When you’re writing web content, or any business copy that you intend to use internationally, you’ll save yourself time and money by writing with globalization in mind from the get-go.
Writing for a global audience requires being in a different mindset from regular copywriting, and there are some key points you’ll want to consider and keep in mind as you create text to appeal to audiences both at home and abroad. Here are 10 tips we’ve compiled that will help make your life so much easier once the time comes to translate, internationalize, and globalize your written content:
Write your text in clear, straight-forward sentences that mean exactly (and only) what you say. If you have to write an analogy to get your point across, you haven’t explained it clearly enough the first time. Rewrite your text to avoid analogies, similies, and other “symbolic” text.
This is particularly important for things like idioms—simple, familiar phrases that help illustrate a point by creating a mental picture in your reader’s head. Phrases like “there’s more than one way to skin a cat” may make perfect sense to you, when taken literally it has absolutely no meaning to speakers in other languages. Even within the same language, idioms can have multiple meanings across different cultures and dialects, making what seems like a good “shortcut” to get your point across may actually be making it more difficult to understand. Avoid using them at all costs when writing for a global audience!
Pretty much everyone agrees that corporate buzzwords like “pro-active” and “paradigm” are virtually meaningless and completely annoying. But while there may be a vague idea behind some of them, they are quite literally meaningless in other languages.
Instead of using unclear business jargon in your writing, take the time to write a simple explanation of what the word actually means or implies instead.
Don’t use abbreviations or acronyms; spell out all words and let your localization team determine what and when things can and should be abbreviated for any specific audiences.
It may seem obvious, but when writing for a global audience, you don’t want to use words and phrases that are unique to specific geographical areas (also known as colloquialisms).
Folksy speech like “y’all” may help convey that you’re based out of Texas, for instance, but it’s not going to translate in any meaningful way when you’re reaching out to an audience in China or Sweden.
Not only will the intent not be conveyed, you’ll just be adding more work for the translators trying to communicate your text efficiently and meaningfully. Since you may find you want to localize your text to specific markets anyway, it will simply be easier to start with a “blank slate” than trying to decode the original text and move forward from there.
It may be tempting to include slang terms in your text to appeal to a specific demographic or to demonstrate you or your business’s personality or corporate culture, but this is another aspect of the written word that simply does not translate very easily.
Not only that, it may be seen as entirely inappropriate to some audiences in other cultures, whether the slang term itself is actually offensive or not. What may seem fun and light-hearted in one culture can seem unprofessional to another.
Just as with slang, humor can be inappropriate in certain contexts for certain cultures, even when it is inoffensive and meant to simply lighten the mood. Additionally, humor is one of the hardest things to translate—what’s funny in America is not necessarily what’s funny in France, Russia, or Germany. Say only what you mean and you’ll be sure to be understood, even if you have to lose a bit of personality to get your message across.
Finally, if you take only one thing away from this list of ideas, let it be this: get to the point!
The simpler the language you use, the better a chance you have of getting your message across in any language. Conversely, the more verbose your text is, the more complicated it will be to convey the same meaning in a different language, and the more work will be needed to be put into doing so—at your own expense.
Remove any repetitive text and unneeded clarification, keep your sentences short, and avoid superfluous details and flowery language (like “superfluous”!) and simply say what you mean, and only that. Not only will the localization team working on your text thank you, your audience will thank you for writing clear, plain, easy-to-understand text that the understand the first time.