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Writing for the world requires writing for translators. They are an important audience, and often overlooked. If they don’t clearly understand what you’re trying to say, neither will the rest of the world. Spend the time preparing the text so that they understand it and can easily translate it. The following guidelines will help you create translation-ready, globally friendly text:

  • Keep it short. The ideal sentence length is between 5 and 25 words. A word limit forces writers to communicate in shorter sentences, generally resulting in clearer sentences.

  • Avoid Americanisms, clichés, puns, word play, and slang. Words and phrases such as “home run,” “phat,” and “on the wagon” don’t travel well, sometimes not even within the U.S., let alone outside it.

    A Few Bad Phrases…

    Clichés should be avoided in any language, particularly when they are destined to be translated into another language. Some of the more common ones to avoid include:

    • Time is on our side.

    • Down to the wire.

    • Throw caution to the wind.

    • Time is money.

    • A walk in the park.

    • Waking up on the wrong side of the bed.

    • Don’t let the cat out of the bag.

    • If the shoe fits.

  • Avoid marketing lingo and acronyms. The world has not yet embraced such industry buzzwords as “action item,” “viral marketing,” and “killer app,” and acronyms such as CRM (customer relationship management) and ASAP are not globally understood. Furthermore, translating these terms can be difficult (and prone to error); for example, “viral marketing,” in another language, could easily end up sounding like something one would rather avoid than catch.

  • Don’t be cute. Humor is highly culture-specific and rarely translates well.

  • Punctuate properly. Sloppy punctuation, in addition to confusing both readers and translators, can wreak havoc on machine-translation software.

  • Write in complete sentences. Sentence fragments might make sense in English, but they are difficult to translate.

  • Be specific. Ambiguity almost always leads to translator questions.

  • Avoid analogies and metaphors that aren’t relevant to other cultures. For example, “feeling like you hit a home run” won’t mean much to people who don’t even know what a home run is.

  • Spell check manually as well as automatically. Spell check software catches only misspelled words; it won’t always catch misplaced words. When writing for translation, misplaced words could do more damage than misspelled words, as they can change the meaning of the sentence.

  • Be consistent. Don’t describe the same object twice using different terms. If you’re talking about a yacht in one sentence, don’t call it a pleasure craft in the next sentence and a boat in the third. Although you might feel the urge to describe the same object differently to avoid sounding repetitive, you’ll find that translators often prefer repetition to creativity.



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