably are.
Sue Ellen Adkins
Why not colour-code the PART NUMBER on the cover, maybe put the language
in BIG LETTERS in red on the front cover. Alternatively get an automated
package-stuffer driven by the barcodes and replace your illiterate
Colin Evans - Sun UK - MOD Pre-Sales Support
As a German I am quite used to monstrous manuals. So no big problem, except
for that those multilingual manuals are more difficult to handle (on which
page does the german description start?, more time for searching, especially
making things worse when under time pressure), imho.
So one way to accomplish what you seem to want could be to reorganize
(re-engineer) the packaging procedure, e. g. one Monday the pagers for
market A, on Tuesday for market B, etc. There would only be one kind
(language) manual at a time.
Manufacturing's arguments should be challenged. I just don't buy the
argument that factory workers can't distinguish between manuals with a
unique part number and barcode. And I can't believe that the head of
Manufacturing will suggest higher manufacturing and shipping costs as
a way of solving what sounds like a training problem. What about some
other more easily recognized code, such as alpha characters: FR, SPAN,
PORT, ENG, etc? Or other graphic symbols? What about specialized scanning
equipment in the factories? What has Manufacturing done to train workers?
Right now all our docs are in English, but we have customers all over
the world. I sympathize with your plight, and agree that the disadvantages
of a multi-lingual doc in your situation far outweigh the advantages.
Here's a suggestion that might help manufacturing and make the problem go
away. On the back cover of the document, print in all four languages,
"This document is in ________" fill in the language. "If you would like a
manual in another language, please contact..." and provide contact info,
which may need to be nothing more devious than "the place where you
purchased your beeper."
You accomplish three things. First, you give the packers a way to determine
what language the manual is in. Distinguishing spanish from portuguese at a
glance may be a non-trivial task for some. Second, if you have a packing
error and a consumer gets a manual in the wrong language, they can read how
to get it in the right language. Ah, the happy customer. Third, you look
friendly and global to your consumer. Hey, I can get it in French! Cool!
Jim Trudeau - Metrowerks, Inc.
If everyone gets a book 4 times the size of the original, it will cost at
least twice as much to produce. I think with just those numbers, and the
amount the price of your product would have to be increased to cover that,
should be a good answer. You should make manufacturing show their expected
cost savings from putting the books together. I doubt they could match the
extra cost of the books.
Nancy Paisner - Hitachi Computer Products
When I worked at Farallon (over a year ago) we produced EtherWave manuals
with English plus French, German, and Japanese in the same manual. We did
the multilingual thing for the Quick Start portion only. Check out a
=46arallon EtherWave manual and see how you like it.
You forgot one minus: the intimidation factor (and hence customer
acceptance) of, say, an eighty-page manual for a pager. Another possible
solution would be visually coding the manual's packaging to indicate
language: the cost increase for, say, colored plastic wrap should be far
less than the added cost of manuals four times their original size or of
adding a color to the printing.
I think that this is manufacturing's problem. And I think the solution may
be training. Has your manufacturing organization tried to train the
packers? With Motorola's emphasis on training, this might be just the
ticket. Also, the "can't make the production rate" argument sounds like
"quantity vs. quality." What good is meeting the rate if the wrong book is
packed? If nothing else, maybe the rate should be reduced. Finally, what
about changes to the cover, so that it's clear what product the manual is
for? Surely some product-related words appear on the cover? I'm not in
your shoes, of course, so some of these suggestions may be unworkable (or
ridiculous). So, take =8Cem with a block of salt.
Producing a manual in four languages does not mean increasing the size of
the doc by a factor of four. You can use clever design to pack the versions
and cut the number of pages, therefore the weight, cost, and thickness of
How do the bar codes get on the books? I'm assuming stickers of some sort.
If you add a colored block to the barcodes (or even color the barcodes if
the barcode readers can accept that), that might provide a solution that
everyone could live with. You could also add words like Spanish to the
Wouldn't it be cheaper to colour code the boxs of books with a colour
sticker? This would be much simpler than having to "wand" every manual.
Besides, English is different from French and it is different from spanish
and portuguese. Surely they can read the language on the cover of the books
rather than "wand"ing everything?
Aside from that I personally dislike multilingual manuals. I can never find
the right language especially if it is buried in the back unless you put in
tabs in your manual.
Angela Tchen - Technical Writer Cognos Inc. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
You might add these arguments to your "why we shouldn't" list:
# multilingual manuals are a waste of paper and Motorola may lose goodwill
by not appearing to care about conservation of natural resources;
# unless it's done very cleverly, making manuals multilingual confuses and
annoys the users and therefore should be condemned on Information Design
=46or a holding operation, I suggest the Usability Testing approach: ask
Manufacturing if they have conducted any surveys amongst the users to see
whether they would prefer single-language manuals or multilingual manuals.
I can see the argument being stronger for two-language situations, e.g.
