As a localization company, we understand how important it is to deliver great work to our clients. And as those in the industry know only too well, one of the biggest challenges in producing quality work is the caliber of the source content we have to work with. Give your linguists unclear text that’s full of jargon or lacking context, and they’ll inevitably send you back a ton of queries or, worse still, poorly translated work.
Writing for localization means that you create the source content with the translator in mind. A report by Common Sense Advisory (CSA Research) highlights the benefits of optimizing source content before translation. By crafting clear, unambiguous sentences and using consistent, globally understood language, you’ll greatly increase the chances of ending up with a high-quality translation. What’s surprising is that you’ll also improve the user experience for source-language readers, too. The CSA report suggests that optimized content can be as much as 50% easier to read and 29% shorter than the original source.
So, how do we go about writing for localization? Here are five simple tips that can help you improve the quality of both source material and localized content.
1. Avoid jargon and slang
If you’re writing in English for an American audience, they’ll know exactly what you mean by “knocking it out of the park;” translate that phrase into Russian or Hindi and the meaning might not be so clear, since it refers to hitting a home run in baseball. Similarly, a British person wouldn’t think for a moment that a mention of “Bob’s your uncle” implied any knowledge of the reader’s family connections; the phrase means “and there you are” (similar to “et voilà” in French), but if it is translated literally, all manner of chaos is sure to follow.
To avoid these mishaps, it’s wise to keep your choice of language clear and always ask yourself if that cute phrase you want to use is globally understood.
2. Be consistent
If you write creative content, then your thesaurus is probably a trusted friend. Why use “plenty” repeatedly in an article when you can swap it for “a plethora,” “a multitude” or even “a cornucopia?” When writing for localization, particularly if you’re creating standardized text such as product descriptions, you need to suppress those creative urges and stick to a consistent, well-known word or phrase. It might not demonstrate the full extent of your literary talent, but you’ll certainly earn the gratitude of the linguists who have to work their magic with your words.
3. Keep it simple
In a similar vein, always choose the simplest words to convey your message. Avoid lengthy fillers that can be substituted for a single word or left out altogether without altering the meaning of the sentence. Classic examples of these transgressions include: “at this point in time” which can be shortened to “yet” or “now,” “in order to” which can nearly always be just “to” and “due to the fact that” which adds nothing compared to a simple “because.”
4. Avoid homonyms
Translators hate homonyms, and for good reason. If a linguist is presented with a sentence or fragment that lacks sufficient context, a homonym can force them into raising a query to avoid making a wild guess that could have embarrassing consequences. English is particularly blessed (or cursed) with these words that look identical on paper, and sometimes even sound the same, but have very different meanings. Here are some examples that illustrate this all too clearly:
“Jenny is a rock artist” – does she play in a band, create drawings at concerts or have a collection of painted stones?
“It’s important to look right in London” – does this piece of advice refer to being fashionable when you visit the British capital, or is it a basic tip on crossing the road safely?
“Our company pays its staff a mean wage” – is this employer boasting about how little they pay their staff, or simply stating that they pay an average amount?
“At present, I don’t want to present the present to my mother” – this is a recipe for trouble.
If you’re writing for localization and know that a word you’re using has a homonym, choose a suitable alternative—for everyone’s sake.
5. Reuse content where you can
Review your existing content and analyze what can be reused to save you time and money. You may find blog posts or white papers that can form part or all of the content you need. You might even have videos that can be transcribed and transformed into valuable written resources (or vice versa). Plus, unless the content is incorrect or needs a major style update, you save even more time and cost by not having to re-localize it. Remember that a set of changes to the source text means you have to make changes to the localized versions as well.
It’s all too common for a business to focus on creating source-language content and then hand it over for localization, whether to an LSP or an in-house team. By putting source content creation and localization in separate silos, it’s likely that the priorities of those involved in each task won’t overlap, and you’ll be left with extra work to do to get the source content in a localization-ready state.
Instead, think of content creation and localization as part of the same end-to-end process. You will save time and money in localization, and optimize the quality of your source material. Shorter and clearer content is more likely to be read regardless of its language or purpose. If you’re ready to set up an end-to-end content solution like this, we’d love to hear from you.