Desktop Publishing: on the Technical Formatting of Translation

One of the main differences between translation and interpretation is that each medium faces a different constraint to their art. The interpreter speaks into open air as if to conjure their wildest imaginations, but are able to do so only within the strictest temporal constraints. On the other hand, translators are fettered by the confines of the page: word limits, page counts, characters.

The problems therein are countless. When translating from a compact, agglutinative language such as Finnish to an expansive, analytic language such as English, the sheer volume of text can expand to up to 40%. Even between languages with similar roots—German and English, for example—text lengths can expand anywhere from 5 to 40%, depending on the domain of the text and the translational style.¹

The problems manifest themselves on paper. PowerPoint documents are suddenly disjointed as words spill out of their designated boxes. In formal documents, annotations are left asunder, and page numbers are rendered meaningless.


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Introducing desktop publishing

To fix these problems, Sprok DTS has implemented a crucial step in its translation process: desktop publishing. Sprok DTS employs professional desktop publishers whose main role is to review the physical contents of a translated file—no matter what kind of file format it may be—and make sure that the target text exactly matches the formatting of the source text.

The process of desktop publishing can take place on a number of different programs. For documents, our publishers may use the classic array of word processors and platforms: Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and Adobe Acrobat. For more technical, visually laden translation files, programs such as InDesign, Photoshop, and Illustrator may be used.

With the recent rise in the popularity of audiovisual content, yet other software such as After Effects, Premiere Pro, and a host of subtitling editors may be used.


The implications of desktop publishing

While desktop publishing is not a scene one imagines when thinking of the typical translation process, it is an indispensable part of translation. Many language service providers do not offer desktop publishing services, but Sprok DTS employs a number of professional desktop publishers whose services may be utilized upon customer request.

The desktop publishers handle everything from the slightest formatting problems to larger structural changes that may be required to retain the format of the source text. For example, some fonts may not display characters unique to specific languages, such as umlauts (ä, ö, ü) used in German, Hungarian, and other languages; cedillas (ç, etc.) of various kinds in French, Hebrew, Latvian, and other languages; and so many other diacritics applied to the Latin alphabet used around the world.

On the other hand of the orthographic spectrum are languages that use entirely different scripts, such as Arabic (and its various variations), Chinese (Mandarin and otherwise), Japanese, Korean, and yet many other languages. These alphabets function in fundamentally different manners than Latin-based alphabets. Arabic, for one, is written right to left, entailing extensive changes to the target text so that it works in the same way as the source text. Characters East Asian scripts may be formatted differently due to orthographic rules or differences in coding.

Aside from linguistic issues, there remain technical problems. PDF files, for example, are notoriously difficult to manage and render. Graphs, images, and other visual content may have to be shifted around to accommodate changes to the text. All this is done to ensure that the resulting final product resembles, in all ways minus the language, the source text.


Image credits: Martin Faure on Unsplash


Where does desktop publishing fit?

When exactly does desktop publishing happen in the grand scheme of things? While slight variations may exist in the order of translation processes, here at Sprok DTS, we follow a strict four-step regimen consisting of 1) pre-processing, 2) language processing, 3) postprocessing, and 4) linguistic sign-off.

In the pre-processing phase, source texts are obtained from our customers and optimized for convenience and efficiency. Files are neatly rendered into more manageable sections and formats our linguists can access and edit. The pre-processing phase includes optical character recognition processes as part of an overall character data optimization scheme not only to benefit our linguists hard at work, but also to improve the eventual quality of the target translation.

The second phase—language processing—is the most recognizable step in the translation process: namely, translation. Our linguists work on the text, after which the text is reviewed and revised by another proficient bilingual linguist for any issues that may have occurred during the initial translation process. Finally, the revised draft is proofread for clarity, style, and overall quality in a monolingual proofreading process. Here at Sprok DTS, we call this three-step process the “TRP process”: an effective method at minimizing translation costs while maximizing translation quality and efficiency.

The third phase is postprocessing, in which the translated file is formatted to match the source text. Desktop publishing falls into this category, equivalent in importance as any other step. Here at Sprok DTS, we believe in the importance of desktop publishing in ensuring our customers the maximum quality of our translation services. For this reason, we duly note and pay attention to the rigors and difficulties that postprocessing procedures may face, so that we can resolve any textual, technical issues present in the visual layout of the document.

Lastly, we have the linguistic sign-off, at which point the translated, reviewed, proofread, and postprocessed document is reviewed in its entirety before it is submitted back to our customers.

Should you choose to work with Sprok DTS, desktop publishing will be part of the third postprocessing step, after our TRP process and before the linguistic sign-off.


Image credits: Markus Spiske on Unsplash

What’s next?

Here at Sprok DTS, we proffer translation services that not only adhere to the strictest of international standards, but also cater to your most immediate needs.

If you’re searching for a language service provider for your translation needs, visit for more information on our services and philosophy.