Best Practices for Writing Global-Ready Content for Localization

Good is not enough: These 10 best-practice tips will show content creators, developers, and software companies how to succeed with their localization and translation management. Learn how to write source content that makes localization easier, less time-consuming and, finally, less costly.

A global content strategy that caters to different target markets can have a substantial impact on building a global user base for your software product. Nevertheless, translating an international content strategy into daily business may often lead to confusion, or even tension, among stakeholders who need to create content that will be translated for the international markets.

Even if the benefits of software localization are well known in an increasingly globalized world, the process of translation management can be laborious, and often the process of translating content into multiple languages still costs too much and takes too long.

Yet, by applying a few simple tips you can avoid common pitfalls when writing content for localization. Not only will it reduce your localization costs, but it also means quicker time-to-market, accelerated revenue streams, and improved translation quality.

1. Write with Localization in Mind

Source content that has been properly internationalized is easier, less costly, and more efficient to localize. Writing with localization in mind means to think globally, act locally.

Your wording should always be planned with cultural diversity in mind.

When writing source content, be careful with examples and scenarios and use caution when utilizing expressions, slang or other phraseological constructs specific to your own culture or references to historical events that may not resonate. They need not be cut out entirely, simply used carefully and in such a way that they can be modified to be made suitable or omitted entirely.

Prepare for text expansion. If you are tight on space, keep in mind that text expands in length during translation. Some languages are more “wordy” than others, requiring more or fewer words to express the same meanings. An example of this is the compounding of words in German to create some linguistic monstrosities.

2. Write Clear and Concise Content

Translators will be more successful with their translations when you write simple and clear source content.

Simplify your wording and always focus on what’s truly important. If something doesn’t need to be said, don’t say it.

Use simple sentence constructions, define and use the appropriate product-specific terminology and spell out acronyms. Use active voice so translators can easily identify the subject of the sentence to further enhance clarity.

Try to remove ambiguity by replacing imprecise pronouns with actual nouns and use articles before nouns. Keep in mind that mistakes in source content might be replicated or amplified in various language versions.

3. Maintain Your Unique Voice

You might ask yourself if writing clearly and concisely means getting rid of your individual tone of voice.

Indeed most articles on writing for localization and global-ready content recommend to avoid humor, idioms, and even casual language.

However, your tone of voice is an integral part of your corporate identity. Consider yourself a translator and start with a clear version of your text first, using more internationalized and global English, that builds up the source content for further translation and localization. Starting with this version you might then translate into the clever, humorous, idiomatic English.

This will allow you to maintain a more human and unique voice and still get successful translations.

4. Use Images the Right Way

Images can help you saving on localization costs.

The use of images cuts down on your word count for translation and may even make your product easier to understand.

A picture is worth a thousand words, but be aware of cultural characteristics. Not all symbols carry the same meaning across borders. Sometimes words a far easier to translate and to many writers are unaware of the cross-cultural differences.

Ideally, images should not contain text for the simple reason that it eliminates the need for translation. If text must be associated with a graphic, try to separate text from graphics and create the text as a separate component.

5. Don’t Start from Scratch Unless the Content Is Entirely New

The most profound way to save costs in localization is by reusing content that has already been translated.

By finding new and different ways to say the same thing every time a phrase or concept appears in your source content, you are only going to increase your translation budget. Translation is charged by volume of words, so reducing the word count is a guaranteed way to minimize localization costs.

So, don’t start from scratch unless the content is all new. When using translation memory tools a reused phrase is a 100% match. It is charged at a much lower rate because it simply needs to be reviewed to ensure appropriate meaning for the new translation.

As a side-effect reusing content will make your communication appear more coherent across different content pieces.

6. Be Careful with Granularity of Conditional Text

When you are already single-sourcing your content, you might use conditional statements to allow content reuse for different outputs. This is great, but if you conditionalize single terms or a portion of a sentence, the granularity of conditional text might cause confusion during the translation process.

Keep in mind that translators might run into problems with regards to gender or the number of the surrounding words. Sometimes you are safer to set a condition at the sentence level.

7. Provide Context on Your Content

Context is king when it comes to translation and localization.

Translators are often given content in a context-free format. How will a translator know if the single term “Contact” is a verb for a button or if it is a noun for a label? There are several ways for providing context on the content.

Aside from glossaries and style guides, you can provide context information to translators directly in your source files. The more context you give, by writing notes for translators and providing alternate phrasings, the better.

So, if you’re working with content in text-based code files (XML, HTML, JSON and so on) make sure to use code comments to help translators. If you’re handle your translations in a spreadsheet you can easy add a column for context notes.

8. Provide Reference Material and Access to Software

Make sure you provide your translators with some means of visualizing how the localized content will be used.

Ideally, translators have access to the software or product that is being built. However, if organizational or technological impediments prevent you from giving translators access to your in-development software, you can provide other reference material such as UI wireframes, mockups, screenshots, screencast videos, or existing documentation.

Also, make sure to specify general technical requirements for the delivery of translated files, specific character count requirements on translations, the desired translator expertise and so on.

9. Speed Up the Localization Process by Using the Right Tools

Make sure your vendor is taking advantage of the latest translation memory tools. These help to help ensure quality, consistency and reduce costs. Translators are not constantly translating the same phrases over and over again, but rather reusing approved translations.

Even if your translators make use of latest tools, translation management can be a tedious process.

From a developer or project manager’s point of view, managing files, dynamic content and automation are often major pain points with regards to localization processes.

Integrating tools, such as Phrase and its translation management tools into your development process will make it easily to streamline and speed up localization, reducing administrative overhead and improving translation quality.

10. Test Early and Test Often

Most companies don’t worry about localization and translation management until it’s too late.

Mistakes in source content can be replicated or worse, amplified, in various language versions.

You don’t want to end up fixing 100 little localization bugs that your team had never thought of to begin with. So prepare source content for localization ahead of time and test your translations early and often. You’ll save yourself a lot of trouble and angst in the long run.

We hope these 10 best practice tips will help to make your next localization project a huge success and prep your products for international release. To learn more about how best to globalize your content, we provide a product called Phrase that makes localization for software companies a lot easier.

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