Conrad Taylor - Ideography - London, UK - Information design & electronic
publishing consultant Newsletter editor of Information Design Association
How about a real simple solution? Along with the part number and bar code
on the back cover, print the language in human readable form so the bar
code need not be scanned.
Replace the packing with bar code reading machines to auto sort and/or
package (i.e. replace the human)! I suppose there's capital investment
there and so on, but it could be viable in the long run. Another
alternative is to target the manuals to bigger regions. You might combine
some languages together depending on the product region. It's somewhere
between what you've got now on language per manual, versus the suggested
all languages in a single manual. So, for Canada and US, for example, it'd
be in English and French only. For S. America, it'd be in Spanish and
Portuguese only, and there'd be a few more in the European market.
Going multilingual is a bad idea, considering the size of the document.
If it was a 4-page job, it might be different. It looks to me like
manufacturing is trying to force other departments to compensate for
its poor organization and ineffective procedures. What if you had 8
models, each requiring a different manual? They need to sit down and
rethink their packing strategy.
One other reason for not doing the multilingual books is environmental
concerns. Each customer would be getting a manual 4 times as large as what
he/she needs, which wastes trees and pollutes 4 times as much as what was
necessary. If your company is making any effort at all to pitch in to our
global health problems, imagine how this waste will appear to the customer.
I once unsubscribed from a magazine because the publisher packaged it
unnecessarily in plastic. Don't underestimate the desire of consumers to
see companies take our environmental problems seriously and adopt healthier
Karen Mayer - TOUCH TECHNOLOGY
Try different colored cover stock for each language. Keep the cover design
as-is to possibly appease the corporate image guardians. Another
possibility is colored shrink wrap. Or colored inserts under the clear
shrink wrap. You still have the possibility of packers forgetting which
color is which language, or mixing Spanish boxes in with a shipment to
=46rance. So color code the shipping boxes too?
Dick Dimock - Senior Member Technical Staff
AT&T Global Information Solutions - El Segungo, CA
I don't understand why the right manual can't get in the right box, but that
seems to be a fact of life.
There may be ways to do a multi-language manual without making the manual
bigger. First, minimize the text. Cut it way down. This has the added
advantage that you will save on translation costs. Second, arrange the text
in a parallel way instead of a serial way. The manual that I saw was a
hardware installation guide from Sun. They had the installation picture on
the right-hand side of the book. And the words in 4 languages on the
left-hand side of the book--each language always starting in the same place
on the page. They had minimized their text so that any given language
wasn't more than, say, 5 lines long.
I'm sure that there are many more clever ways of making the manual as small
as possible, You'll have to get creative. You can also look around at other
consumer products to see what they do. I personally have seen a lot of
multi-language manuals recently and I think it's the wave of the future.
Judi Taugher - Technical Writer - HP-Loveland
I've done many multilingual docs, primarily for Japanese consumer electronic=
clients. You're right, they are fraught with if...then's at all levels.
Here's a possible compromise -- could you leave all in English, but provide
a multilingual (or graphical) Quick Reference section? Maybe tear-out
cards? If you do end up with the Big Docs, tear-out cards would keep it
simple for the users, too.
Another factor may also be whether your products need to receive TUV and
other int'l electrical/product approvals. They usually REQUIRE translation
of basic steps, safety info, etc.
Mary K. Falk - CyberOptics Corp Minneapolis, MN
There's no reason to print multilingual manuals unless you feel that people
in the "same" country may need different languages. I think it would make
sense, for example, to print English and Spanish or English and French in
the same manual. This makes sense for CD booklets or really short
instructions (just a few paragraphs) but once the manuals get larger, it
may get more expensive than it's worth.
If the wrong manuals are ending up in the box, then there's a flaw in your
system. I think it would be a pain to have to read a several digit-long
number in order to determine the language of a product. Why do you need a
color code? That's overkill. Also, what if people forget that blue means
=46rench? Can't you just print the word "French" on the manual? What about
keeping the manuals in big boxes labeled "FRENCH" or what about putting
small, cheap stickers on the outside after the manuals are printed that say
Lastly, why do all of your manuals have to look alike? That certainly
doesn't make sense. Who goes around comparing the French and Spanish books
to make sure they look the same? Just have different covers. Even that,
however, may not solve the problem any better than having distinct numbers,
if the workers can't remember which cover is which.
I still think a simple solution would be to print the word "FRENCH" on the
front or back of the manual.
I work for 3Com, and we are starting to have similar issues occur with our
network adapter products, as we localize our products for non-U.S. markets.
I think Motorola is farther along the localization path than 3Com is, but
the Mfg. problems you describe are very familiar.
Here are a couple of solutions we are exploring:
1) Write "quick-start guides"--truly minimalist manuals--for the European
market and bind the French, Italian, German, and Spanish instructions into
one manual. Customers could order the full manual in English, if they
choose. This is a quick solution, but I'm not convinced it will satisfy our
European customers longterm.
