What the … is a file format?


And why is it so important?

File formats have been around as long as digital document processing. We’re all familiar with the standard ones for different programs, from Microsoft Word to TextEdit on Apple devices. And more generally, we know that there seems to be an endless number of file types for different purposes. But what is a file format, and why do we talk about it so much in the translation industry?

File formats

A file format, simply put, is the way a computer encodes information for storage. A computer assigns an ending to any given file when a user saves it for the first time. In the “biz” we call this a filename extension. We know the common ones, like .xlsx (for Excel) or .jpeg or .gif, but there are hundreds and hundreds altogether. They are one of the building blocks for how computers make our lives simpler. We, as users, don’t have to memorize which program we need to get our work done. If your computer sees a .docx file, it will open Word (or let you know this is the program it needs). If it sees a filename extension that marks an image, it will proceed appropriately.


Now that you know what a file format is, you’re probably wondering why there are so freaking many. What’s the point? Why don’t we just use one for images and one for text files and be done with it? This has to do with the functionality of files. For images, different formats store different types of information, including resolution. So while a JPEG file is great for a website, it stores less data about the quality of the photo. You wouldn’t want to print this file type. You would use a format with much less compression for a picture you want to hang on your wall.

This concept also applies to text files. It’s a good idea to know at least a little about formats if you routinely work with digital files, especially in cooperation with other users. And it’s very important for files that need to be translated because it can make a world of difference for the efficiency of our work.

File formats and software

If you read our post on CAT software, you’ll know that, here at Wordcraft, we use a smart tool that handles all sorts of processes. We can feed it almost any kind of text document (including some very fancy ones), and it will process it in such a way that our translators can get right to work without having to worry about formatting. Our tool allows us to do great work with everything from Microsoft Office files to InDesign IDMLs. There are some very rare exceptions to this rule (tune in when we yell about PDFs), but for the most part, we cover the spectrum of file formats. And we love it when we can deliver a translation that looks exactly the way you sent it, just in a different language!

Exactly like this…

In future posts, we’ll talk about some file formats that are tricky to work with. We’ll also discuss ones that are perhaps a bit more obscure, but that make more complex jobs (like website translations) an absolute breeze! This post was brought to you by the letters of literally any file format – seriously, there are so many – and we’ll see you next week!