All You Need to Know About Writing Content That Will Be Translated

How to write for translation

Translation can be difficult, expensive and error-prone if your source text is not optimized for translation.  The tips below will help your writers make sure translators can handle your content with ease.  Also, if you are using machine translation, the algorithms have a much better chance of translating accurately if your language is simple.  An added bonus is that content written for localization is easier for non-native speakers to understand.


Write in a clear and concise way


  • Use simple words. For example, ‘duplicative’ isn’t used as often as ‘redundant’.
  • Avoid long sentences with lots of clauses. Consider breaking your long sentence into a bulleted list or turning it into more than one sentence.
  • Choose active voice over passive voice.
  • Don’t use slang or jargon. Something like ‘bowled over’ is challenging to translate.
  • Skip idioms like ‘take it with a grain of salt’. There may not be an equivalent in another language.
  • Avoid humor – it’s often so specific to a culture.


Style, punctuation and grammar


  • Use the oxford comma since it helps clarify items in a series
  • Replace imprecise pronouns with actual nouns and use articles before nouns.
  • Make sure your references are clear. Example: The folder was on the bus, but now it’s gone.
  • Spell out all acronyms the first time


Consider the length of your text


For example, if you want to keep your English text to one page, you need to know that English is shorter than many other languages. If you translate to German, it will generally be 30 percent longer, bumping it to 2 pages.


Use inclusive language


On top of helping with localization, this is the just right thing to do.  For example, rather than using gendered terms like “man-made,” “chairman,” or “mankind,” use “synthetic,” “chair,” or “humanity.” Instead of using “blacklist” use “boycott” or “ostracize”.


Cultural references


Try to not use cultural-specific references. For example, American English contains phrases related to baseball, like “hit a home run,” “touch base,” “strike out,” or “ballpark estimate.” But baseball isn’t played worldwide.


Standardize your terminology


Make sure to include the terminology and any acronyms you use, and how you prefer that writers refer to your company.  Also, it’s easier for the translators if the same terms are always used for the same concepts. For example:    5 different ways to say “company” may force translators to find 5 different words and select the one they feel fits best.


A note on your translation approach


If your content is highly creative, with figurative language, idioms and creative turns of phrases, then you may need transcreation rather than translation.  Or you may even need to turn to creative copywriting with in-country writers instead of trying to make the English version work.


You can grab the downloadable tip sheet here!

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