2) Prepare a separate "localization package" consisting of the
foreign-language manual, install diskette, support information, etc. and
create a special SKU for it. We already have SKUs that provide large
quantities of U.S. product without manuals. Distributors in-country would
stock and provide the localization package together with a manual-free U.S.
product. This solution pushes product assembly onto our distributors, which
may or may not work. Also, product costs are higher, but only for the
people who want to buy the specialized product. We haven't implemented
solution #2 yet.
Cathy Anderson - Applications Support Engineer, Adapter Products
3Com Corporation - Santa Clara, CA
My only comment is from a user's point of view, and one I didn't spot in
your post (sorry if it was already mentioned).
Personal experience --> Along with a user guide and installation guide, I
got a multilanguage troubleshooting guide or maintenance guide for an HP
product. It was about 50 pages, professionally bound, exquisite, etc. Two
of those pages applied to an English speaking audience. I was appalled at
I don't think I'd mind a manual with "English" stamped somewhere on its
cover. If you shrink wrap your manuals, why not stamp the language on the
shrink wrap? The user will discard that portion anyway. It's a lot less
waste than 48 pages and expensive bindings. ... gotta go!
W. Michaels - Teleport
To reduce the overall size of a multilingual manual, you could try
redesigning the manual and printing on thinner paper. If you want to
stick to monolingual manuals, maybe you and manufacturing could team up to
make selecting the right language easier--color-coding the manuals,
large-type code numbers whose prefixes are the same for both beeper and
I am a localization and internationalization consultant who does not wear a
pager, though I have worn one in the past. Sounds like your manufacturing
group needs an automated product building system which scans the items for
the bar codes and packs them in the appropriate box (or at least assembles
the pieces for each box in a separate bin where an assembly worker could
put it together without having to choose the manual.) I have no idea if
these exist, but there are so many automated factories, I find it hard to
believe that this is not the case.
Or, I'm sure each language manual is printed in a separate batch. Each
batch is probably boxed up with a bar code on the box. If the boxes were
stored intact, then the assembler would need only to scan the box once,
build all the products requested for that particular language, and scan the
next box if more manuals are needed. Once the worker determines that the
box contains the correct language manuals, each manual need not be scanned.
This does not seem like a difficult or time consuming task.
The multilingual option (and this is coming from a big advocate of
multilingual) sounds very impractical. As a customer, I would not want to
have a huge manual. Maybe when I first buy the pager, I'd like to keep the
manual with me to learn all of the functions. A small 12 page manual would
fit in my purse or briefcase without adding a load of weight and bulk. But
a 48 page manual starts to get cumbersome. Pagers, after all, are supposed
to be compact - that is a major product requirement.
What happens when you add a market with another language in the future? Do
you reprint all your manuals? Do you go back to the initial problem of the
workers packing the wrong manual now that you have 2 language manuals? I
don't think xenophobia is a big issue. But in what order do you print the
languages? That's a bigger issue.
Manufacturing should welcome this as a problem to solve. Perhaps the bar
code needs to be in a different place. Maybe each language manual, instead
of having a different printed color, could have a color sticker or label -
that could be an inexpensive compromise. In the software world, we use
labels and stickers to solve a lot of translation/manufacturing
Andrea Vine - Xerox
Personally, I *like* multilingual manuals.
Ed Hoornaert - Ventana Corporation
I prefer multi-lingual guides.
Josee Sevigny Technical Writer - M3i Systems Inc., Longueuil, QC
I am an English-Chinese translator based in Canada. As it happens I have
been translating brochures and supplements into-simplified Chinese for your
group for the last couple of years.
At one time I did some brochures in simplified characters for People's
Republic of China and the same in traditional characters for Hong Kong. The
client did not know Chinese, naturally he could not differentiate the two
kinds of characters. The problem was solved by inserting the labels
"Simplified Chinese Version" and "Traditional Chinese Version" at the end
of the respective versions.
Perhaps you could insert the labels "American Version", "Brazilian
Portuguese Version" etc. at the beginning or the end of your brochures to
make life easier for the packaging people.
Gloria Wong Meridian (English-Chinese) Translations
I think a multi-lingual user document is acceptable only if the total pages
are small (20-40 pages), that is the total pages for all the languages.
The waste of paper is felt by you and by your customers. In this age of
environmental friendliness, the unnecessarily (to customers' eyes) thick
manual may not look good.
Chiaki Ishikawa - Personal Media Corp. Shinagawa, Tokyo, Japan
Larry Grinnell, Motorola, Inc., Paging Products Group
Boynton Beach, Florida
Email: Larry_Grinnell -at- pts -dot- mot -dot- com
"History Delights in Details"--John Quincy Adams
Previous by Author:
Re: Anyone seen a Salary Survey?
Next by Author: What thrills you?
Previous by Thread: Re: Question: Conversion of OH to Book or Book to OH
Next by Thread: Subscriber information please.
Search our Technical Writing Archives & Magazine