The What, Why, and How of Translation Style Guides

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A typical translation style guide contains a company’s standards and expectations to be followed when writing and designing documents, websites, or graphics—not too far off from what you would expect from a content style guide. Maintaining a brand image that is consistent and accurately portrayed across the variety of content an organization produces is equally important to defining styles and conventions used in international markets.

What?

A translator’s style guide outlines the grammar, syntax, and tone translators should use to represent a company’s product to the target audience. Such guidelines are crucial for a successful translation project, and will be more efficient from the start than if treated as an after-thought.

The document explicitly defines the expected style for translated materials, allowing translators to know which methods they should use upfront—from what tone or voice they should present the information in to sentence fragments and whether to use technical or simplified terms. In addition, a style guide can offer a glimpse of the target audience’s characteristics, such as level of education and technology skills. The translator can use this insight to cater content to a specific audience’s needs and capabilities, making it more valuable to them.

You may also find it helpful to include key terms your organization is using for a particular campaign, as well as their desired translations. For example, the McDonald’s “I’m lovin’ it” campaign had its slogan translated in a few markets, such as Germany, while keeping the original US English in the majority of world markets, including Japan.

Why?

Using translator style guides, businesses can save time and money by decreasing the number of corrections made during the review process, thereby avoiding delays in publishing. Typically, companies’ localization testing checks translations only after they are complete. The problem with this method of review is that mistakes in the translation go unnoticed until the very last minute, making revision more challenging and costly.

Style guides also help clarify the overall brand image, steering reviewers away from making changes based on personal preference and causing inconsistencies.

The average translation style guide takes only 8-10 hours to create, and saves countless hours of correcting errors in tone, style, and grammar in the long run.

How?

Organizations with employees based in target markets should utilize their style and wealth of local knowledge by involving them in the creation of the style guide. This can be especially helpful if these are the personnel reviewing translated content prior to publishing, because they will eventually use the guide for editing purposes.

To simplify the process, consider using a checklist where your in-country reviewers indicate their personal style preferences. An organization can either use the completed checklists to create a formal guide or have their language service provider craft it.

An alternative approach is to create a style guide for one market, have local reviewers from other markets add their own input, and base the guides for other markets on the feedback. Once the style guide has been created, it should be handed off to the language service provider, who can then distribute the guides to the translators. It’s important to remember that since translation style guides are created for a specific market, companies should have a separate style guide for each market in which they do business.

Establishing guidelines not only ensures you’re communicating clearly and accurately across markets, but also helps translators understand your brand. Click here to learn three additional tools to help your organization produce content that is on-brand and maintains a consistent voice.

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