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Top 10 Tips for Writing for Localization

Language Translation Facts

Top 10 Tips for Writing for Localization

All too often, companies create content without preparing it for localization. This can result in higher costs, longer turnaround times and even low-quality translations. To avoid this situation, follow the tips below as you develop content, or at a minimum, before you send the content for translation. You’ll reduce costs by using fewer words, reusing content and reducing turnaround time.

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1. Make Sure Content is Relevant

In today’s world where people have access to infinite information and limited attention spans, your content needs to have a purpose to attract them. Develop your content with your personas in mind. Create personas for your customers at each step of the buying cycle and then refer to them as you build supporting content for your product or service.

As an example, let’s say you have a list of product benefits in a brochure and on your website. Do you need to list these benefits in a product manual? Probably not, as your persona has already bought the product and just needs instructions for how to use it.

It would be helpful to conduct a content audit to determine the relevancy of your content. Having targeted content, without extraneous supporting material, will be beneficial to your customers, and will reduce your costs.

2. Write Concisely

Again, think about your personas and goals at each step of the buying lifecycle. When you develop content, focus on the clearest, most concise way to say what your customers need to know. Supporting content has a place, but think about other ways to provide that information (e.g., a reference manual or customer support section with links). Also, use the active tense whenever possible. You’ll send fewer words for translation by writing concisely, which will reduce costs.

  • Original text: Passive voice should not be used.
  • Updated text: Don’t use a passive voice.
3. Don’t Use Ambiguous Words or Phrases

Avoid using jargon, abbreviations and cultural references. Jargon and abbreviations may be understood by a particular group or culture, but they may not resonate with your customers and they can be quite difficult to translate, if at all. Something that may be humorous in one culture could be offensive in another.

As an example, these phrases don’t translate:

  • Rotten to the core.
  • Many ways to skin a cat.
4. Make Illustrations Accessible

Translators must be able to access text inside illustrations and screenshots. Keep text outside of illustrations by creating callouts below them. If you must have text inside illustrations, it will cost more money for the translators to translate the content and then adjust the spacing around it. If you have translated screenshots, provide them to the translators early on. If you don’t have translated screenshots, they won’t be able to edit the native screenshots.

5. Allow Enough Space for Text to Expand

Translated content can take up to one-third more space, so leave enough room for text to expand in callouts, buttons, labels, tables and other constricted areas. It’s better to review your content for potential text expansion issues before sending it for translation or you may face additional costs for formatting.

6. Create Standard Terminology

If your content is technical or if you have a lot of product or industry-specific terminology, create a set of standard terms for the translators to use. Providing context around the terms will help the translators since words can have different meanings depending on the text around them. If you have in-country resources, have them review the translated terms. You can then use these standard terms in future translations.

Here’s an example of content that changes depending on the context. “We have to move” can mean:

  • Move to another house
  • Take action
  • Exercise

Also provide training materials, websites or other sources to help the translators understand your content.

7. Reuse Content Whenever Possible

Any time you can reuse content, whether it’s a safety message, instructions or service descriptions, do so. It improves consistency and reduces translation and authoring costs. Reuse content wherever you can, across document sets and across content from different functional areas such as marketing collateral, training courses and website content.

For example, if you have customer service contact information in multiple places, make sure you’re saying it the same way everywhere.

8. Use Simple Tables

Using tables can be a great way to show complex information, but they can also be difficult for translators. If you’re going to use tables, create simple ones with little styling. Also make sure you leave enough room for text to expand.

9. Check Data Formats

Dates, phone numbers, currencies and other data have different formats in different languages.

For example:

  • A date in U.S. English is written: October 1, 2015
  • In British English, it’s: 1 October 2015
  • In Slovak, it’s: 1.10.2015

The translators will need to localize the data so make the content is accessible in places like screenshots. Also, don’t use fancy styling, translators will have to change it anyway.

If you generate content with imperial units, you also need to provide the metric equivalent (and make sure you have the space) as most countries outside the United States use the metric system.

10. Consider Adopting Simplified Technical English (STE)

Simplified Technical English, or STE, is a writing standard with guidelines for writing and terminology. Implementing STE can help reduce translation costs. It was designed to promote clear, consistent and simplistic writing primarily for non-native English speakers. You can follow the STE guidelines or one of the other controlled languages, and you can even create your own. STE can be particularly helpful if you have many writers and/or are located in multiple cities. Writing becomes more objective with STE guidelines.


Spending some time thinking about localization as you develop content or during the editing process, will benefit your customer, lower your costs, reduce turnaround time and improve translation quality.