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4 Easy Steps To Writing Translation-friendly Content

4 easy steps to writing translation-friendly content

Most companies consider translation something they need to plan and worry about only after creating the source content.

However, if you have translation in mind from the very beginning, you’ll not only save time and money, but you’ll gain in the consistency and readability of your translated files. Take it from a language services provider that has translated millions of words for thousands of companies in the past fifteen years.

So, before you start writing a piece for translation, try following these four steps and make your life easier:

1. Define the purpose of your text and your target audience

  • decide what you need to communicate and do it as simply and directly as possible
  • determine what you want to achieve with your translated texts (whether it’s simply addressing the target audience into their own language, or avoiding liability, meeting particular regulatory requirements etc)
  • consider the recipient’s perspective and education level (this will affect: the tone – informal vs formal; the communication style; the level of details)
  • consider cultural differences (this will affect: the tone – informal vs formal; the use of local references; the length of the source material – you may choose to translate only the sections relevant for each country / language)
  • choose the target languages for translation (this will affect: the number of characters / the target text length; the target layout)

Note: Documents that usually need to be translation-friendly range from marketing and advertising materials, to website copy, online communications, product descriptions, technical and safety manuals, patents, legal documents etc.

2. Be consistent and correct

  • use correct and approved terminology
  • create glossaries and stick to the agreed terms and meanings
  • mind your grammatical structure and punctuation
  • create standardised text whenever possible
  • use / create language-pair guides for dealing with measurements and numerals (time, temperature, currency, weight, height, phone numbers, etc)
  • define and localise your keywords (a simple word-for word translation will usually fail)
  • consider layout (the target layout has implications on the character count, the font sizes and page margins, as well as the graphics you use)
  • re-use source text that has already been translated (a word or phrase that was used before will help consistency, but also keep your costs low: translation memory tools recognise it as 100% match by and charge it at a lower rate)

Note: English text will usually be shorter than other languages. Japanese, Korean or Chinese characters often need to be reduced in order to fit the original layout.

3. Keep your text clear and simple

  • use standard English sentence structure (subject-verb-object) and simple, straightforward text
  • keep sentences brief (up to 20 words) and limited to a single idea, but don’t sacrifice clarity for brevity
  • use the active voice (it’s easier to translate than the passive, easier to understand and more direct)
  • stick to simple morphology:
    – avoid long noun strings (they allow misinterpretations of source text), -ing words (they can be progressive verbs, nouns, adjectives, etc; a non-native translator may not be able to recognise the distinctions), unclear pronoun references, and phrasal verbs (verb form + one or more articles)
    – avoid synonyms (to help consistency and cut translation costs)
  • mind your vocabulary: avoid abbreviations, jargon, colloquialisms, humour, metaphors, words with double meanings

4. Provide specific instructions for your LSP

  • make your expectations clear, provide context (unique brand voice, target countries, tone etc)
  • provide glossaries and insight on expressions / specific keywords
  • allow the translators to adapt liberally when needed
  • send clean and coherent source documents
  • ask for your LSP’s opinion and choose the right service for you
  • consider timelines (what do you value the most – quality or turnover times and costs?)

Note: Translation services may vary from machine translation and post-edited machine translation, to professional translation with proofreading and transcreation. Bear in mind only some LSPs can provide extensive localisation services which often entail localisation strategy and consultancy.

In a nutshell: provide background and purpose, keep it short and clear, standardise.
If you observe all the above steps you are certain to streamline your content creation and translation processes and, perhaps more importantly, to cut your translation costs.

*Photo credits: iQoncept/


Lingo24 is a global translation company, with interests in marketing, e-commerce, product management and many other areas that are of relevance to our clients. We share news on our company performance, innovative technology solutions, exciting new hires and guest posts from some of our translators.

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