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How to Handle Cross References and Placeholders in Translation

1Cross references and placeholders are words that appear as normal words in the original, but are represented by tags in CAT tools. The main challenge here is that you have limited control of what will appear in the final translation instead of those tags, making it difficult to produce a correct translation. You often need to find a workaround that both keeps the placeholder intact and ensures appropriate translation.

Workaround 1: Ensuring that the word form does not need to change

One challenge with cross references is that they may include not only a part that does not change in the translation, but also a part that does change. Here is an example:

Original: See Table 1-12.

CAT tool: See < x0/>.

In this case, the word “Table” is in the tag and will be inserted in the translated documents in this form, regardless of the context. The problem is that in some languages, for example English to Russian translation, the word form changes depending on the context. It might be not just “таблица,” but also “таблицу,” “таблицы,” and so on.

To tackle this challenge, locate the actual text that the placeholder represents. Normally, in the files exported for translation from DTP software, such as Adobe FrameMaker, this text is in the beginning of files and may look like this:

Table < xo/>

Once you have found the text, translate it in a way that makes word forms irrelevant. One best practice is to go for abbreviation:

Original: Table < xo/>

Translation: табл. < xo/>

Note that you may find another similar placeholder text, for example:

Table < xo/>:

The fact that it ends with a colon is an indication that it will be used in table names, whereas the first example will be used in sentences:

Table 1-12: Holding meetings

You want to translate this text differently from the first example:

Original: Table < xo/>:

Translation: Таблица < xo/>.

Sometimes, it is not easy to tell which text goes where. You will have to consult with the DTP specialist who will do the layout of the translated documents or make an educated guess.

Workaround 2: Adding quotation marks

Another workaround is adding quotation marks around the placeholder text. This serves two purposes:

First purpose

Authors may place different repetitive names into placeholders in order to save time or make global replacement easy. This may become a problem during translation, if the translated text is supposed to have different word forms depending on the context, like the cross-references example above. You can often make word forms irrelevant by adding quotation marks around the placeholder text:

Original 1: For information, refer to Data Management Manual.

Original 2: The instructions can be found in Data Management Manual.

CAT tool 1: For information, refer to < xo/>.

CAT tool 2: The instructions can be found in < xo/>.

Placeholder: Data Management Manual

Incorrect translation of the placeholder: Руководство по управлению данными

Translation 1: Для получения дополнительных сведений см. Руководство по управлению данными.

Translation 2: Инструкции можно найти в Руководство по управлению данными. (not good at all)

Correct translation of the placeholder: «Руководство по управлению данными»

Translation 1: Для получения дополнительных сведений см. «Руководство по управлению данными».

Translation 2: Инструкции можно найти в «Руководство по управлению данными».

Second purpose

The punctuation of your target language may require quotation marks around cross references, whereas the original text does not have them. This is the case, for example, with Russian:

Original: For information, refer to section Software Basics.

CAT tool: For information, refer to < xo/>.

Placeholder: < xo/>< x1/> section

You then look into the tags and find that they represent the following:

< Cross Reference>< $paratext> section

In this example, the < $paratext> tag is the one that represents the actual section name. Add the quotation marks accordingly:

Translation of the placeholder: разд. < xo/>«< x1/>»

Translation: Для получения дополнительных сведений см. разд. «Основы работы с программой».

Workaround 3: Replacing a placeholder with verbose text

This is also an option if you cannot find a better way. Simply delete the cross reference or the placeholder and write the translation literally. This does not break the translated document in most cases, but you definitely must know what you are doing. Among other things, it may require adding manual formatting, because by deleting the placeholder, you also delete the formatting associated with it, such as italics.

Placeholders outside segments

If a placeholder happens to be outside a segment, preventing you from producing the correct translation, ask your client to re-prepare the translation files so that the placeholders are actually in the segments.

Original: P&P engineers will come to your rescue.

CAT tool: engineers will come to your rescue.

If you have anything to add, feel free to get in touch via the comments!

One comment

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About the Author

Roman Mironov
Roman Mironov
CEO & Founder

As the founder of Velior, Roman has had the privilege of being able to turn his passion for languages into a business. He has over 15 years of experience in the translation industry. Roman has helped dozens of clients increase sales by making their products appealing for speakers of other languages.