What is a translation style guide and why is it important?

Has your translator ever asked you: “Do you have a style guide?”

And you wonder: What is a translation style guide? Why do I need it?

If you are building an international marketing strategy to expand your customer base, you need to communicate your unique brand identity to connect with potential consumers in new markets.

A successful international campaign means the consistency of your message across all channels. This in turn means the same tone of voice in any other language as your source language and local markets.

A translation style guide is a set of guidelines which outline your company’s preferred tone, register, and style to be used in translation. It is important because your translated content should match the way your company presents itself textually, but also visually. A professional translator should discuss your preferences with you at the start of the project as this is part of their essential research and preparation that you pay for. (You can read more about what the translation service includes here.)

Let’s see what a style guide includes and what the benefits are.

What do you need to include in a style guide?

1. Target audience

Firstly, tell us who will be reading this content. Think about your audience and the type of users.  What are their interests, age, education level, lifestyle indicators? What is their purpose when they use your product or content?

Are they university professors, customers installing their websites on your hosting servers or gaming users?

Established law firms or tech start-ups?

Will your content be consumed in a corporate boardroom or a school classroom?

2. Tone of voice

Every brand has its own unique tone of voice corresponding to its values. This voice has to come across in your translated copy.

Facebook, for example, uses a straightforward, conversational tone in all of its writing. And if you publish on Facebook, you write in an informal, playful, and engaging tone of voice, and aim to be personable, friendly, and even humorous.

Note these things in the translation style guide and use plenty of examples from your existing publications:

  • Do you want formal or informal language?
  • Do you prefer active or passive voice?
  • What about colloquial expressions, jargon or even slang?
  • Do you use inclusive forms of language, such as choice of pronouns (they), or forms of address (Mr, Ms, Mx)?
  • If the content is going to be published on social media, which ones? (see the comment above about Facebook)
  • If the content is for your website, what forms do you use in your CTA buttons? The imperative form? (“Upload file”, “Contact us today”.) Or more descriptive infinitive form? (“To subscribe, click on X”.) Also bear in mind that the CTA buttons will be localised. For example: in the American culture they tend to be more direct that in the French culture, where “Contact me today!” style of button may be perceived as too aggressive.

3. Formatting preferences

The translation guide is the right place to share the preferred formatting or punctuation. You should include preferences about the use of:

  • spelling locale (think US and British English)
  • acronyms or abbreviations,
  • capitalisation of bullet points,
  • use of punctuation in bullet points and after units of measure,
  • favourite fonts.

Specify units of measure, currencies, addresses, phone numbers, and any words that should not be translated. Typically, these will include website names, branded names, usernames or email addresses.

4. General brand style guides

If you have these, do not hesitate to share them with your translator. They provide us with essential and invaluable insight into your company’s personality, vision, and core values, and tell us how you wish to communicate them in your new language markets. Applying these guidelines in your multilingual content will avoid the fracturing of your brand’s message in any way.

brand-vision-and-guidelines

Terminology glossaries

Consistent and clear terminology is a key factor in your public persona, or that of your clients. Terminology glossaries are databases of key terms that must be translated consistently or not at all. Choose terms that are business-critical words used by your industry and your own, company-specific ones (e.g., your copyrighted or trademarked terms that should not be translated). Also consider audience-specific words to ensure relevance and engagement. For example, vegans like to use slang words such as “Buddha bowl” and “flegg”. Gaming fans read about “RendeZook” or “scratch damage”.

If you do not yet have a single term base, the translator can help you with this task. Using professional tools such as SDL Trados Multiterm, we can import your existing file and consolidate, clean and manage the data for the future.

Should you use both glossaries and style guides?

Terminology glossaries are important tools for industry relevance and the consistency of terms and product names. Your localisation expert will use their linguistic skill, cultural awareness and your translation style guides as a reference point to decide how best to address your audience. As a result, your translated content will resonate with consumers the way you wanted it to.

Why should you invest in a translation style guide?

A true investment – saving your time and money

Style guides are often neglected because they are viewed as time-consuming. They need the business to be acutely aware of its own unique branding style.

They are, however, a real time-saver during any localisation project. The guidelines will immediately answer standard translation questions and eliminate the need for lengthy and repetitive calls or email chains. You can get on with your job, whilst linguists can set about their task with your brand context and preferences already in mind. The guides will also remove the risk of linguists attempting to “guess” what your brand voice is from the existing content. 

The main causes of high translation costs include countless rounds of corrections or re-translating previously translated material, completed by another service provider. A translation style guide will help you eliminate costly mistakes, frustration, and disappointment during the international marketing process.

In conclusion, consider translation style guides as an investment that offers a great return for your business, allowing your international marketing strategies to reach their full potential.