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A Japanese company has offered me a gig helping translate an Android1 business application + documentation into English. Their staff will do a rough translation, and I will polish it into something reasonably professional.

This is my first writing job. My “qualifications” are availability, cheapness, and a fair technical background. (I also happen to think I can write good prose, but the client didn’t bother to check that.) But still, I want this contract to be a success, and I hope it will lead to more work.

What work habits and routines do I need to establish in preparation for this new job?

1. Android OS is the operating system that drives most non-Apple smartphones and tablets.

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Congratulations on the new job! I've closed your question because it is a vague, forum-style query that will start discussion and produce vague answers. Please read our FAQ for more information on how to ask a focused, targeted question here. If you can edit this into more of a specific question - for example, what aspects in particular concern you about this job? - then we'll consider re-opening it. –  Neil Fein Mar 10 '12 at 17:49
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@NeilFein Thank you for the feedback, and I understand why you closed the question. I’ve rewritten it to be less gushy and excitable and more focussed. –  Pitarou Mar 11 '12 at 7:31
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Your new questions are fine :) But, they need to be split up into 2 seperate questions. Combining multiple questions doesn't work on SE sites - you can't meaningfully compare two answers which each address different questions. See e.g. this Meta discussion on a similar question. I'm editing this to focus on the first of your two questions; you're very welcome to post the second one, How can I make a realistic estimates of my own rate of work? How do I avoid overpromising, when I’m trying to please a client in a hurry?, separately. –  Standback Mar 11 '12 at 8:47
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1 Answer

up vote 5 down vote accepted

I'm answering this as a technical writer but I don't have translation experience so can't address any aspects specific to that.

Many of the habits that (I hope) you already have as a software developer apply equally to technical writing:

  • Design first: figure out how you will structure the document to cover everything with a good flow (more on that in a minute). Stub it out -- does it work? In your case it sounds like they'll be giving you a rough document so this might not apply as much, but review it for structure/organization first anyway.

  • Put yourself in the user's shoes: what tasks will the user be attempting to complete? What does he need to know in order to do that? Don't just "walk the menus" (as is common in application documentation); think about his goals. If you've ever written API documentation and have risen above the level of the individual class/method/function to produce package overviews, developer guides, etc, do the same thing here.

  • Work breadth-first, not depth-first: especially because this is a new area for you, there is risk that you'll get bogged down in the early sections and have to rush the end to meet the deadline/time-allocation. Do one reasonable pass over the whole thing using no more than half the time allotted. Then assess where the most work is needed and address that. Save about 20% of the time for an editorial/polishing pass (and to address any comments you receive).

  • Ask your questions early: something they've given you won't make sense but you won't spot it early if you don't look. Review everything they've given you first, before you start designing and writing, so you can queue up the questions and go on to other work while waiting for the answers. (This is particularly important if you're looking at at least a one-day turn-around due to time zones.) As with any other work you've done, you don't want to get blocked on everything because you're blocked on something; structure your work to support this kind of multi-tasking.

When will your work be reviewed? Only at the end, or will there be a review of a draft before you're done? If the task is more than a couple of full-time weeks then, especially for a first gig, I would ask for a draft review to make sure everyone agrees about the level of detail, prose quality, structure, etc that you're producing.

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Thank you for your carefully considered answer. I’ll take it all to heart. –  Pitarou Mar 12 '12 at 15:53
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