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Top 10 Tips for Writing for Translation

All too often, writers create content without preparing it for translation, resulting in higher translation costs, longer turnaround times and potentially lower-quality work. To prepare content to go global, follow the tips in our blog post as you develop content, or at a minimum, before you send the content to translation. You’ll reduce costs by creating fewer words and reusing content, reduce translation turnaround time and improve the quality.


1. Make Sure the Content Is Relevant for the Audience

Top Tips for Writing for Translation

In today’s world where there’s an infinite amount of information and shorter attention spans, your content needs to have a purpose. Target your content for a persona, which is an archetype of a customer that includes daily job tasks, goals and knowledge. You should name the persona to bring it to life, for example, “What is Bob’s goal with our widget?” Create personas for your customers at each step of the buying cycle, and then refer to them as you build your product or service and the supporting content.

For 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 user manual? Probably not, as your persona has already bought the product and just needs the instructions to install and work with it.

It would be helpful if you conduct a content audit to determine the relevancy of your content. Having targeted content, without extraneous supporting material, will benefit your customers while also reducing your translation costs.


2. Write Concisely Using a Minimalist Approach

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, such as a reference manual or customer support section with links to that content.

Also, use the active tense whenever possible. It’s a better customer experience, plus you’ll send fewer words to translation, which will reduce translation costs.

Original text: Passive voice should not be used.

Updated text: Don’t use passive voice.


3. Don’t Use Ambiguous Words or Phrases

Avoid using jargon, abbreviations and cultural references. A particular group or culture may understand jargon and abbreviations, but they may not resonate with your global audience. They can also be quite difficult to translate, if at all. Something that may be humorous in one culture could be offensive in another.

For example, these phrases don’t translate:

  • Rotten to the core
  • Many ways to skin a cat


4. Make Illustrations Accessible

If you want translated illustrations and screen shots, translators must be able to access the text. To do this, remove the text from the visuals and then create callouts for the text. If you don’t follow this process before sending content to translation, it will cost more money and take more time for the translation company to do this work.


5. Allow Enough Space for Text Expansion

Translated content can take up to one-third more space than English, so be sure to 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 to translation or you may face additional costs for formatting.


6. Create Standard Terminology for a Glossary

Top 10 Tips for Writing for Translation

If you use a lot of product- or industry-specific terminology, create a set of standard terms for the translators to use. Your language service provider can put the terms in a glossary for additional translation work. Providing context around the terms will really help the translators since words can have different meanings depending on the text around them. For example, the phrase “We have to move” can mean:

  1. Move to another house
  2. Take action
  3. Exercise

If you have in-country resources, have them review the translated terms. You can then use these standard terms in future translations. Also, provide training materials, websites or other sources to help the translators understand your content.


7. Reuse Content Whenever Possible

Reuse content, whether it’s a safety message, instruction or service description, wherever possible. Reusing content improves consistency while also reducing translation and writing costs. For example, if you have customer service contact information in multiple places, make sure you’re saying it the same way everywhere. Reuse content wherever you can across document sets and content from different functional areas such as marketing collateral, training courses and website content.


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 minimal styling. Also, make sure you leave enough room for text to expand.


9. Make Data Accessible

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, 2021

British English, it’s: 1 October 2021

Slovak, it’s: 1.10.2021


The translators will need to localize the data, so make the content accessible in places like screen shots.

Also, if your content contains data with imperial units, you need to provide the metric equivalent (and make sure you have the space!), as most countries outside the U.S. use the metric system.


10. Adopt Simplified Technical English (STE)

Simplified Technical English, or STE, is a writing standard with guidelines for writing and terminology. STE was designed to promote clear, consistent, simplistic and objective 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. Since the writing guidelines are set, STE can be particularly helpful if you have many writers and/or are located in multiple locations.



Spend some time thinking about writing for translation as you develop content or during the editing process. It will reduce translation costs and turnaround time, plus your customers will have a better user experience.