1. Assess your source PDF
Is it a scanned PDF or a generated one?
PDF files can be obtained from scanned pictures converted using specific tools or programmes (e.g. doPDF). Alternatively, they can be renderings from other software (e.g. Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator) generated to provide access to specific contents or give a preview of some documents in a format accessible to a larger audience. Most user manuals, instruction/operation guides and other technical documentation are first designed in DTP suites before being exported into PDFs.
Are there numerous formatting to deal with?
It is good to assess the amount of formatting (bold, italics, underlined texts, to be dealt with. If you received the PDF version of this article to translate, chances are you will have less trouble once you convert it back into the .doc format. However, there are complex files with lots of charts, tables, text boxes or captioned pictures that are just nightmares when converted into Word.
Convert or re-create?
From the initial assessment, you may end up with two options: (i) convert the PDF into a .doc file and translate it however you like; or (ii) re-create the document in the Word format while translating it with a side-by-side arrangement (source PDF on one part, and target document on the other part of your computer screen). Note that for scanned PDF files, it is useless to convert, because you are more likely to obtain a large image. Mirroring the file appearance in a new Word document is the better alternative.
2. Use Smart shortcuts
When re-creating your document in the Word format, you need to mirror the appearance of the source PDF. There are a few helpful shortcuts you can use, either to save time or to replicate parts of the source PDF. These include (i) Print Screen, to grap a logo or any picture from the PDF and paste it into the newly-created Word file; (ii) formatting shortcuts: Ctrl+B (bold), Ctrl+I (italics), Ctrl+U (underline); (iii) header and footer: recreate the source header and footer and insert them in your new document, setting the right margin values, for automatic replication throughout the pages of your newly-created document.
3. Educate your Job provider
Some job providers are kind and easy-to-go people you can discuss with, concerning options to consider in order to solve specific problems. You can request them to rather send you source files (for instance the .idml version from Adobe InDesign, which can be easily processed via your preferred CAT tool). However, other clients merely believe translators "can translate a file in any language" and would not even listen to what you say. All they want is "the same document in the other language". They would often tell you they could have done it themselves, but did not have time due to business constraints. You may sometimes be rude with such people for them to understand and respect you as a professional service provider. In this view, you ought to emphasise how effective you, as the translator, can be under some favourable conditions and how beneficial it is for them (end users of the PDF target files).
4. Just drop it
Here we are! If after assessing the source PDF, the task would be very time-consuming, complex and stressful, just drop it. Decline the offer and send a kind email to the job provider stating the reasons of your attitude and making some suggestions. At times, they will get back to you with more manageable files. Some other times, they won't. Anyway, that is what our noble profession is all about.
Far from being a gospel truth, this article is just an attempt to share with you my experience. Your opinions are greatly welcomed. Maybe you know other means of dealing with the translation of PDF files you can share with us.
Senior French translator and technical translation consultant with a diversified experience, Carlos has been providing language services to numerous clients around the globe. He also took part in the collaborative book project The World in Words, by TradOnline Books. You can get in touch with Carlos through his website or follow him on Twitter, Facebook or LinkeIn.