Global-ready content defined — Global-ready content means applying technical communication best practices stringently and consistently. Localization adds a layer of complexity to your content development process.
In the traditional process where you send a completed manual or brochure to localization, 50% or more of your localization costs are associated with desktop publishing (DTP). And anything you do to help alleviate these costs also helps the audience of your source English content.
Global-ready content has these characteristics:
- Culturally neutral
- Well-written and well-edited
Always design with the world in mind, even if you aren’t yet translating your content. It’s a lot easier to design it right in the first place than it is to retrofit it. If your company has a website, it’s potentially a global company.
The “Language of Content Strategy,” by Scott Abel and Rahel Anne Bailie, defines it as, “The analysis and planning required to develop a repeatable system that governs the management of content throughout the content lifecycle.” What this means is that you have to look at your content holistically, and that includes localization. Your strategy and architecture should support and facilitate localization.
Information architecture and design
The “Language of Content Strategy” defines it as, “The art and science of structuring content to support findability and usability.” The information architecture is the technical side of the content strategy. It is what allows you to actually implement your strategy effectively.
If you only remember one thing, make it this: Design with the world in mind.
That means making sure that all your structures, processes, and models, etc. support and facilitate both source-content development and localization. (And I’m including visual content in this…)
Build a solid structure/architecture, one that won’t collapse under its own weight with the first problem that arises. Make it flexible and scalable.
Think about how your workflow supports these things:
- Multiple users
- Status tracking
- Version control
- Multiple output formats
- Process efficiency
- Content chunking
Creating content “chunks”/components/modules allows you to send only the untranslated content to the vendor, which saves 10% or more of your localization costs. Sending only new or modified content eliminates this.
Reuse facilitates consistency. Instead of rewriting a note, caution, or warning every time it’s needed, you write once and reuse. Same thing with graphics, tables, regulatory information, and other content that’s used in multiple places. It bears mention however, that consistency doesn’t equal quality. You also need to spend time internationalizing the content to ensure that it is clear, concise, and accurate.
Structured authoring for intelligent content
Once you have identified how to properly chunk your content, you need to structure it well so that it can be more intelligent. The structure of your XML needs to facilitate flexibility and scalability, as well as support localization. Yves Savourel’s book, “XML Internationalization and Localization” is a deep dive into the technical aspects of structuring your content for localization.
Metadata is the key to happiness in a content management environment. It’s what allows you to find, manage, and use your content. When you add localization, suddenly you need to think about which metadata needs to be translated and how you are going to expose it to the translators.
Make this the second thing you remember: Hard-coded strings are bad.
Metadata needs to be stored in such a way that you can easily identify and extract the strings that need to be localized.
One of the biggest reasons for content strategies and content management systems to fail is poor change management, both the human kind and the technical kind.
You can have the best technology and the most user-friendly system in the world, and it won’t matter one iota if you are having team issues that prevent you from maximizing the benefit. If you are asking people to significantly change the way that they approach their work, you need to prepare them properly, give them training and support, and reward the new behaviors that you want to see.
On the technical side, if you are not being proactive about your change management, you are costing your company money. Making changes to source content while it is being localized costs the company money and time, especially if the change is not vital. (Yes, I know everyone thinks their changes have to be done right now, but they are wrong.)
English is a difficult and confusing language, even for native speakers. Homonyms and false friends abound, the grammar is inconsistent, and it often has more exceptions than rules. According to “Global Language Monitor,” there are ~1,025,109 words in the English language as of 1 January 2014 (up from 1,009,753 in 2011). This statistic includes all words (jargon, idioms, variations of a word, neologisms, etc.).
The reality is that most dictionaries contain about 200,000-250,000 English words that are used most commonly. The unabridged Oxford English Dictionary contains about 650,000 words.
When you consider that most other languages have fewer than 500,000 words, this difference has significant implications for how we write for localization, for terminology management, and is a strong argument for controlled language initiatives like Simplified Technical English. It is also one of the reasons for text expansion.
Last, but certainly not least, do your best and produce excellent work in everything that you do, no matter how small.
Localization is a garbage in/garbage out process. If you have poorly done source content, you are going to have poorly localized content, and those issues will increase your costs, increase liability, and decrease usability and customer satisfaction. Make sure your source content is as error-free and high quality as possible within the project constraints.
If you are in the habit of excellence and you have good QA processes, you will improve your chances of quality localized content.
Originally published in “The Pangaea Papers” blog. Reused with permission. © 2015, Comgenesis, LLC.
About the author
Kit Brown-Hoekstra, principal, Comgenesis, LLC is a consultant working in the space between technical communication and localization. A Fellow in the Society for Technical Communication (STC), she is also the organization’s president.
Brown-Hoekstra speaks at conferences worldwide and has authored several articles on topics related to technical communication and internationalization. She also co-authored a book on managing virtual teams.