Writing For Translation: 5 Ways to Write for Global Readers
A 2021 report by Alison Toon and Rebecca Ray, “Writing to Optimize Your Global Customer Experience,” outlines a strategy to help your business connect with global customers: altering your writing style. When writing for translation, they suggest you phrase things in a way that human and machine translators can parse easily and accurately.
This method also helps browser-based machine language services, like Google Translate, to perform better. Writing for translation gives global customers near-immediate access to the information they need from you. Obey these writing practices for crucial online content, like Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) pages, and customer support information.
Here are 5 writing guidelines that will help your online content to cross language barriers.
- Choose words that are concise and precise. If you can explain something in fewer words, then use fewer words.
- Limit sentences to about 20 words in length. Likewise, limit the length of every paragraph to 5 or 6 sentences.
Follow consistent grammar rules
- As a general rule, it is easier to understand writing that is grammatical, but some of this advice goes beyond achieving legibility.
- Write verbs in present tense whenever possible. Otherwise, use simple past and future tenses.
- Try to use Oxford commas, otherwise known as the comma that comes before “and” in a list like “bread, butter, and eggs.” They make things slightly easier to read.
Be mindful of your vocabulary
- Machine translators struggle with acronyms. Always define them clearly in your writing: provide the full name, and then, if relevant, state what they are or do. For instance, say that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is an American regulatory agency which ensures that consumer goods use safe ingredients.
- Avoid idioms, slang, and industry-specific jargon.
- Watch your terminology. Don’t use too many synonyms for the same term; pick just one word to use instead. If you call the people your brand serves its “clients” in your website FAQ, then do so everywhere else on your website.
Keep readability in mind
- Separate long, itemized sentences into bullet lists. Give one item or instruction per bullet point.
- Write dates and times clearly and in a consistent order. Provide a full date as the day of the week, the month/day, and the year (for instance, Friday, July 30, 2021). Provide times on the 12-hour clock, using AM and PM, such as 5:45 PM.
- Use hyphens between words more often than you normally would, as they group words together and avoid ambiguity. For instance, don’t write “risk averse”; write “risk-averse.”
Consider grammar rules in other languages
- Use definite and indefinite articles frequently before nouns, especially in cases when the number of something is ambiguous. Write “I will bring a pie” instead of “I will bring pie.”
- The gerund verb form (“-ing”) has no direct equivalent in some languages, which makes it difficult for machine translators to process. Revise sentences to avoid it wherever possible.
Writing for translation can help you save time and money on translations. Some of these tips may seem common-sensical. That said, it’s often difficult to write one way consistently. The language you speak affects the way you think about all languages. Idioms in your native tongue seem logically intuitive, which makes it hard to recognize them as figurative devices. In fact, I rewrote one sentence about acronyms three times after I realized that the phrase “spelled out” translates poorly into other languages.
When in doubt, ask one of our expert translators at Sauls International for help.