Your job, as a technical or marketing writer, is to make every word you write count. So if the content you are writing will be localized—whether it’s user assistance, web content, online help, or marketing material—then writing with localization in mind can add substantial value to your work.
How? It will save time and money during both the authoring and the localization processes because the guidelines we’re going to share can speed up your work and decrease the scope of translation. It can also drive consistency and clarity, both of which will help your company preserve your brand in each market. And lastly, writing for localization can improve the English source: it will be more easily readable for native and non-native speakers alike.
Done well, writing for localization can reduce localization costs by 10-15%.
Here are 21 tips for making every word you write effective for the localization process.
- Reuse as much approved material as possible with Translation Memory technology. It will save you writing time, and if it’s already localized then it won’t cost time or money to localize it again. Don’t change content that has already been translated unless it’s incorrect.
- Be consistent. Use the same grammatical structures over and over. While this may make the text seem ‘boring’, consistent sentence structures are much quicker and easier for translators to translate because they’re matches in a Translation Memory.
- Use a glossary. Each product should have a glossary defining its key terms and how to use them, including explanations for all product-specific and specialized terms. Related to this, use only one term to name a concept—no synonyms. This helps with consistency, clarity, and leverage.
- Use simple language and be succinct.
- Avoid long sentences with complicated structure.
- Eliminate unnecessary text and redundancies.
- Use the simplest verb forms. For example, “use” instead of “utilize.”
- Avoid wordy expressions. For example, use “now” instead of “at this point in time.”
- Avoid verbs with two or more words. For example, instead of “be able to” try “can.”
- Reduce the overall amount of text. Chances are that less text will yield greater clarity; also, less text means less to localize.
- When a sentence contains multiple verbs, nouns, and clauses, it is probably trying to convey too many ideas at once. Break up the ideas into shorter sentences or make a bulleted list.
- Use the indicative mood. For example, write “you do” instead of “you would do.”
- Write in the active voice. For example, “Print the document” is better than “The document should be printed.”
- Make list items complete sentences, and in the same structure. This is more coherent in English and easier for translation tools to analyze.
- Make the subject of a verb phrase clear. For example, in the statement “If there is prompt text for the completed field, it does not change,” it isn’t clear if the “prompt text” doesn’t change or the “completed field” doesn’t change.
- Make sure that spaces after periods are used correctly and consistently. TM tools will automatically match the source format; if you miss a space after period, the space will also be missed in the translated file.
- Remove necessary words such as articles, prepositions, and pronouns like “that” and “which.” Sometimes these can be left out in English, but this can cause problems in other languages.
- Use nominalizations. For example, use “conclude” instead of “reach a conclusion.”
- Include acronyms and abbreviations. Spell them out in parenthesis if they must be used—and include them in your glossary.
- Write with colloquialisms, slang, jargon, idioms, metaphors, and buzzwords. They just don’t translate well.
- Introduce ambiguity, as in “I saw her duck”. Is it a duck—an animal of the bird species—that belongs to her? Or was she avoiding a flying object?
- Conjugate into the infinitive (to create), present participle (creating), or past participle (created). These verb forms are less direct, and the subject of the clause is not always obvious.
- Form noun strings, which are nouns with two or more descriptors. For example, “plastic tip fastener clips.” These are a very common form of grammatical ambiguity that have a big impact on the translation’s accuracy. Break these long uninterrupted strings of nouns and adjectives into smaller pieces.
- Use a slash to mean “and/or” as this is often untranslatable. Rewrite the sentence to indicate the exact meaning. For example, “You can choose the green one, the blue one, or both.”
- Form plurals by adding “(s)”. Just because English adds an s to make nouns plural, doesn’t mean other languages do. Rewrite the sentence to use the plural form or, if it is important to indicate both, use “one or more.” For example, use “add the necessary letters” or “add one or more of the necessary letters” rather than “add the necessary letter(s).”
- Use an ampersand to mean “and.”
- Address with gender-specific words. Avoid “he, she, his, her” and use “they, their” instead.
- Place infinitives, gerunds or past participles at the beginning of a sentence. In general, use gerunds sparingly.
These tips are the best practices for strong, clear writing—things you may already know as a professional at your craft. However, it’s worth a reminder: doing them consistently will reduce costs and time during the localization process and add value to every word you write when globalizing your content.
Lastly, related to writing for localization is the concept of pre-editing. A editor performs this review pass on content that has already been written. Check out our blog post on pre-editing here.