Please Don’t Convert Your Documents for Translation on Your Own. It Generally Does More Harm Than Good

Jiří Kouřil

Jiří Kouřil

2. 2. 2022

When submitting documents for translation, their format is one important aspect of the job overall. We prefer when you send us a file in an editable format (such as .doc or .indd). Naturally, we can handle non-editable formats (such as scanned documents) as well, but due to the need to analyse each document’s word count, we must convert such files into an editable format before they can be translated. This adds a bit to the job’s length and cost.

For precisely this reason, some customers try to convert non-editable files to editable formats on their own. They want to save money, and we understand them. Unfortunately, in the vast majority of cases, an amateur attempt to convert a file’s format causes so much chaos in the resulting file that translating it becomes much more expensive and needlessly takes extra time. Last but not least, this can also harm the final document’s quality.

What tends to get damaged by amateur document conversions?

Many people try one of the free online converters. They convert the document, and at first sight everything seems OK. But as soon as you start reading, it starts to become clear what the online format converter completely ignored. The most common victims are any interactive elements in the document, e.g.:

  • Its table of contents –readers can no longer use it to click into chapters, and page numbers stop being automatically updated.
  • Forms
  • Links to web pages
  • Links to footnotes or an index

But the real flaws of documents converted this way are revealed when they are translated into another language. A translation is fundamentally a change to a text, and especially its length; for improperly prepared documents, this disrupts their overall structure – sending text and pictures to places where they shouldn’t be, or worse yet off the page.

Example of a conversion where a paragraph has been divided into two columns, and so the sentences are erroneously connected to each other


With amateur file conversions, we often have to struggle with entirely unsuitable quality for documents’ pictures. They are often deformed, in random places, or blurry. Not even the best DTP can fix that, forcing us to slowly bring them back in from the original document.

Major problems with formatting happen as well. Documents that are unprofessionally converted to editable formats have varying paragraph styles, different margins on each page, line spacing that does what it wants – and the same goes for fonts. Then the real cherry on top is the mixing-up of fonts and symbols and their sizes.

An example of a picture where text has shifted after conversion


One major failing of these converters is how often they mix up similar characters, e.g.

  • the Greek alpha “α” gets turned into “a”
  • the Greek epsilon “ε” gets turned into “e”
  • the number “1” gets turned into the letter “l” (ell)
  • the number “0” gets turned into the letter “O”
  • the letter “i” gets turned into the letter “l”
  • the Greek pi “π” gets turned into the letter “n”

Such changes can cause severe problems… a document like this has been slapped together like a child’s mud pie and will leave an aftertaste to match.

The last “sin” found in documents converted this way is nonsensical table formatting based on “how the converter was feeling that day,” with text crazily running past the ends of cells or even into hiding beyond the margins. Not to mention random empty lines in the middle of pages.

A sample of a table with hidden text


Translating a document like this can then feel like “painting the facade of a condemned house.” Unprofessional conversion to another format can needlessly increase the cost of your translations.

Leave format conversions to us. We’ll save you nerves and money

In our 30 years on the market, we’ve converted hundreds of thousands of documents for translation. We know well what to watch out for to avoid damaging files and how to handle the overall process as quickly as possible. And our colleagues from DTP have rich experience that ensures they’ll never miss a single graphical “typo.” 

Also, because we convert so many documents each day, you may be pleasantly surprised at how quickly we handle the whole process.

If you need to translate a document in an uneditable format, leave the struggle to us. Send it as-is, and we’ll make sure it gets the right preparation and translation. Just get in touch.

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