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Best practices: Copywriting for Translation

Best practices: Successfully Copywriting for Translation and Localisation

It’s clear that localised marketing is a key strategy for market growth. However, if you’ve ever been involved in a multilingual localisation project, you will know how quickly the budget, and timeline, can get out of hand. Translation and review, into multiple languages — even for a short document — can end up costing a great deal of time and effort. However, you can reduce this workload by planning ahead and copywriting for translation and localisation from the outset. Creating your initial content, with future translation and localisation in mind will reduce costs as well as making the process smoother and faster.

Furthermore, if you plan carefully, you can also create a substantial cache of reusable translated copy which can provide the basis for additional collateral further down the line. For example, your initial product catalogue may eventually need accompanying datasheets, installation manuals and print/digital advertising.

The key to a smooth localisation workflow is to write English (source) copy that is both easy to translate, easy to localise and easy to reuse.

44% of European Internet users feel they are missing interesting information because web pages are not in a language that they understand and only 18% buy products online in a foreign language.

European Commission | Digital Agenda: more than half EU Internet surfers use foreign language when online

When your original copy is clear and concise, with fewer variables, it will be simpler to translate. And if you can reuse the content across other collateral, you will only have to pay for translation once. It is far more efficient to optimise your original content for localisation, than it will be to review and edit a collection of disparate translations.

View your copy as a source material. When copywriting for translation consider that this content will be initially for your home market, but then used as a template for all your localised versions as you expand your target demographic. Writing translation-friendly content means focusing on clarity and versatility.

  • Translation is charged per word — the shorter your copy, the cheaper it will be to translate
  • If the potential for errors is reduced, the quality of the resulting translation improves
  • Creating neatly segmented text will result in more versatile, reusable translated content.

In practice, copywriting for translation means following five simple guidelines:

1. Avoid ambiguity

Avoid words that could have multiple meanings depending on context. For example, the word “manual” could be either used as a noun or an adjective. By clarifying, “installation manual” or “manual process” you leave no room for misunderstanding. Remove any colloquial or colourful language that could be taken out of context or have a different nuance in another language or culture. Plan your phrasing with cultural diversity in mind. Be careful with using scenarios, examples, historical or cultural references that may not make sense or resonate with a new target market.

2. Be consistent 

If you are communicating the same information, use the same word or phrase. This reduces the possibility of misunderstanding for both the translator and your end-user, as well as generating more versatile content to be reused. If you use a variety of different words for “company” — corporation, organisation, entity, brand — the translator may also feel obliged to find different words and this could lead to confusion or even mistranslation.

3. Be concise

Translation is costed per word — brevity saves money! Focus on what’s important. If something doesn’t need to be said, don’t say it.

4. Be clear

Avoid using long and/or complex sentences or tagging together multiple ideas into a string of connected text — like this! Try to separate each message into a separate sentence. Consider that languages are constructed differently. Ensure that the subject is always clear, as this will affect how the sentence is formed in your target language. Using the active voice wherever possible will help the translator to identify the subject easily. Spell out acronyms and replace ambiguous pronouns with actual nouns where possible.

Define product and industry terminology clearly — creating a glossary at the outset will save much confusion and discussion later.

Avoid humour! Jokes are notoriously difficult to translate, as humour often relies on a shared culture and frame of reference. Something that’s reads as witty in English, may sound incongruous or absurd in another language. Avoid using idioms for the same reason — some languages do have shared idioms; but not always, not exactly, and finding the appropriate equivalent (in the appropriate register) may require research.

5. Review the final copy carefully

Proofread thoroughly — we recommend a review by someone other than the copywriter. A new pair of eyes can be a huge benefit. Remember that any mistakes or ambiguities will be replicated — and could even be amplified — when translated across localised versions.

Added value: The use of Translation Memory

At Quicksilver Translate we create a client-specific Translation Memory (TM) for all our clients (we can also create a TM retrospectively for new clients — contact us to find out more). A TM is a database that stores all the translations we have completed for you, broken down into individual segments (a sentence). As well as saving you money, reusing translated content also results in more consistent and coherent copy across different collateral.

Naturally, we don’t charge for segments that we have already translated for you, but they must be an exact match to be recognised by the TM. Even a missing hyphen or a change in spacing can create a “fuzzy match” which will therefore need to be reviewed and approved (or edited) by our translators. For example:

SourceRepetition (exact match)Fuzzy match (changed)
We recognise the right not to receive work-related messages outside working hours.We recognise the right not to receive work-related messages outside working hours.We recognise the right not to receive work related messages outside working hours.
We protect the environment by disposing of waste responsibly.We protect the environment by disposing of waste responsibly.We dispose of waste responsibly to protect the environment.
We strive to grow, develop, protect and innovate in our processes.We strive to grow, develop, protect and innovate in our processes.We strive to grow, protect, develop and innovate in our processes.
The product will be shipped in two 2x1x1 m boxesThe product will be shipped in two 2x1x1 m boxesThe product will be shipped in two 2 x 1 x 1m boxes

Read more: The Key Advantages of Translation Memory

Best practice: Provide reference for context

How will your translator know if “Contact” is the verb for a button or a noun for a label? Providing a PDF or other reference for the finished source material will help translators to understand how the content will be used.

Pro hack: Copy expansion

Finally, it’s not just about copywriting for translation! Prepare your layout for text expansion: some languages use more words than others to say the same thing. For example, a translation from English to Spanish will typically result in 30% more words.

The next level: Transcreation

To target specific demographics, increase online engagement and locate your company in the new target market; consider investing in transcreation, which refers to a mix of translation, adaptation and content creation.

Find out more: Transcreation: the next level of Localisation

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