Writing for translation begins with creating a quality source document. While the standard rules for well-written English apply, there are guidelines to follow in writing source content for translation that make the overall process easier.
Here are TrueLanguage’s 12 suggestions for creating documents that are easy to translate and easy for international audiences to understand and read:
1. Keep Sentences Short and to the Point: Brief sentences aid comprehension and reduce the risk of errors. It’s easier to fit shorter text segments together than lengthy sentences. To boost readability, write about 20 words or less.
2. Use Standard English Structure: This includes using a subject, verb and object with modifiers. Check your basics. Mistakes can easily travel around the globe. Be sure to proofread your text.
3. Use an Active Voice: Active voice is direct and easier to translate, and Active Voice uses fewer words. Fewer words mean a lower error rate and also a lower translation price. Words like ‘by’ and ‘was’ are reflective of a passive voice. Here’s an example:
Passive: The project was completed on time by Mary.
Active: Mary completed the project on time.
4. Check the Basics: Proofread your own work. This prevents errors in translation and limits opportunities for misunderstanding. Make sure grammar and punctuation are correct and polish your content.
5. Say It the Same Way: Writing a single concept in different ways affects the overall consistency of translation. Translation memories leverage words in segments, so changing even a minor word has an impact. Re-using existing content that has already been translated reduces the rate of error and saves time.
6. Avoid Humor: Slang, jargon, and humor rarely translate well. The same goes for regional phrases and metaphors. Chances are translators on the other side of the world are clueless when it comes to American slang. Expressions like – “You hit that one out of the park” – are not universally understood or appreciated. They just don’t translate.
7. Get Dates and Numbers Correct: Write out the month to avoid confusion. You don’t want your reader wondering if you mean the 3rd of February, or the 2nd of March. Agreed upon style guides are a great way you get this right across the organization.
8. Provide Background Information: Don’t assume a translator will know the audience. Provide background information that is not obvious to others. For example, formality of address is a crucial element of Japanese language and culture, and a Japanese translator will need information about the audience to give the translation the proper tone.
9. Abbreviations / Acronyms: Avoid using abbreviations and acronyms unless you explain or define them when they are first mentioned.
10. Avoid Phrasal Verbs (containing a verb form with one or more article): Their use tends to complicate translations. For example, use “met” rather than “ran into.” Phrasal verbs often have multiple meanings and are less formal.
11. Make Sure it Works: English text is typically shorter than other languages, which means sufficient space is needed for expansion to other languages—sometimes up to 35%! This is important for software interfaces and graphics. Differences exist not only in sentence length, but also in individual word length—as some languages use large compound words. Planning ahead saves money and time.
12. Be Clear in Cross-cultural Communication: This requires some study and practice to master. But once the stage is set for translation, you can focus on the translation process itself and further refine content to suit your audiences.
The best advice: work closely in partnership with your language service company. Provide all the resources and reference materials that the team needs. When you do, the quality of your translation will be even higher.