Expert Tips to Improve Content Quality When Writing for Translation

By Francis Bao | STC Associate Fellow

Localization is an effective method for cross-cultural communication. It requires an ability to translate the text correctly and accurately. It all begins with preparing content for international readers and making sure that source text is easy to translate. Once the stage is set for translation, a translator will be able to focus on the translation process itself and refine content further to suit different audiences. Writing translation-ready materials will save time as well as money, and it will also increase the quality and readability of target translations.

Cultural differences as well as linguistic differences must be incorporated into the translation process. An effective translation will not let the audience sense that the text was originally written in another language. Global audiences don’t always translate the way we intend; therefore, ineffective translation will change the meaning of original content and can cause confusion. Today, the way we speak and write affects others on a wide scale. Many people believe that translation is an easy thing and that all you have to do is to change words from the source text into the equivalent words of the target text. However, this is not true since some phrases or terms, if translated literally, would not make sense. Translation is a very complicated process. A critical element of successful localization is focusing on source text quality, or how well-written the content is. The source text serves as a base for translated content in all other languages. As the number of target languages for translation increases, the impact of the source content does as well. For this reason, when writing for successful translation, it is important to plan ahead and write it right the first time. Here are some useful tips to remember when writing for translation.

1. Keep Sentences Brief

Keep sentences simple and direct to increase understanding. Aim for about 20 words or less. Also use a style guide for consistency. Clear, concise, and well-constructed sentences will improve translation quality, reduce turnaround time, and cut costs, which speeds time-to-market and accelerates revenue streams.

2. Use Standard English Word Order Whenever Possible

Standard English word order generally means a subject, verb, and object with associated modifiers. Ensure that grammatical structure and proper punctuation are correctly applied in all sentences.

3. Avoid Long Noun Strings

When connecting elements are omitted from noun strings, readers must infer the relationship between the words. If people have to read a sentence several times to understand its meaning, it will cause further complications when it is translated into a different language. When this happens, we tend to see misinterpretations of the original meaning, or a translation that appears too literal.

4. Use One Word to Identify a Single Concept

Synonyms get in the way of clarity. Write the same thing, the same way, every time you write it. Finding different ways to write a single concept will not only affect the overall consistency of the translation, but it will also reduce the related translation memory leverage. This can lead to decreased quality and increased costs and turnaround. Translation memories leverage words in segments, so changing even a minor word will have an impact. Always consider reusing existing content that has already been translated.

5. Avoid Jargon in the Content

Try to avoid jargon in the content. Translators may not understand the meaning of jargon languages due to different cultural backgrounds. When the description is translated into target languages, these translators may translate in a literal manner or word-for-word format. The original meaning of the material will be totally changed and may even lead audiences in another direction.

6. Use Active Voice Throughout the Content

Active voice is more direct, better understood, and easier to translate because it contains less words than passive voice. When text is translated into different target languages, audiences of other cultures will be able to understand and experience less confusion.

When technical writers write for translation, they should realize that they are writing for international audiences, and all of these important factors should be applied to the content, which will make the editing process easier. Communication becomes effective abroad only after the message has been translated accurately. Technical writers and translators should work together as a team to make cross-cultural communication successful for global audiences.

By Francis Bao, ©2017 Intercom, Volume 64 Issue 04, April 2017