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For most of us, when we open newly-bought electronics, we tend to rip through the packaging and manuals to get to the “good stuff”. However, when the dreaded day comes for you to actually dig through your drawers looking for the manual that came with your electronic device, most likely, you really, really need it. It’s at this time that we can all appreciate a clearly-written technical manual that guides the average user in a clear and precise way.

Although it may seem obvious to provide clearly written manuals and documents to users, this hasn’t always been the case for products coming out of China. Up until about 20 years ago, technical documents were low quality, difficult to understand, and often riddled with mistakes, solidifying the “Made in China” bias.

Example of bad technical documentation

These days, with more and more Chinese tech companies going global and needing to appeal to Western markets, the need for high-quality technical communications teams is vital and ultimately the key to a company’s success. In order to effectively and efficiently utilize technical communication (TC) teams, we must look at the most common differences between Chinese and Western TC standards.

Comparing Chinese vs Western Technical Writers

The Writers

One major difference between technical writing in China vs the West is the actual people creating the documents. In China, manuals and documentation are often primarily written by the engineers and teams involved in developing the products, which means they may have a very high technical understanding of the product, but they may not know how to express it to the average user in a practical way.

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In a report published in 2001, the writer expressed that “those who practice technical communication in China today are not educated in the field, nor do they identify themselves as technical communicators.”

In the West, technical documentation is written by technical communications professionals who know how to share technical knowledge without compromising effective communication with the user.

Training

Technical writers in the West are expected to have a bachelor’s or master’s degree in technical writing, or at least a TEKOM certificate. In China, a few universities have recently started offering courses related to technical communications and localization. However even now, few technical writers have formal training in technical writing, and they may lack the linguistic and cultural knowledge needed to effectively communicate to different global audiences.

Investment

Chinese companies dedicate a small portion of their budget to TC departments or documentation departments while Western companies invest large amounts. By investing in professionals, you eliminate unnecessary work that can be done right the first time.

So what does this all mean? Given these differences, Chinese companies with “going global” in mind are now investing more into hiring international technical writers and translators, and putting more focus on the quality of content released. In addition, more and more universities such as Peking University, Nankai University, and Jiangsu University are offering technical communications courses and even 2-year master’s programs in computer-aided translation.

While this is a step in the right direction for China, there are still many factors that need to be considered when it comes to technical communications. At CSOFT, we know the difficulties and struggles that come with putting together a technical document from start to finish. By having qualified, native writers with technical writing training, we understand the expectations of Western audiences, and guarantee nothing lost in translation.

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