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PDF or Microsoft Word? For translation, the choice matters

Michal Kmeť Ciferník16.10.2020 For Customers Reading time: 2 min.
comparison of PDF and MS Word document processing

Have you decided to order a translation and are wondering what text format should be sent to the translation company? Here we will unveil the secrets of document processing and show you the differences between a PDF and a Microsoft Word document from a text-processing perspective.

What exactly is a PDF?

The PDF (Portable Document Format) platform was created by Adobe in the early 90s as a new way to share documents that guaranteed they would look identical on every computer by utilising the Adobe Reader software.

While the original paid-for software was also released as freeware in 1993, the PDF format and standard still must fulfil Adobe’s strict requirements today.

PDF benefits

PDF guarantees that any text file converted to the PDF format will maintain its formatting and (in principle) cannot be edited. This is the main reason why invoices, bank statements as well as trade offers or work documents are usually processed and shared as PDF documents.

PDF complications

However, the biggest advantage of PDF becomes problematic for translation. Why? Because a PDF text doesn’t behave like a text.

And, since translators and software used in translation must work with text, it is necessary to process the PDF document using special technology called OCR first.

OCR Technology

OCR software can convert PDF documents into an editable form.

OCR software is computer software using Optical Character Recognition that allows it to change the PDF document contents back into text—in a Microsoft Word format for example—which can then be fully utilized by both the translator and the specialised CAT tools.

However, this conversion takes time. Moreover, in addition to simply importing the PDF into the OCR software, a few more extra steps are required. This allows for the source text to be prepared and later for the translation to be provided in an adequate quality.

What should happen if you provide the source text as a PDF document?

1. A project manager must process the document in OCR software (i.e., ABBYY FineReader).
2. The OCR software converts the text into an editable form, such as a Microsoft Word document. The longer the document, the more time-consuming the process will be.
3. To guarantee that the conversion ran correctly, the original text must be compared in detail to the original PDF document, character by character.
4. Other than the contents, reviewing and editing the formatting is also important, such as:

  • page make-up
  • text field utilisation
  • paragraph and line layouts
  • page numbers and indentation
  • formatting and header/footer set-up
  • heading styles
  • table of contents and figures
  • page layout

But why have such a detailed revision? Incorrect formatting affects a translation’s length and price; it also complicates, and sometimes even nullifies, any further work on the text.

Looking for a more affordable translation and quicker turnaround time?

The next time you order the translation of a PDF, first ensure you don’t still have it tucked away somewhere in its original text format (Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint etc.). We can provide you with a faster translation at a better price in one of the following formats as well.

Regardless of the format, we guarantee to provide you with a quality translation that looks precisely like the original document.

Michal Kmet
Michal Kmeť
Managing director

My first contact with the translation industry dates back to 1993 when my father founded LEXIKA and I was delivering documents to our translators on a bike. Over time, I worked at almost every position within the company. I was the president of the Association of Translation Companies of Slovakia for four years and I am currently a board member of the European Union of Associations of Translation Companies – EUATC. I never miss a chance to attend professional events in the translation and localisation industry. Together with my colleagues from the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Austria I cofounded and organize Meet Central Europe.

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