Writing for a Global Audience – 25 Dos and Don’ts

Last Updated August 12, 2021

Many companies invest heavily in technical and marketing writers while providing little guidance or training on how to prepare content for international exposure.

Writers too often focus on an English audience when crafting a content marketing strategy, forgetting that their text will serve as a base for content in other languages via translation.

Regardless of the excellence of your translation team, the content may not have the desired global impact if the English text isn’t written with localization in mind.

That said, quality translation is dependent on how well the original text is written. Proper training of writers and developers will help avoid costly mistakes while vastly improving translation outcomes.

Remember, the cost of a single error in the source document is multiplied by the number of languages that are involved in the digital content localization process. Do it right from the beginning, and you make the process more efficient and less costly.

That’s why it’s important to think about best practices for writing for a global audience, and here are 25 of our dos and don’ts.

Dos and Don’ts when Writing for a Global Audience

1. Write short, simple sentences. Avoid using more than 20 words in any sentence. The simpler the sentence, the easier it is to translate.

2. Be direct and avoid unnecessary words. Don’t try to polish your sentences with unnecessary fluff unless you are writing a marketing piece that requires it.

3. Beware of slang, colloquialisms, and false friends. Informal words and phrases that we use in everyday conversations should be avoided. False friends are word pairings in two different languages that appear to have a similar phonetic form, but have entirely different meanings, origins, and spelling.

4. Use consistent terminology. Use the same word to describe the same action.

Example: Stick with “Click” if that is how you begin. Avoid changing to “Press” or “Hit” later.

5. Develop glossaries. Include explanatory context for all product-specific and specialized terms. Keep a separate list of terms that have special meanings as you write.

6. Use consistent styles. Stick with what you began with.

Example: Don’t use single quotation marks for button names (‘Submit’) and then suddenly switch to double quotation marks (“Submit”).

7. Provide context. Ask yourself whether a non-native English speaker could easily understand the terms you are using, taking into account potential cultural differences.

Example: “Operator” could mean a variety of things. Provide an example of what they do so the reader can fully picture it.

8. Specify ahead of time which words don’t need to be translated. This includes product names. Add these to the glossary you are creating.

9. Allow for text expansion of up to 30% of the original text. This is a key aspect of website localization. Don’t use the maximum allowed space in the layout for English and ask your translators to do the same. It is just not going to work.

10. Use active voice. Passive voice can be confusing and ambiguous.

11. Use simple verb formats. There’s no need to overcomplicate your language. Simple versions of verbs will do just fine.

Example: Use “make” instead of “utilize.”

12. Use complete sentences for all list items. Treat list items as you would any other part of your text. You wouldn’t add point form notes in a paragraph, so flesh out your list with complete sentences.

13. Make the list items parallel in structure. Consider this article as an example. Keep all the list items consistent in terms of format.

Example: Number your points and add full sentences and an example thereafter.

14. Be careful with phone numbers. Their format can be practically anything from four digits to ten digits. They can even have letters. Many European cell phone numbers do not have area codes, and for an international audience it is important to include the country code. Only use numeric characters. This is especially important for mobile apps.

Example: Type out the actual phone number instead of 1-800-GO-GLOBAL.

15. Limit pronouns. They invite misunderstanding.

Example: The French word “il”’ could mean “he” or “it”, so your subject may be unclear to a French reader. Additionally, pronouns may change depending on the context.

16. Replace pronouns with nouns wherever possible. The inclusion of “it” in a sentence can be misleading and taken out of context.

Example: Write “The event was very popular” instead of “It was very popular.”

17. Be smart about the use of variables. Different languages use different word orders, and gender specific languages may use different genders for certain objects. The sentence may lose meaning after inserting a variable.

18. Specify if a noun is plural or singular. Some nouns carry the same form in both, so be sure to be as clear as possible.

Example: “Mail” can be plural or singular in English. However, the translation will vary in most languages depending on if it is a singular or plural form.

19. Avoid negative constructions. Approaching a sentence from a positive standpoint is always more effective.

Example: Use “Sign up to access the content,” instead of “You cannot access the content without signing up.”

20. Avoid string concatenation. Don’t split sentences with the hope of reusing the same content.

Example: It is a common mistake to write, “Our newest product [%productname%] is going to be released on January 12.” Even though English will work fine when using the same %productname% in different sentences, this simply won’t work for some languages. The sentence syntax will change in many languages, which will require additional articles or modifications of the name.

21. Avoid “invisible” plurals. These are usually two-word phrases (noun + noun), in which it is not clear whether the first noun is meant to be singular or plural.

Example: Is “program update” an update of one program or a general procedure for multiple programs?  Is “file retrieval” going to retrieve a single file or multiple files?

22. Avoid the overuse of abbreviations and special symbols. Provide an explanation in the reference file or glossary if you need to use abbreviations. Even emoji can be misunderstood.

23. Proofread your text for typos and inconsistencies before you send it out to translators. Your translation team cannot be responsible for mistakes that originate from the original text.

24. Make sure that spaces after periods are properly inserted. Many translation companies and professional translators use translation tools for efficiency and better quality. These tools will automatically match the source format; in other words, if you miss a space after period, the space will also be missed in the translated file.

25. Make sure your text is final before you submit it for translation. Additional updates to the text will impact the cost and schedule since it will require re-translation or modification.

Need Help Writing for a Global Audience?

A global content marketing strategy is essential to establishing and expanding a customer base around the world sales. It is, however, a complex, multifaceted, and ongoing process.

At Summa Linguae Technologies, we combine expertise from a range of specializations to fully localize any type of content for any international market. That includes language, business, technology, and local cultures

Contact SLT today to partner with a team of localization solution experts.

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