The global economy offers great opportunities for organizations that want to expand their reach and successfully grow their customer base. However, if you’re targeting non-English speaking countries, getting your message across, and staying on-brand in another language, can be difficult. That’s why the quality of your source content is so important.

If you’re localizing your content for multiple countries, starting with the best source content is critical. That’s because, if your source content isn’t up to scratch, the subsequent translations will be poor too. And, you’ll end up paying more for translations, since it will be harder for translators to understand what you’re trying to communicate.

Here are some guidelines to make sure that your content is ready for translation.

Keep sentences brief and simple.

It’s important to remember the guidelines for writing in plain English when you’re creating content for translation. You want to increase comprehension and boost readability by keeping it simple for both the translator and the eventual reader. So, keep your sentences short — about 20 words or less. Simplify your wording and try to keep to the point. You’ll find there are lots of extra words you don’t need. Reading sentences aloud will help you pare things down.

Always use the active, rather than the passive voice, so there’s less chance for confusion. For example, you should replace “the file should be opened and the relevant document selected” with “open the file and select the relevant document.” Using active voice also reduces the number of words that your translators need to translate and makes the message more concise. Direct, clear, and well-constructed sentences improve the quality of your source content, making translation easier and more cost-effective.

Choose a uniform word.

While it’s tempting to vary terms you use often to improve the flow in English (think “manager,” “leader,” “boss,” “supervisor”), in translation, it’s just confusing. Identify one uniform word for nouns and concepts and stick to it. Inconsistencies increase the time and cost of translation and over-complicate the message.

Here’s where a style guide is helpful, especially if your company uses lots of terms interchangeably to mean the same thing. And once you’ve established consistent language and terms, translation goes faster because there’s more information stored in the translator’s memory bank.

Avoid humor and colloquialisms.

Humor is extremely difficult to get right, and it very rarely translates effectively or appropriately. The joke could either fall flat, end up as nonsense, or, worse, come off as offensive. The best way to navigate this minefield is to eliminate it altogether. The same goes for metaphors, idioms, and colloquialisms.

To wish someone luck in English, for example, we might say “break a leg.” In Italian, they say “in bocca al lupo,” which translates as “into the wolf’s mouth.” These are entirely different phrases that express the same concept. Don’t assume that a well-known phrase in the US (“pass the buck,” “paint the town red,” “level playing field”) will be understood in another language, particularly if you’re relying on machine translation.

If a phrase doesn’t make sense, don’t use it. An expression might help reduce word count by conveying a lot in a short space. But, if it doesn’t make sense to the target audience, you’ve wasted all your words, as well as your budget.

Technology can help.

There’s some great technology out there that can help you create prime source content for translation. A content platform like Acrolinx, for example, can identify and help you remove synonyms, clean up sentence structure, and simplify meaning. This is especially handy if you’re doing a lot of translations. Meanwhile, your content platform can also store words in a terminology database to make sure you’re using them consistently, across all content. You can also use authoring memory to reuse translated sentences, which can save an enormous amount of time and effort.

Keep it simple.

To achieve success in global markets, you need to be able to communicate effectively with people in their own language. This requires good source content that’s clean, clear, consistent, and easy to understand. Getting the right quality will save you time, money, and face from the start.

Similarly, terminology management ensures you’re using the right words and phrases consistently, across all your content. Learn how to manage your terminology in our research report.