Localization strategy

Best Practices for Writing Global-Ready Content for Localization

Good is not enough: Learn best practices for writing content for global audiences that is easy to translate and adapt to different markets.
Localization strategy blog category featured image | Phrase

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 localization may be obvious in an increasingly globalized world, the process of translation management can be quite tedious, 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 a shorter time to market, improved translation quality, and accelerated revenue streams.

Write with localization in mind

If you want to maintain a future-proof localization workflow that sustainably reduces costs and the margin for error, your copywriters and content creators will need to adjust their writing style.

To write easily localized content, you may think that you need to oversimplify your message, but, in a more positive sense, it’s about removing colorful or colloquial language from your English source text. Taking out anything ambiguous or unnecessary. After all, English will very likely be the mothership content you’re working with, so for many, it'll make sense to start their efforts there.

Put another way, source content that has been properly internationalized is easier, less costly, and more efficient to localize. Writing with localization in mind means thinking globally and acting 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.

Write clear and concise content

Translators will be more successful in what they do 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.

Maintain your unique voice

Your tone of voice is integral to your corporate identity. You might ask yourself if writing clearly and concisely means getting rid of your individual tone of voice.

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 it into more idiomatic English. Global-ready content avoids humor, idioms, and even casual language.

Any translator will tell you that humor is one of the hardest things to translate. Many jokes only apply to a certain region with a shared culture and value set. Take the joke overseas and it will most likely fizzle out like a wet sparkler. If you want to get your content localized faster and easier, keep the jokes to a minimum—or keep them out.

Use images the right way

Images can help you save 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 are far easier to translate and many writers can be unaware of 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.

Otherwise, every time you localize copy added to images, you'll have to do it manually, including manually uploading the localized image file.

Even more complicated is the issue of space in your images. Very likely, you’ll be dealing with limited characters to fit in your image descriptions. When you try to localize that text into different languages, it may be almost impossible to get it to fit—meaning you may need to change images and pay more for a designer.

Avoid starting 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 localization budget. Translation is mostly charged by the 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.

Use a style guide and glossary of terms

Most companies have an established style guide. In case you have more than one writer on staff, it's important that they follow certain norms.

For example, if you don’t use the Oxford comma, or always spell a certain term the same way, make sure your writers have a copy of your style guide at hand.

When you deal with regular terms, such as in the legal and medical industry, you can compile a glossary of those terms with clear definitions and use cases to make both the source writer and the translator’s jobs easier.

Equally important, you need to be consistent with using terms: 5 different ways to say “company” or “document” may force translators to find 5 different words and select the one they feel fits best. This leaves too much room for human interpretation, potentially ending up in errors and inconsistency.

That's why it's recommendable to choose just one agreed-upon term. Use it consistently throughout your texts to avoid confusion and ensure your localized versions are consistent as well.

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 regard to gender or the number of the surrounding words. Sometimes you are safer to set a condition at the sentence level.

Provide context about 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 about 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 work with content in text-based code files (XML, HTML, JSON, etc.), make sure to use code comments to help translators. If you handle your translations in a spreadsheet you can easily add a column for context notes.

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, etc..

Speed up the localization process with localization software

Make sure your vendor is taking advantage of the latest translation technology. It can help you ensure quality and consistency as well as 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 the 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 when it comes to localization.

Integrating a localization solution into your product development process will streamline and speed up localization, reducing administrative overhead and improving translation quality.

Get your content proofread

The importance of proofreading can’t be stressed enough. The source content that you put out to be localized into other languages must be 100% accurate. It doesn’t matter how professional and diligent your copywriters are. Another pair of eyes on your texts are always helpful to catch potential mistakes.

That's why it's key to get your content proofread before sending it out for translation. Then, get one more round of proofreading. Even the smallest errors in grammar, punctuation, or spelling can cause large and expensive issues—as can the use of ambiguity or incorrect terminology.

If your source content is wrong, all your language versions will most probably be wrong as well—and that could mean a lot of extra costly fixes.

Test early and 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 dozens of localization bugs that your team had never thought of 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.

Writing content for global audiences doesn't have to be difficult

Localization can work more smoothly when your source content is written with localization in mind. You may get some backlash from your copywriters at first, but your localization project is a time to set egos aside.

Your writers aren’t the ones tasked with the job of creating a credible and meaningful message around the globe. You are. So write content that is easy to localize, and you can save significant localization costs.

Asking your writers to create content that is easy to localize isn’t all bad either. Not only will it make your localization project run quickly and more smoothly, but it'll get your team focused on optimum readability and user experience (UX).

By cutting down on elaborate and unnecessary sentences, you will make your global content easier to digest across markets. This will keep the user on the page and lead to lower bounce rates and higher conversions. You may even benefit from improved search engine ranking, too, both home and abroad—a win-win situation all around.