ULG’s Language Solutions Blog

Writing for a Global Audience? Read this First.

Posted by Andrea Dahl on August 24, 2017

Good writing keeps the reader at the heart of a piece. Whether you're sitting down to write your first blog post, case study, or technical document, it can be easy to get too focused on your own perspective and writing style, and lose sight of the ways a reader would use your content in real life.

This gets even more complicated if your content is going to be translated, because the meaning of your words needs to pass through a translator to the audience. It can be like a game of telephone, and meaning can be difficult to convey if you're not careful. It can also be challenging if you're writing for an ESL or LEP reader who may not know English natively, and may struggle to understand your writing style. Both writing for translation and writing for non-native speakers will require you to be much clearer with your prose and logical progression. Here are a few areas to focus your attention on as you go through the editing process. 

10 Idioms + Idiomatic Phrases, and How to Remove Them

I love idioms, I really do - but nearly every list of "non-translatable words" that we all love to read is cluttered with them, and they cause a lot of trouble when you're writing for a global audience. Every culture has them - and they are often poetic or visual in nature. The problem is that this shared vision is largely local to a country or region - and a literal translation of the words to a new language loses the original meaning entirely.

Global writing in a business setting can easily have more idioms than you can shake a stick at (see what I did there?). Here are some that I see everyday from English speaking colleagues that certainly could cause confusion for LEP readers, or muddy meanings in translation.

  1. Get the go-ahead - change to "get permission" for a clearer meaning
  2. Devil's advocate - opt instead for "counter-argument"
  3. Add insult to injury - almost always unnecessary, either edit out, or simply use "also"
  4. Ball is in your court - easily replaced with "I'll await your reply"
  5. Best of both worlds - just use "best option/opportunity"
  6. Cross that bridge when you get there - better to "address that issue as it arises"
  7. Give the benefit of the doubt - A difficult one to translate, try using "give an opportunity to explain"
  8. Kill two birds with one stone - "Accomplish both goals" is clearer and more elegant
  9. Miss the boat - Using "missed opportunity" gets the same point to the reader
  10. The whole nine (yards) - Unless you're discussing your golf game, just edit this out entirely

While everyone loves a great visual or a clever turn of phrase, the goal of your IFU, instruction manual, or even the email to your international client should be to transfer clear meaning, intention, and direction. Keep your writing formal and literal to minimize the risk of misunderstanding.

10 Examples of Tricky Abbreviations and Acronyms

Nearly every industry uses abbreviations and acronyms, and sometimes, we become blind to them. The localization industry is particularly bad, even though we know they can be confusing for our clients and for new hires. Here's a few particular examples you might hear at ULG:

  1. TAT - Turnaround Time
  2. CAT - Computer-Aided Translation
  3. MT - Machine Translation
  4. L10N - Localization
  5. T9N - Translation
  6. ICR - In-Country Reviewer
  7. SME - Subject Matter Expert
  8. OPI - Over-The-Phone Interpreting
  9. OSI - On-Site Interpreting
  10. SAP - Systeme, Andwendungen, Produkte in der Datenverarbeitungwhich (DE), or Systems, Applications, Products in Data Processing (EN)

This is by no means an exhaustive list of localization terms, but it gives you an idea of this strange sub-language, and perhaps reveals some of the risks associated with them. If you must use an acronym or abbreviation, make sure you spell out the entire meaning on the first use before converting to the acronym for a text. Consider building a multilingual glossary that stores your corporate terms and abbreviations for translator reference and content consistency in translation (or, ask your LSP to build one for you based on frequently used terms in your content). If you're writing an email or proposal to an LEP reader, avoid more common abbreviations like "ASAP" or "ROI" - these aren't necessarily common terms with translatable equivalents in other languages.

Global Writing Guidelines

Five Phrasal Verbs to Remove from Your Global Vocab

One phenomenon typical of the English language is the phrasal verb - a group of distinct terms that, when clustered together, indicate an action. Here are a few examples to avoid:

  1. Dig into - better to use "investigate" or "research"
  2. Put up with/deal with - use "tolerate" to be most clear
  3. Up for it - this really just means "ready"
  4. Top it off - a strange way to say "fill"
  5. Ask around - easier and clearer to just say "ask"
  6. Break (it) down - much more simply stated as "explain"

There are hundreds of examples of phrasal verbs, and they are similar to idioms in that they tend to be visual and unique to a given culture. Corporate language is especially plagued by them, so be careful when using them in communication with international teammates or clients.

One Simple Guideline

The truth is that writing can be a form of art, a form of play, and a form of expression. However, at the heart of all good writing is an intention to connect the reader to the idea of the writer. In his book, The Global English Style Guide: Writing Clear, Translatable Documentation for a Global Market, John Kohl tells his readers to write in a fashion that's "logical, literal, and precise." If you focus on being clear and reaching your audience effectively even throughout the translation process, you will naturally encounter areas where you can edit, simply, and ultimately reach your goal of communicating in any language.

Topics: Best Practices