Skip to content
book and laptop with many flags to symbolize translation

5 things you must know about translating white papers

Do you ever prepare a white paper for readers who use a different language?

Here are five important things to take into account whenever you need a white paper translated to another language.

#1: Machine translation is unacceptable

Why not just have your white paper translated by Google Translate or Microsoft Translator?

These are two of today’s best automatic translation systems, for all these reasons:

  • They employ advanced technologies such as AI and neural networks
  • They cover more than 100 languages
  • They are convenient to use 24/7 through browsers or mobile apps
  • Best of all, you can get translations at no cost

no machine translation

The problem with machine translations, however, is that they are not fully dependable.

There is no guarantee they will churn out accurate translations, especially when context and cultural references are factored in.

This is why any document to be submitted for official purposes, in either government or the private sector, should be processed by human translators.

It’s similar to how professors (and That White Paper Guy) frown on papers that cite Wikipedia as a source. It’s a highly useful online reference, but it has some occasional accuracy issues.

If machine translations are good enough to rival human translations, why do international conferences like the ones held by the United Nations still use human translators and interpreters?

Why don’t international leaders and business people simply install Google Translate on their mobile devices and use their phones to talk with other leaders?

Photo of woman pointing to Hello in many languages

The answer is simple.

It’s because automated translations have not reached a level that makes them dependable for exchanging critical information. If the software makes a mistake, that can significantly influence the outcomes of talks or the exchange of official information.

#2: Proper translation will cost something

Certified human translation is not free. To get good translation services from experts, you generally have to pay for it.

The rates vary, but you can get translations for around $25 per page, or from 12 to 17 cents per word for standard content or 19 to 24 cents per word for technical content.

Translations involving a lot of jargon and technical terms cost more, since these  require translators who are competent in certain language pairs and comfortable dealing with technical material.

You can expect most white papers to fall at the higher range of that fee structure. So a typical 3,000 white paper is going to cost perhaps $750 to translate from English to another common European language.

Rates are higher for languages that are not as common.

Norwegian, for example, is quite expensive since the language is only spoken by around 4 million people in Norway. But since the country has a strong economy, the demand for Norwegian translations is relatively high.

photo of broken wire to symbolize communication breakdown

#3: Proficiency in the source and target languages is not enough

A white paper requires a translator with the appropriate academic background, experience, and other qualifications.

Simply being able to speak and write in the source and target languages is not enough.

White papers are serious documents that may well be beyond the academic and technical background of an ordinary polyglot.

Consider a Russian defence contractor presenting a white paper on military investments to a foreign country. The Russian company cannot ask someone without a military background to do the translation; they are not familiar with the context.

At the same time, the foreign country to whom the white paper is presented cannot hire someone who simply knows how to read and write Russian to check the accuracy of the translations and facilitate discussions with the Russian delegation.

The translators would absolutely need to have enough technical knowledge to help make sure that vital decisions involving government contracts and national defence are well-informed.

(For more on this topic, check out How to write a white paper for translation.)

Translation involves far more than shuffling words between one language and another. To handle a white paper properly, a translator generally needs some passing familiarity with the domain in question.

#4: Native speakers are not necessarily expert translators

Being a native speaker does not automatically make you an expert in your own language.

A white paper translator should also be an irrefutable expert in both languages involved in the translation. Some languages have unique features, oddities, and uncommon terms that native speakers may not be even know.

(Consider some simple examples in English, such as “less than” vs “fewer than” or “that” vs “which.” Most educated native speakers would be hard-pressed to state the proper rules even for these simple expressions.)

Many expressions, words, and references used in a white paper can significantly affect the document when wrongly understood by the translator.

word cloud about English grammar

#5: Grammar, spelling, and all other technicalities matter

As we know, white papers are formal documents with serious content. As such, they should be presented with regard for all the formalities of professional writing.

Any translation should emphasize accuracy in the information conveyed; they should also not have any mistakes in spelling, grammar, punctuation, or the use of technical terminology and idioms.

Even though simple spelling errors and poor word choices may not affect the details conveyed in a white paper, they can signal a lack of professionalism and a disregard for precision.

A prospect may well wonder, “If they’re sloppy in their content, are they also sloppy in their products and their scheduling?”

It’s not enough to be understood.

Precision and contextual accuracy are also must-have’s.

As a formal document presented to another business, government agency, or other institutions, a translated white paper should be correct in all aspects and follow all standards of professional presentation.


When it comes to getting a white paper translated, there’s no room for any compromises.

Tempting though it may be, you cannot afford to relegate your white paper to machine translation. You must expect to spend a reasonable fee for competent and experienced human translation.

Have you ever had a white paper translated? What did you learn that you could share with other writers? Please leave your comment below.

Want to hear whenever there’s a fresh article on this site? Subscribe here to stay in the know on long-form content. From time to time, we’ll also send you word about some great new resource or training. And you can unsubscribe any time.

About Rilind Elezaj

Rilind Eliezaj is an experienced SEO specialist working with Day Translations, a professional translation bureau based in New York City.

If you liked this post...

Santa Claus reading letters from children

White papers and… letters to Santa?!

Do you know anyone writing a letter to Santa? I always urge my kids to...

How to understand your white paper’s audience

Comedians know it. Politicians know it. And white paper writers must know it, too: The...
four white paper covers

A tale of four white papers [with SAMPLES]

Out of all 300+ white papers I've worked on, a few stand out in my...

Leave a Comment

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.