Writing for Translation: 10 Expert Tips to Boost Content Quality

Writing for Translation: 10 Expert Tips to Boost Content Quality


I recently came across an article that listed the “25 most annoying business phrases.” I forwarded it to my Global Solutions team for a Friday afternoon laugh, asking, “How annoying are you?”

One of my colleagues in Europe responded, “This is excellent! Especially when you are not a native English speaker and your colleagues use these phrases all the time.” Having grown up bilingual in both Switzerland and the United States, I could really relate to this reaction.

It made me think about global audiences and how certain expressions don’t always translate the way we intend. These ambiguous phrases lose their meaning and can cause confusion. So in today’s global world, the way we speak and write affects others on a wide scale.

As a Solution Architect, part of my job includes consulting with clients and setting up their localization programs for success. These client discussions often focus on scope, languages, technology, success criteria, goals, and other expected topics. But a critical element of successful localization is often overlooked: source text quality. How well written is your content?

Your source text serves as a base for translated content in all other languages. And as your number of target languages for translation increases, the impact of your source content does too. So when writing for successful translation, it’s critical that you plan ahead. It’s all about writing it right—the first time.

To avoid common pitfalls, there are some general guidelines you should keep in mind when writing for website translation. Keep your sentences simple and direct to increase understanding—and use a style guide for consistency. Because clear, concise, well-constructed sentences improve translation quality, reduce turnaround time, and cut costs—which speeds time-to-market and accelerates revenue streams.

Here are 10 tips to remember when writing for translation:

1. Keep sentences brief.

For increased comprehension and simpler translations, aim for about 20 words or less. And boost readability. I often ask myself, what’s truly important? How can I simplify what I want to say? Reading sentences aloud helps to keep them short and sweet.

2. Use Standard English word order whenever possible.

This generally means a subject, verb, and object with associated modifiers. Ensure correct grammatical structure and proper punctuation.

This includes checking the basics, because mistakes can travel across source and target languages. Translators often find and flag source errors, but that shouldn’t replace proofreading your source text.

3. Avoid long noun strings.

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

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