Tips for Global Content Creation: Guide to Writing for Localization

Why would a content developer be interested in a method of writing source content specifically for localization? Is the effort required of the writers really justified by the savings seen in translation fees?

Global companies often need to translate their material into a number of languages, and cumbersome, ambiguous or inconsistent source content make that very time consuming and costly. Also, mistakes can be replicated – or worse, amplified– in the language versions, which can hurt user perception of the product or cause mistakes on the job.

Often writers write without future translation in mind, and the translations suffer for it. What can writers do while writing source content to make localization easier, less time-consuming and less costly?

How global content creation works

When a company is localizing into multiple languages, it’s very important for the English source material to be highly translatable. Simple mistakes, ambiguity, or inappropriate use of terminology may surface as queries or errors in translation, requiring revision in all the language versions of the same product. Clear, concise, and grammatically correct source material cuts costs, reduces time, and improves quality.

Writing for localization also improves the readability and usability for native and non-native speakers of the material. Most often, applying the rules of global content creation is a manual process. Writers are trained in the methodology and provided checklists so they can implement the best practices involved.

Controlled Language (CL) tools exist that automatically restrict grammar, terminology and syntax. However, many companies don’t necessarily wish to invest in this technology. Also, writers often resist using Controlled Language and CL tools because they feel controlled by it; even though technical content is not creative in nature, writing is always a creative process.

A writer can easily learn to write optimally for localization. Let’s take a look at a few key concepts:

Use correct and approved technology

Define, translate, and use the appropriate, product-specific terminology

Use only one term to name a concept

Synonyms are not encouraged within the best practices of writing for translation. Using the word ‘tab’ for five different concepts, for example, obligates the translator to choose the correct translation in any given context, which may result in an error. It is best to use only one choice/term, and the most common meaning for that term. Once you pick a term to use, use it consistently to avoid confusion. 

Re-Use (aka leverage)

Perhaps the most profound way to save costs in localization is through re-use of source text that has already been translated. Translation is charged by volume of words, so reducing the word count is a guaranteed way to save money. A re-used word or phrase is a 100% match when using translation memory tools, and is charged at a much lesser rate, because it simply needs to be reviewed by the linguist to ensure tense, structure, and meaning are appropriate for the new translation.

How do you re-use source content?

  • One way is to start from an existing document, and update only the parts that need updating. A translation memory tool will be able to separate the changes from what you left alone.
  • Don’t start from scratch unless the content is all new.
  • A content management system (CMS) – expensive, time-consuming and perhaps not feasible for all companies to implement – can enable a writer to select chunks of existing content for use in a new document. These systems can tag sections that have changed and only provide that material to the translation company. However, a writer can do much the same thing by searching for legacy source content that is relevant, and manually copying content into their new document.
  • Lastly, do not change content that has been previously translated, or formatting, unless it’s actually incorrect.
  • Even small changes can blow leverage, since TMs handle leverage in segments (not at the word level).
  • Use Consistent Wording in global content creation
  • Use both words and phrases consistently, with no variation. Don’t mix it up. The following examples show a lack of consistency; choose a corporate or department style and stick with it.

Consistently phrasing the same ideas in the same way will create internal leverage, which in turn generates a repetition when a translation memory is used. Just like a 100% match, a repetition is charged at a much lesser rate, because it simply needs to be reviewed by the linguist to ensure tense, structure, and meaning are appropriate for the new translation.

Avoid compound, complex sentences

A complex sentence requires that the translator first understand the content, then choose the main clause (which the translation should begin with), and then translate it. Put the main idea first and break complex or lengthy material into smaller sentences. Use formatting (bullets, tables) to help clarify very complex concepts. The same is true for phrases. For example, ‘at this point in time’ can and should be replaced with ‘now’.

Not Optimal: Directory synchronization uses the Dispatch program to run the programs that transfer the local address updates from the requestors to the directory server and to transfer the global address updates back to the requestors for processing.

Better: The Dispatch program is used for directory synchronization. It runs the programs that transfer both the local address updates from the requestors to the directory server and the global address updates back to the requestors for processing.

Follow standard English word order

Choose the word that will create the least ambiguity. Generally, this is subject-verb-object, with modifiers before or immediately following what they modify.

Avoid ambiguity

Don’t sacrifice clarity for brevity.

Not optimal: You can change the Admin.tpl and the Admin.inf files using the Template utility.

Better: You can change the Admin.tpl and the Admin.inf files that are using the Template utility.

Avoid verbs with two or more words

Whenever possible, replace two or three-word verbs such as’ look at’ or ‘carry on’ or ‘put up with’ with a one-word verb such as ‘examine’ or ‘continue’ or ‘withstand’.

Use the simplest verb forms

If possible, avoid the emphatic and progressive English tenses. Instead of ‘we will be arriving’ use ‘we will arrive’.

These best practices will get you started in writing content that is more concise, clear, and therefore easier to localize. The additional benefit you get is that your content will be easier for native and non-native speakers of English to understand as well.

What you should know:

  • Writing with localization in mind can reduce localization costs by 10-15%
  • The most important principles are re-use and consistency
  • A glossary is a key tool in writing for localization
  • Writing for localization can improve the English source
  • A company need not implement a tool to improve materials that will be localized