In an increasingly globalized world, writing content that’s translation-friendly is a shrewd move.
From employee handbooks to corporate websites, chances are good that your text is going to need to be translated into another language, if not several.
It’s easy to think that translation is something to worry about after you’ve got everything written out. But you can save yourself a lot of time — and money — by making your content translation-friendly from the beginning.
So before you jot down a single word, consider whether your project can take advantage of translation-friendly writing, and how to go about doing it.
What Kinds of Projects Should Be Translation-Friendly?
The translation of advertising materials, safety manuals, textbooks, patents, lawsuits and so on — all of these projects benefit from translation-friendly writing. One characteristic these all share is their emphasis on conveying information: the whole point of what’s being written is to communicate certain facts, whether it’s how to prepare a meal or how to act with an accent.
Now think about your target audiences. Not just the ones who speak English — your company might have offices in Paris, for example, or a factory in Berlin. Even your local customers may speak another language. In cases like these whatever you write needs to be understood by French employees or German journalists, and there are steps you can take to make this easier, even if you’ve never learned another language yourself.
How Do I Do That?
Keep it simple. This may sound incredibly obvious, but it’s important.
Whenever you can, use short, clear sentences. Stick to one idea at a time.
These bite-size chunks of information are much easier to translate than long, complex strings of concepts held together with commas and semicolons; can you imagine trying to render this sentence (or one like it) into Dutch? It’s not easy. Worse, you run the risk of confusing your readers, which is the exact opposite of your goal. Simple is better.
On a related note, avoid slang and idioms wherever possible. In many cases, phrases just don’t have an equivalent in another language, so trying to translate them can obscure or change your intended meaning. Instead of “starting from scratch” or “going back to square one,” why not just “start over”? Sure, they all mean the same thing in English, but the last one is much less likely to cause confusion after translation.
You might think that following these guidelines would result in bland copy, but it doesn’t have to. I use the word “guidelines” on purpose: sometimes, a short sentence just doesn’t work. Sometimes, you need to spice up the language a bit. The important thing is to be aware of the sorts of things that improve a potential translation, and write accordingly.
What’s the Point of Translation-Friendly Writing?
The bottom line: It’s going to save you time and money.
If your content is already optimized for translation, it means that translators will be able to get right to the point, resulting in fast turnaround times and fewer rounds of editing. And as an added bonus, the original copy benefits from the accuracy and precision of tightly-written text, improving the quality for both domestic and foreign audiences. It’s a win-win.
This advice doesn’t necessarily apply to everything you’ll write, of course. Some material is going to be written idiomatically, and that’s fine. But if you’ve got a project that would benefit from translation-friendly writing, you might be surprised at how much it can be improved by taking a little extra care from the outset.