By Michael Kriz, President and Founder, Acclaro

Michael Kriz

Writing as a profession has shifted dramatically since the early days, when writers — from technical writers to journalists — had a clear, unified, culturally homogenous audience to which they communicated. Before starting a project, they could determine the nature of the audience: Are they U.S. male consumers, between the ages of 18 and 34? Doctors living in California? Mid-level engineering managers? Or, perhaps a group of Chinese-speaking New Yorkers? In these cases, they could conduct research into their target group and know exactly how to communicate their message — in what language, tone, style, etc.

But as we become an increasingly global economy, there is increasing demand on writers — particularly those who work with technical language that describes products and services — to adapt to the changing needs of companies’ customer demographics. When a product is slated to launch in 20 new markets, and over half of the markets require translation of documentation, it completely changes the game for the technical writer. Rather than writing specifically for one target audience, they are now faced with the challenge of writing for 20.

A Global Marketplace Requires Fresh Thinking About Communication

To effectively scale a global business, you and your writers should keep these 10 things in mind as you build out communication for a diverse number of audiences:

1. Use global English – For every native speaker of English, there are about three non-native speakers. That means that of the one billion people who are believed to speak some form of English, 750 million of them likely speak some form of hybrid English that may incorporate aspects of their native language or are highly influenced by factors like pop culture vocabulary or advertising. It’s important that your communication in English is understandable to all English speakers, which means short, simple sentences and no idiomatic expressions or cultural references. That won’t make creative team members happy, but it does make content easier to understand. Or, if you are forced to include local jargon or culturally-specific phrases, we suggest vetting expressions and examples for global readiness and tagging them for local adaptations.

2. Keep it concise – In addition to using global English, brevity is important for straightforward translation. Shorter sentences, no double negatives, and fewer “mini-words” (a, at, the, and) ease understanding by your translators, which will result in faster and more accurate translations into target languages.

3. Use consistent terminology – While you might be tempted to mix up your vocabulary for variety, remember that good technical communication and comprehension depend on using the same word to describe the same concept over and over again. When delivering original, English content to foreign audiences or translating that content, this is even more important. More variety means more room for confusion and mistranslation.

Using consistent terminology also facilitates machine translation (MT). MT is becoming a more feasible and cost-effective method for translating large technical projects. Consistent terminology, combined with the simplicity and clarity described in points one and two above, is a critical foundation to making MT possible. The more consistency you have, the more efficient this technology will be for your project. While we recommend human translation for most projects, in some cases MT with professional human pre- and post-processing can produce the desired results.

4. Check your symbols – Using an image to describe something may seem like a great trick, because it cuts down on your word count for translation. However, not all symbols carry the same meaning across borders. A red hexagonal stop sign in Japan, for example, does not mean stop!

5. Use XML – XML is the King of File Types when it comes to writing for international audiences. Formatting is embedded in code that typically gets externalized during the translation process. Because of this, the engineering end is lighter as it’s less likely to have the same problems as native MS Word, FrameMaker, InDesign or Quark files. Some writers may be hesitant to adopt XML because they are used to the “blank slate” feeling that Word, unstructured FrameMaker, and desktop publishing-oriented authoring tools can give, but a well configured XML editor can provide the same if it has a good template (and style sheets) set up for the author.

6. Get ready for text to grow – Text expansion is a fact of translation. Expect it and plan for extra space or automatic resizing where possible. It mainly becomes an issue when text is used within images and must fit into a certain fixed width or layout. Many European languages end up 20% longer than English, so consider that when creating original design, including artwork, graphics, and charts. On the other hand, your text may “shrink” on a page when translating into some Asian languages or converting U.S. letter size paper to A4 for many foreign markets.

Text Expansion Example

7. Use image best practices – For example rather than embed graphics in a document, link them. The same goes for reusable components of text. This simplifies replacement when you localize those files, and makes future updates more seamless. Linking graphics also reduces file size, which makes it friendlier for translation tools. Other tips to follow include:

  • Layer your files so they are fully editable
  • When possible, keep text out of images
  • Allow for expansion of the text associated with an image
  • Use screenshots sparingly
  • Store screen captures and art separately
  • Store localizable images separately from non-localizable images

8. Master your Content Management System (CMS) – Every writer — technical or not — should be aware of the essentials required to make your CMS truly global, easily updatable, while helping to ensure version control. Make sure you have the following features on your CMS:

  • Multilingual architecture (allows you to run one software application in all your language markets, while ensuring all local conventions, such as date and time formats, are followed)
  • UTF8 (multibyte character encoding that allows for Latin and non-Latin based characters)
  • XML (support for managing components of content marked up in XML
  • Import/export functions
  • Event automation (to help you reduce time-consuming manual tasks)

With these features, you’ll be ready to streamline your multilingual content workflows with your translation provider through automated, rule-based handoffs.

9. Get your files in order, and provide instructions – If you’re working outside the structured constraints of a CMS, keep your source files organized to make the translation process easier for you and your supplier. This will prevent needless organizational efforts across all languages and avoid administrative errors on both sides. Include all relevant files for translation in working condition, no extraneous or unused files, and use an ordered folder structure. When handing off files to your translation provider, be sure to define the scope of the project, tools and versions as well as the desired deliverables. Specify any information needed to generate deliverables including output format (PDFs, HTML, image types, etc.) and settings.

10. Think mobile – After all, it’s the future! And, in some circles, it’s the primary way business is conducted today. Many writers have already started adapting their style to the way people consume content on the mobile web — in bite-sized chunks. When creating or preparing text for foreign markets, it’s smart to start thinking about how much of your audience will be reading your content on their smartphone. In many cases, it’s a larger percentage than you think. Begin thinking about how this can impact the way you should craft your message now; it will likely mean a smoother translation and localization effort later.

Source: comScore, Alexa, Flurry Analytics. Data: US ONLY.

About the Author

As founding president of Acclaro, Michael is responsible for
setting the vision and guiding the growth of the company worldwide. Michael
founded Acclaro in 2002 and quickly grew the organization from a boutique
New York firm into a global enterprise with offices and affiliates on four
continents. With more than 20 years in the industry, Michael draws on
experiences founding and managing localization endeavors ‹ from his first
foray into the industry creating a small translation company in Paris to
working with leading global entities.

Michael holds an MBA from Babson College and a BA from Tulane University.
Michael still enjoys frequent travel, plays soccer most Saturday mornings
and windsurfs whenever the opportunity arises. Contact Michael.