Professional translation agencies strive to provide their clients with high-quality and professional translations. To do so, they rely on talented language specialists, the latest language technology and processes that are as streamlined as possible.
But there are other factors that directly impact the quality of a translation. One oft-overlooked factor, for instance, is the quality of the original content, or source text. If the source text is written in a convoluted way, there’s a bigger risk of misinterpretations and therefore mistranslations. When translating an instruction manual, even a single misinterpretation of the source text could end up having serious consequences, and mistranslated content aimed at customers may put a dent in your company’s image.
In other words, making sure you’ve got a great source text is the best way to ensure you also end up with a great translation. And the more languages your text needs to be translated into, the more important this becomes.
Clear, succinct and tailored communication in general does wonders for your company’s image, which is why it’s also a good idea to focus on writing great content for your audience.
You don’t have to be an accomplished writer or linguist to write translation-friendly content. In fact, just keeping a few simple tricks in mind can help ensure your content becomes more translation-friendly and thereby also more readable. You’ll be off to a great start if you follow the six tips below.
6 Tips for writing translation-friendly content
1. Write to your audience
How a text should be written depends on who it’s meant for. After all, there’s a difference between writing to a technician, a solicitor or other professionals who often use a lot of technical jargon on the one hand and Mr. and Mrs. Smith, who just want their information in plain English.
If you’re writing content aimed at laymen – or Mr. and Mrs. Smith – and you yourself are an expert on the topic, it might be helpful to get a second pair of eyes on your text to assess whether there’s anything that doesn’t make sense, appears ambiguous or may be misinterpreted.
2. Write in short sentences
Many writers tend to write excessively long and verbose sentences filled with redundant words that seem to go on forever – such as this one. To make your content more translation-friendly, one of the best ways is to keep your sentences short. A great rule of thumb is that you should stick to one idea per sentence.
If you also eliminate superfluous words like ‘really’, ‘very’, ‘rather’, etc., you’ll end up with shorter, more precise sentences.
To make your content more specific, you could also consider which parts are important to the subject you’re writing about and omit all the non-essential information.
3. Use terms consistently
Synonyms can make a text less readable, which is why you should use the same terms and formulations consistently throughout your text if you want to keep it translation-friendly.
Using different words to describe the same things and concepts not only hinders readability, but also makes it hard to take full advantage of the benefits associated with translation software.
Translation software – also called CAT tools – are made up of so-called ‘translation memories’, which save all translated sentences, and ‘term bases’, which function as multi-lingual glossaries. Changing a single word in a sentence that’s otherwise identical to another one can make the translation more costly and time-consuming as it is no longer considered a 100% match.
4. Eliminate any ambiguity
Texts that use passive voice a lot often contain ambiguities that result in misinterpretations. Instead, use active voice to eliminate any doubt about who’s (supposed to be) doing what.
For example, write “enter the customer’s details in the system” instead of “the customer’s details must be entered in the system”.
Removing redundant words like ‘really’, ‘very’, and ‘quite’ also help make your text more translation-friendly. Modifiers aren’t always accurately translated into other languages, so it can be helpful to eliminate them. In most cases, doing so only has a trivial effect on the core idea you’re trying to convey anyway.
5. Avoid sayings and idioms
Translating sayings and idioms into other languages can be extremely challenging. A popular saying in one language may have no equivalent in another, or it might mean something slightly different when translated.
Moreover, lots of idioms and phrases aren’t always used correctly even in their own language! For instance, take the American phrase “pull yourself up by the bootstraps”; today it means to improve one’s circumstances and/or succeed through one’s own efforts, but its original meaning is to attempt the impossible.
Of course, sayings and idioms can make your content more colourful and interesting to read, but we recommend that you use them sparingly and wisely if you know it’s going to be translated into another language. It could be helpful to include a short note for the translator to make it clear how you want the saying to be interpreted by readers in the target language. This makes it easier for the translator to come up with something that’s appropriate for the language, culture and country.
6. Proofread your text
By proofreading your text, you can clear it of basic errors such as typos, missing words, etc., that may serve as distractions to readers. Reading your text out loud to yourself is also a good way of determining whether it has a good flow.
In addition to proofreading your own text, it also helps getting a second pair of eyes to look it through, as our eyes tend to gloss over our own mistakes. Having someone else read through your text can also help identify parts that could use more elaboration or simpler language.
By focusing on making your content translation-friendly, not only do you end up with a better source text and translation, but you also save money, as it lowers the cost of the translation and makes it faster to translate. This is not least because you often end up removing all the redundant words and sentences, resulting in a reduced word count. It also makes the translation memories and term bases more useful as sentences are recycled rather than rephrased.
Being in close contact with your translation agency throughout the process is essential, as it makes sure that you’re all on the same page and allows you to clear up any confusion along the way. We also recommend that you send any relevant reference material that might be helpful, as this helps the translator match your company’s ‘tone of voice’ and terminology. The less guesswork or assumptions the translator has to make about your preferences, the better, so be sure to pass on any style guides, term lists, etc. if you want to make sure the translated text blends in with your company’s written content.
Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you need help making your texts more translation-friendly, or if you’d like more advice on languages, localisation and translation