Why You Should Work With a Translation Style Guide
A strong brand identity is a consistent one. Your messaging, visuals, and tone of voice should follow a unified standard across channels and touchpoints. However, when you expand into new markets, the need for localization arises—and translating content presents a unique challenge in ensuring consistency and accuracy.
To ensure that what makes your brand unique and memorable reaches new audiences in their native language—without its identity getting lost in translation—developing a translation style guide is essential. In this guide, we’ll discuss the need for a translation style guide and provide best practices for using one.
What is a translation style guide?
First, let’s go over the basics of using style guides, and the importance of having one in place. A style guide, in a general sense, is an overview of enforced standards for writing content. This could include things like tone of voice, sentence structure and syntax, spelling conventions, capitalization rules, abbreviations, and acronyms—all to create a consistent brand voice.
When you need to translate your content into other languages with the help of a CAT tool, maintaining this consistency is critical. That’s where a translation style guide comes into play: It serves as the rulebook for accurately translating your content for each language you’re targeting while preserving its original meaning and intent.
When done right, a translation style guide can help ensure that what makes your brand special shines through in all languages, cultures, and markets. That’s why it’s important to develop your translation style guides—one for each language you’ll be translating into—as early in the localization process as possible and share it with everyone working on your projects in a translation management system.
Benefits of using a style guide for translation
Translation style guides play an essential role in helping brands:
- Create a consistent global brand identity. A translation style guide enables a unified brand voice across markets and establishes standards to ensure all translated material reflects this voice in the target language.
- Reduce time to market. Having a set of pre-defined rules for translation speeds up the localization process and reduces errors, resulting in faster turnaround times.
- Ensure accuracy. With clearly-defined rules for translating content, you don’t have to worry about mistranslations or incongruous messaging.
- Save time. When translators have a style guide to refer to, they save you unnecessary back-and-forth revisions and can quickly get to work delivering quality translations that require minimal edits.
- Save money. The less rework a translation requires, the less it will cost you. A translation style guide helps ensure that the first draft is as close to the final version as possible, saving on costly edits.
- Increase engagement. A unified brand identity and consistent messaging in the target language can help you engage customers with content that resonates with them.
Elements of a translation style guide
What to include in your translation style guide will depend on your specific needs and the type of content you’ll be translating. Generally, you want to examine everything from culture-specific phrases (idioms, slang) to how you handle numbers, dates, measurements, currency, and other technical terms.
Other key elements of a translation style guide include:
Description of the target audience and market
This section should provide information about the target market—key demographics, pain points, market obstacles, etc.—and the local culture, customs, and values. Try to include anything you have uncovered during the market research stage of your global expansion strategy. This will help translators understand the context of the content they’re working with.
For example, if you sell financial technology, this part of the style guide is where you’d include local competitor information, regulations, and the payment preferences of the target market.
Brand messaging, voice, and tone
This should include the brand’s mission, values, message hierarchy, and how your brand speaks to its audiences. Here, you would establish whether you want your tone to sound in terms of:
Formality conventions could vary from market to market. For example, if you’re translating from German into Argentine Spanish, all formal pronouns will likely need to be replaced with informal ones to avoid sounding stiff by local standards.
Grammar and syntax rules
Guidelines on punctuation, capitalization—camel case vs sentence case in headings, for example—, sentence structure, and other grammatical conventions to ensure fluency and accuracy in the target language. For example, you may clarify that translators should use the active voice instead of the passive voice.
Guidelines on the use of gender-inclusive language would also fall here. Many languages have gendered nouns, verbs, and adjectives, so you may want to provide your translators with specific guidelines on how to handle gendered words in the target language.
In this section, you should clarify how you want your content to appear visually in the target language. This could include:
- Whether you prefer hyphens, en dashes, or em dashes
- Which type of quotation marks to use (single, double, Spanish ones)
- Where to put non-breaking spaces (and whether your CMS will allow them)
- Whether you prefer long or short dates
- How to format times and currencies
What you don’t want translated
You may have brand elements—such as product names, slogans, taglines, etc.—that you want to keep in the original language so that they remain recognizable. A translation style guide should outline these exceptional cases.
Instructions on how to treat acronyms
Acronyms and abbreviations are often tricky across languages, so it’s vital to include guidance on what approach to follow.
For example, you may ask your translators that they spell out acronyms the first time they appear in the text and then follow them by their abbreviation in parentheses, or vice versa.
Sometimes, acronyms will need full localization, and you’ll need to warn translators about this it in your style guide. For example, in a text about British financial technology, translating an acronym like OBIE (Open Banking Implementation Entity) won’t make much sense in Spain. Your translators will need to replace the reference with Banco de España—the local regulatory body—, so BdE is a more appropriate equivalent acronym.
Best practices for creating a style guide
When it comes to creating the style guide itself, consider the following best practices:
- Compile the style guide collaboratively. Involve those familiar with the brand—such as marketing and product teams—in-house linguists, external freelancers, and in-market experts, to ensure that it reflects a shared understanding and expectation of what the brand should look like in other languages.
- Keep it simple and concise. A style guide should be comprehensive but not overwhelming, as it’s meant to be a reference document.
- Adapt your existing corporate style guide. Most companies have a corporate style guide covering elements like brand voice, language, and formatting. Your translation style guide should be an extension of that.
- Keep it alive and up-to-date. As your company grows and evolves, so should your style guide. Revisit it regularly to make sure that it continues to reflect the needs of the organization.
- Allow enough time to create the guide. A good style guide can take anywhere from 8 to 12 hours to complete—depending on the size of your company, the complexity of your products and services, and other factors—so plan accordingly.
- Make sure it’s accessible to all stakeholders. Ensure that everyone involved in the translation process—including internal crews, external agencies, and freelancers—can access the guide.
- Include many examples for each point. Examples are key to helping translators understand the expectations and apply them correctly in their translations. Most style guides do this in the form of a table with “Do” and “Don’t” columns.
- Develop one translation style guide for each market. It’s important to remember that no two markets are the same. Each one should have its own style guide geared to its unique needs and preferences. You may, however, group languages from the same family and region together—such as Spanish, Catalan, and Galician—into one style guide.
Best practices for implementing your style guide
Here are some tips for ensuring the successful adoption of your translation style guide:
- Include a link to the style guide whenever you assign a project. Make it a part of the brief so that translators can refer to it whenever they have doubts or questions.
- Ask editors to review against the style guide. During the editing process, see to it that reviewers provide feedback in a way that reinforces the style guidelines.
- Schedule periodic check-ins with linguists and internal stakeholders. Something as simple as a quick email exchange or a 15-minute call once a week can be extremely effective in spotting potential issues between what’s expected and what’s being delivered.
- Use simple language. Technical language and jargon can be overwhelming and off-putting. Make sure your style guide is written in plain language that anyone can understand.
- Consider a friendly nudge. Occasional reminders—such as a quick email to the team or a note on Slack—can help ensure that everyone is following and adhering to the style guide.
Consistency builds credibility, trust, and loyalty
A translation style guide isn’t just about getting the words right. It’s also about creating a consistent, recognizable experience in every language and culture you enter—one that resonates with your target audience and inspires them to become lifelong fans of your brand.
Follow the best practices outlined above to make sure you get the most out of your translation style guide. Doing so will help ensure that all translations will look and feel unified, professional, and culturally appropriate across all markets and touchpoints. You won’t regret it.
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Last updated on August 22, 2023.