Writing for translation

When you know you’ve got to prepare a document that is going to be translated into a number of different languages, writing with translation in mind could save you lots of time and money. But how to get it right? Here are our top tips for when you’re writing documentation for a global audience.

Use short sentences

The key to quality writing is keeping things “short and sweet”. You need to make sure that even a complete beginner can understand what you’re saying, so keeping things brief is one way to achieve that. It also really helps when you’re translating into a much more text-intensive language, like German for example, that you don’t have a sentence that reads like a complete paragraph.

Make everything easy to understand

As we’ve said, keeping things easy to understand is vital. Use clear, simple instructions and consistent terminology. This makes sure that nothing gets lost in translation. Another thing you should consider is the order that things are done in. Make sure you start with step 1 so that the instructions don’t come across as confusing.

Use the active voice and subject-verb-object order

Every language has its own grammatical structure, so it’s always worth keeping things simple in English to avoid making it too difficult to convert one language to another. One way to do this is to use the active voice and subject-verb-object word order.

Consider cultural differences

With translation comes culture, which is why whenever you’re writing a text that you know is going to be translated, you should keep cultural references to a minimum. Rather than using examples or phrases that will only appeal to those in your home country, try and use international examples so that more people can relate to them.

Think of the non-natives

English is one of those languages that has lots of slang and can be hard for non-natives to understand. If you’re reaching out to an international audience, keep this to the bare minimum and avoid complicated play on words.

Beware of synonyms and words with multiple meanings

When you’re writing for translation, be careful with synonyms and words with multiple meanings. Create a glossary for whoever is doing your translation so they know what word you want to use, rather than leaving things to chance.

If you’d like some help in simplifying your source documents, just get in touch. We’d be glad  to help you master “writing for translation”.


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