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In the modern world, very few jobs exist that do not require the use of a computer and in many cases industry-specific software. Most of these programs rely on a native document format, tailored to that specific tool. Some of these formats work fairly well with a range of computer programs, while others cannot be opened by anyone who does not have access to the associated software. In this article, we will discuss how to approach translating the most commonly used document formats.

As the client you will of course prefer to have the text translated in the file format you used to create it. This will allow you to seamlessly import it back into your chosen software for additional editing or immediate use. You may only have the document available in one specific file format with no simple way of converting or receiving it as a file type that is more easily editable. You may thus find yourself wondering if your language service provider (LSP) can work with your document.

Most translators and translation companies nowadays rely on CAT (computer-assisted translation) tools, which allow for easy import of documents and use of integrated databases of past translations, term bases and glossaries, resulting in faster turnaround times and better-quality results. Most modern CAT tools support a wide range of document formats that can be directly imported, translated, and then exported as the same format. Easy as pie! However, for some formats, things are not as straightforward yet, and additional steps must be taken before translation.

Below we enumerate some of the most common file types you probably use and give you some tips on how to prepare them for translation.

Textual formats

Word, PowerPoint, Excel and other Microsoft Office programs are some of the most widely available and compatible text editors. There are typically very few translation issues with textual formats and translators prefer to work with them. When preparing these documents for translation, be mindful of any non-textual elements that may be embedded within them. These may include images with text, charts in image form, and similar graphical elements. These will not be recognised as text by a CAT tool and will have to be typed out underneath the image or element (e.g. a chart) to be recreated with the translation. Additional design or conversion work might result in extra cost. In any case, it is best to work closely with your LSP and let them know exactly which parts of the document you need translated and how you wish to approach such non-editable text.

If you require just proofreading or revision of your document and wish to see the edits made to your text, keep in mind that only certain text editors such as Microsoft Word can support tracking the changes. The proofreader will have to resort to other solutions (e.g. annotations, comments, or text formatting) if you wish to see changes made in other textual file editors, like PowerPoint or Excel.


The universal PDF format can come in handy when sharing scans or finalised documents created in a variety of programs. Its main caveat is that it cannot be edited directly and needs to be prepared before translation. Most CAT tools have a built-in PDF conversion tool that recognises text and converts it into a Word document. Similar to machine translation, however, these conversions are rarely usable outright and need to be edited before use. Automated conversion may insert elements such as page, section or column breaks, text boxes, or even images of unconvertible text. As you have surely experienced before, insertions or deletions, moving of text boxes and images, and other tampering with a Word document may wreak havoc on the formatting to make elements jump around and even seemingly disappear.

Most LSPs will be happy to prepare edited conversions of PDF documents that can be translated and returned in pristine shape. If you wish to avoid any extra costs and additional time this kind of design work may entail, check if you have the source document (from which the PDF was created) available. Many PDF documents start their life in Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Adobe InDesign or Photoshop – documents in these formats can be translated without conversion.

Image files

Much like PDFs, image file formats (.jpeg, .png, .gif etc.) do not contain editable text and need to be converted before translation. These may be scans of documents, charts, brochures, and other similar files, which are sometimes embedded in other types of documents. Your LSP can either convert the text into a simpler textual format or offer you a full design service (usually at an extra cost), where they insert the translated text back into the image to recreate the original design.

Graphic design formats

Many of the most popular programs for designing brochures, advertisements and other visually rich documents are supported by most CAT tools and can be translated without the need for conversion. These include Adobe InDesign and Photoshop, but usually not Adobe Illustrator’s file format (.ai), which acts more like an image. Illustrator files may sometimes be imbedded in InDesign, so keep in mind that even easily translatable formats can contain non-editable elements that need extra attention.

Web and software development formats

File types used for building websites (such as .xml or .html), as well as numerous formats associated with programming languages and software development (such as .java, .po, .csv and .json) can usually be easily imported and translated using CAT tools. Since these formats have become crucial to an ever-growing number of companies, translation technology has been fast to adapt and offer seamless translation solutions that require as little adjustment as possible from web and software developers.

Subtitle and video formats

Most formats used for subtitling (such as .srt) can also easily be translated using CAT software, which is vital for adhering to the strict rules of subtitle translation. Video file types, containing either spoken or written text on screen, must be transcribed before translation or can sometimes be translated directly from the audio track using specialised subtitling software.

Do you require translation of a document in yet another file type that have not been covered above? A general rule of thumb is to ask your LSP for advice about specific file formats.

At Alamma, we are well versed in the translation (and conversion) of these and many other file types. We strive to give our clients the best possible result that minimises or altogether eliminates extra editing or design work for you. If you are interested in our services, email us at and we will be happy to help!