11 October 2011

Defence is different

In most industries, translators and technical communicators can claim that clear, forceful documents contribute directly or indirectly to sales and/or customer satisfaction.
See, for instance, Paper still sets the agenda for newsreaders.

Defence is, however, different, at least as regards I call 'front-line' documentation.

Because defence export contracts are driven by politics, price and performance these arguments don't carry the same weight. And while it is true that some international arms contracts have gone seriously wrong at least partly as a result of poor technical writing or translation of post-sales documentation, such considerations are far from foremost in a procurement agency's thinking when negotiating a new contract.

So where does this leave defence industry translators and technical communicators?

I think it boils down to maintaining face. Can a defence contractor seeking contracts worth tens or hundreds of millions of dollars afford to look cheap and shoddy by producing poor copy and poorer translations?

Indeed, I wonder if any procurement agencies have ever thought about analysing bidders' copy and translations to glean insights into their motivations, cultural sensitivities and attitudes. It seems to me that this could be an inexpensive way of at least formulating some penetrating questions to raise at the negotiating table.

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