6 Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Style Guides
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6 Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Style Guides

6 Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Style Guides


Style Guides, which companies use to drive consistency and clarity of translation, come in different shapes and sizes. In addition to the obvious language-specific, tactical guidelines on things like how dates, times, numerals, phone numbers and currency are expressed in that language, more subtle style elements must also be covered. While you probably already have all of these style concepts laid out for the source market, too often target market Style Guides address only the mechanics of the target language — something that experienced translators should already well understand. So what turns a tactical guideline into a fully-fledged market-specific Style Guide?

1. Demographics and psychographics

It is critical to profile and define your target audience. Demographics explain “who” your buyer is, while psychographics explain “why” they buy.

Demographic information includes gender, age, income, and marital status — the dry facts. Psychographics cover the personalities, values, opinions, attitudes, interests and lifestyles. Psychographics are not statistical. One good way to determine the psychographics of a target audience is through focus groups: surveys completed by the target demographic.

This concept is also often referred to as “buyer personas” — the profile of your exact target market.

2. Voice and tone

Voice is the way writing is dressed up (or down) to fit the specific context, purpose, or audience. Word choice, sentence fluency, level of formality, and the brand’s “personality” all contribute to the voice of a piece of writing. It’s the way something is written. Tone adds the attitude to a piece of writing. The tone may be logical or emotional, intimate or distant, serious or humorous. It can consist mostly of long, intricate sentences, of short, simple ones, or of something in between.

Many retail brands use a casual, chatty, friendly tone in which slang and partial sentences may be acceptable. This tone helps the target buyer feel intimate and comfortable with the brand; like a friend talking with them about the product and its usage.

One way to achieve proper tone is to imagine a situation in which you say the words being written. If the conversation style does not mesh with your brand image, a rewrite is in order. In other ways, your tone can set you apart: a blog or an online help system could feel more like a conversation than a formal list or technical text.

3. Brand concepts

You have worked hard to create an identity that drives how your potential buyer thinks or feels when he or she hears your brand name. Brand covers your corporate values and the emotions or thoughts you want your customers to have when they interact with your products.

Brand encompasses everything someone thinks they know about your company and offering — both factual (e.g. it comes in a robin’s-egg-blue box with a big white bow), and emotional (e.g. it’s romantic; it’s prestigious). Female readers probably immediately know the company I’m referring to.

Certainly it helps the translation process if the linguist uses and is loyal to the product; you might want to consider employing translators like this.

4. Cultural implications

Style Guides should be market-specific rather than language-specific. For example, there are some 26 varieties of the Spanish language. You should have as many guides as you have markets, or at a minimum, address individual markets specifically in one master Style Guide.

Each variety, spoken in a different target market, may have nuances in culture that impact the translation, such as the appropriateness of certain vocabulary, the use of different icons, photos and clip art, and other visual representations germane to your target culture.

Importantly, this section should cover the use of local terms and idioms. Due to the differences in language and vocabulary across Spanish-speaking countries and regions, for instance, the translator should strive to find terms that would be understood locally.

By the way, Facebook’s 72 Style Guides provide a great starting point to look for some references and ideas.

5. Limits of freedom

Some translators are highly creative and flexible in the way they translate a text, and you may want to give that liberty. However, if you don’t, then you will want to provide guidelines about how much a translation should deviate from the formulation, vocabulary and phrasing of your source text. How faithful must your target be to the source content?

6. Product names and taglines

It’s likely that your product names, tagline and straplines have already been carefully transcreated for each target market. As a result, you do not want translators to create their own adaptations. These items may be included in a glossary, but it’s also valuable to mention them in a Style Guide so that professionals know to look for the exact names and acronyms.

Style Guides that cover all of the elements above will go a long way to ensuring that translators represent your corporate concepts accurately. No guessing necessary: it’s all laid out and expressed clearly.

For tactical information on how it implement Style Guides, please see this blog post.