Editable file is one of the language industry’s magic phrases that activates certain powers such as cost/time optimization. The reason is simple – editable files can be easily imported in CAT tools and thus enable the localization teams to apply the carefully developed processes of linguistic and technical adaptation, quality control and optional DTP. Simply put – there is no localization process and reliable quality control without the CAT software and CAT software can only be used with editable files.
What is an editable file?
Editable file is simply any electronic file that can be used for office automation and computer-assisted processing, i.e. any file that can be edited, changed or updated (at least) in the environment of its native application.
Files used for translation/localization are generally not originally developed in CAT (computer-assisted translation) tools, but one of the things that makes these tools so awesome is its built-in support for a wide range of standard editable documents such as: HTML, XML, TXT, SRT, a wide range of documents generated in Microsoft Office suites (Excel, Word, PowerPoint, Visio, Project etc.), files generated in certain Adobe applications such as FrameMaker, InDesign, InCopy and many more.
These types of documents can be easily imported and manipulated in the standard CAT tools and the translated/localized files can be exported in their native formats, with little to no additional editing if the additional DTP services were not requested.
For example, a PowerPoint presentation can be imported, edited, translated and proofread in a CAT tool, exported back to PowerPoint and the only additional required changes to the layout of the translated document will usually be adaptation of font sizes/placeholders to meet the length characteristics of the target language.
Why PDF in not (really) an editable file?
PDF (Portable Document Format) was developed by Adobe in 1993 as a presentation format that would present the document in its entirety (i.e. including layout, font, images and interactive elements) across different software and hardware platforms.
Over the years (or decades, to be more precise), the format has evolved to become more complex and nowadays includes advanced security and interactive features, remaining indispensable in everyday office operations.
However, its main purpose remains cross-platform presentation rather than editing – it can be used as an output format in a variety of applications, but due to its complexity and various standards and features, it can usually be editable only in its native application.
For example, a graphic file generated in Adobe Illustrator and exported as a PDF file can be smoothly edited and reedited in Adobe Illustrator – provided that preservation of editing capabilities was selected before the output file was generated.
In most cases, such PDF document will be editable in Adobe Illustrator only and practically useless in the context of CAT processing. Even if CAT software could extract the text, there will most certainly be issues with layout and the translated PDF would be practically impossible to fix.
Can we translate directly in a PDF file?
We might. But that would be a time-consuming process and the quality of the output file could not be guaranteed, the reason being that such an operation would in most cases be the work of a single linguist and the probability of human mistakes would be higher, i.e. it would be impossible to apply a full-scale localization process with guaranteed and predictable results.
If we add the unavoidable design, layout and font issues, it is easy to see why the technical limitations of this approach would spell an expensive, time-consuming and difficult project with unpredictable results. And nobody wants that.
These are the main reasons why your translation vendor asks you for editable files – to make you wait less and spend less on a translation project.