4 Linguistic Characteristics of a Manual & its Chinese Translation

(Last Modified: 2019-10-10 11:03:09    Author: jinyu)

A manual, or a user guide, is a kind of technical document offering assistance to people using particular products such as electronic goods, devices, software, or medical products.

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As a manual is made for special use, the language of it has its features too. In this article, we are going to reveal 4 linguistic characteristics of manuals and talk about the Chinese translation of them.

Types of Manuals

According to the objects they describe, manuals can be divided into:

  • Product manual. A product manual is commonly used in daily life; it introduces product situations such as materials, nature, storage, main uses or precautions. Usually, consumer products (Television, food, medicine) often contain this kind of manual.
  • User manual. A user guide serves to tell people how to make use of certain products. Different from the product manual, it gives more detailed instructions or operation steps rather than descriptions for a product.
  • Installation manual. An installation instruction is used for mounting of equipment or spare parts which requires separate shipment or independent assembly. Meanwhile, some virtual products, for example, computer software or hardware drives also require installation instructions.
  • Media manual. Media manuals work as introducers that giving plots or performers' information about dramas, films, or TV shows, and thus attracting more audiences.

Why Translate a Manual?

Many of the manuals we find are multilingual. From product instructions of internationally major corporations to user notifications in privately owned websites, different languages are written. Generally speaking, People translate manuals or instruction books for the following reasons:

  • Expanding market. With the rapid development of the global economy, expanding the international market has become an increasingly important approach to improve a company's revenue and reputation. As for their products, localization of the manuals of them is required.
  • Promoting business. The manual or user guide itself is a perfect advertisement. When translated, an inducing manual can get more chances of luring foreign customers.
  • Sharing knowledge. Some manuals are not translated for money-making purposes. Developers, inventors or manufacturers of non-profit are releasing their products or ideas in other languages to fully share their knowledge with the public.

4 Language Characteristics of Manuals

Although they are varied in forms, different manuals are, on the other hand, similar somehow. All of them are inclined to employ the same sentence pattern or style. Below are 4 of the common linguistic features of those user guides.

1. Preferring imperative sentences. Imperative sentences are used to convey a command, a request or a forbiddance. Subjects in imperative sentences are usually omitted, such as:

Do not install this appliance in a humid, oily or dusty location, or a location exposed to direct sunlight or water (raindrops).

Chinese translation: 切勿将本电器安装在潮湿、油腻或积满灰尘的地方、或者安装在阳光直射或暴露在雨水中(雨滴)的地方。

Press and hold START/PAUSE.

Chinese translation: 按住“开始 / 暂停”。

Never use insect repellents on wounds or irritated skin.

Chinese translation: 切勿在伤口或发炎的皮肤上使用驱虫剂。

In the above 3 examples, all of the sentences are introduced directly by verbs. Using orders or forbiddances largely in a manual ensures that users can get the most important instructions or guidance effortlessly.

In the corresponding Chinese translation, subjects, as in English sentences, are omitted. Meanwhile, verbs like "切勿", "按住" are placed at the beginning of the statements, to represent the meaning of strong request.

2. Using passive voice. Passive voice is a kind of special grammatical approach which switches the position between the object and the subject from a sentence. The subject that is originally in the rear comes to the front of the sentence, for example:

The device should be used only by physicians trained in diagnostic and therapeutic catheter procedures.

Chinese translation: 本装置仅限由接收过导管插入诊断及治疗培训的医生使用

The products can be installed in several types such as cabinet, vertical racks, horizontal racks, ground placement, and installed with other kinds of power supply cabinet according to user's requirements.

Chinese translation: 本产品可根据用户需要采用柜式、立架式、卧式、地面摆放及与其他电源柜内置式使用等各种形式安装

When the blower is driven in mode "D", the motor shaft and main shaft should be in correct alignment to avoid vibration and bearing heating.

Chinese translation: 风机用联轴器连接时,请注意电动机与主轴同心度,以免产生振动或引起轴承发热等情况。

In the above sample sentences, "the device", "the products", "the motor shaft and main shaft" are emphasized, when passive voices are properly adopted. Meanwhile, less attention is paid on the logical objects, as it becomes less important who "use the device", "install the products", or "align the shaft".

As the conversion among sentential voices in Chinese is flexible, there is no explicit boundary between active voice and passive voice. That is to say, the translation of English passive voice into Chinese requires adjustment mainly on sentence order with the form of the verbs remain unchanged.

3. Adopting simple sentences. One of the major purposes for those manual writers is simplicity. As readers may be educated at different levels, any ambiguity or misunderstanding about a manual will cause big problems or even disasters. Therefore, the content in a manual is often easy to read, such as:

Steps to set date:
1. Pull the crown out to the first click.
2. Set the date by turning the crown.
3. Push the crown into the normal position.

Chinese translation:
1. 将表冠拉出至第一档。
2. 旋转表冠,设置时间。
3. 将表冠推回正常位置。

Functions: Protects and softens chapped lips. Contains the antioxidants of Vitamin C & E. Helps delay aging and maintain healthy lips.

Chinese translation: 功能:保护和滋润干裂的双唇。富含维他命C和E等抗氧化成分,延缓双唇衰老,保持双唇健康。

Each of the above examples contains several independent statements which, however, can be combined into a long sentence by proper conjunctions or pronouns. The sentence below comes from the first example:

Pull the crown out to the first click, and set the date by turning the crown which shall be pushed back to the normal position when finished.

In the manuals, complicated sentences are split into short ones to boost the readability as much as possible. So, Chinese translation of those sentences shall be simple too. Any sophisticated or ambiguous components should be avoided.

4. Applying jargons & terms. There is another task for manual writing: striking the balance between simplicity and professionalism. A user guide has to be easy for reading and be difficult for being technically legitimate at the same time. Here we have selected some words from manuals which are frequently used for formal written purpose or as industrial terms:

Table 1 - Formal Words (Expressions) Used in a Manual
Chinese English (of formal use) English (of daily use)
应用 application use
结构/建造 construction structure, building
调试 debugging adjustment
危险 hazard danger
之前 prior to before
结束/终止 terminate end
导致 cause bring about
Table 2 - Common Terms Used in Medicine Labels
English Terms Chinese
Main ingredients 主要成份
Properties 性质
Pharmacological actions 药理作用
Precautions 注意事项
Adverse reactions 不良反应
Indications 适应症
Contraindication 禁忌
Side effect 副作用
Ratification No. 批准文号
Usage and dosage 用法和用量

Although there is not a fixed standard for Chinese translation of document such as manuals, it is a convention that those terms or normalized expressions be processed under certain rules. Translators have to establish a particular system for tackling the terms and expressions during manual translation.


Manuals are helpful, easy to read, and purposeful. Efforts should be made on imperative sentences, passive voice, simplicity, and special terms when translating a user guide into Chinese. Certain techniques such as sentence order adjustment, helper words insertion or usage comparison is implemented to keep the essence of the original document.

To further improve the quality of manual translation, it is recommended that translators ought to focus on the usages and target users of the certain document they are doing. Good understanding of the task and appropriate using of relevant techniques are always positive solutions for the job.

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