Being consistent when writing is a challenge. From the tone to the best way to use certain terms in relation to your market, all your content must be focused on your goals. If you add to this the translation of your content to other languages and, therefore, to other markets, being consistent becomes an almost impossible task, especially when your content is extensive and the translation effort must be performed by more than one person.
Because of this, having a style guide which can be consulted in moments of doubt is absolutely necessary. Although the style guide is of utmost importance in the creation or translation of content, this document is usually left aside due to tight deadlines or a heavy workload, without considering that failure to create one will result in a slower workflow, with pauses when changes have to be made or questions arise. In addition, the final product will generally have inconsistencies that will only confuse your potential customers.
What is a Style Guide?
A translation style guide is a set of rules on how your business presents itself textually and visually. It is a guide that includes rules on voice, writing style, sentence structure, spelling and use for your company. It also provides the critical information needed to ensure high-quality localized content for all languages and markets.
It is important to note that a style guide is not a grammar manual with language rules. It is a document that helps content creators and translators choose the preferred language elements to communicate more effectively with customers and prospects in your market.
This document should guide all the decisions you make regarding style by adapting your brand to a new market and language. For example, the guide must necessarily specify which registered trademarks can and cannot be translated or what types of promises can be made.
Benefits of Having a Style Guide
Content localization is important, but doing it correctly and consistently is paramount. Its benefits are:
The guide guarantees that the terms used by your company are the same as those used by your clients in the target languages. This is crucial to building and maintaining the brand’s reputation, establishing trust and improving commitment.
The style guide reduces the time spent discussing how to handle certain terms or which voice is appropriate. You only need to have one discussion to define the required points and you will never have to do it again. The translation team works faster and more accurately by only having to check the guide if in doubt.
It helps you to present a consistent and coherent message in any language.
If you are working with external translators, the guide reduces content revision and rewriting by providing a standard and authoritative reference for translators.
What the Guide Should Include
A guide should be made by a internal person with complete knowledge and vision of the company, but created under the direct supervision of a marketer, internal or external, who will provide the general vision and the sales approach.
The guide can be as complete and thorough as you want or as your company requires. Although it is not a grammar manual, you can (and should) include general and specific rules on style, punctuation, usability and grammar.
Includes the reasons for the importance of localization, such as sales from that market, samples of source text and/or previous transcreation work. In short, any element that serves to understand why translation, transcreation or localization will help the company.
Describe your market, current customers and potential customers in detail to provide the translator with a general idea of their audience. An excellent idea is to include your buyer personas.
Use, Punctuation, Spelling and Grammar
This section should include rules, for example;
- What are your capitalization rules going to be (in Spanish it isn’t customary to capitalize the first letter of each word in a title, although some do so anyhow for effect)?
- Will periods be placed before or after the closing parenthesis? For example: (example1.) or (example1).
- In lists, will each item on the list start with uppercase or lowercase? Will each item end with a period or will this depend on whether it is a sentence or a phrase?
- Item #1
- Item #2
- Item #3
- item no. 1.
- item no. 2.
- item no. 3.
Determine the repetitive terms or phrases that must be used throughout the content, for example:
- If you want to say that for more information, the user should go to another section, will you use “for more information consult …” or “visit section-name for more information”?
- Are there words or phrases that should never be used? List them.
- For example, web page or website.
- If your target market lives in a particular country where they use local terms, determine which you are going to use or which is preferred. For example, dinero (money) or plata (money) for a market in Argentina.
- Tweet or tuit (tweet).
It should not be an identity manual but it should include graphical information about how to use colors and brand logos, acceptable fonts, and rules for handling images and other design elements. You can delve into the position of images, list and table design, when and how to use subtitles or credits, headlines and subtitles, image alt text and the use of italic, bold or underlined text.
Voice and Tone
You don’t have to explain the vision and mission of your company, but you should include adjectives or personality types that express how the text should come across. You can determine whether the tone will be formal or informal, if you will address the users using tú (informal you) or usted (formal you), if it will be conversational or authoritarian, if the language will be simple or technical, if you will use the active or passive voice, etc.
Statements and Legal Content
For example, let them know if the beginning or end of a release should have a statement different from the original to specify that in another country the laws under which the business is governed are different.
For sites whose content includes monetary figures, it is important to inform the translation team what exchange rate will be used. In many countries the word dollar is used for their own currency, so you should make it very clear which they should specify. The US dollar is not the same as the Canadian dollar.
Questions to Ask Your Customer
As mentioned above, a translation style guide is made with an internal person from the company and the process must begin with essential questions that will delimit what can and cannot be done when transcreating, what’s allowed, the limits, the objectives, the market, etc.
Some questions you need to ask are:
- What are the reasons for translating your content?
- What do you hope to gain by translating your content?
- Is there a message you want to reinforce?
- What is your target market?
- What are the keywords that you were originally focusing on and what are they in this new market?
- How do you see your company? Serious, educational, corporate, etc.
- What sector is it mainly aimed at?
- Do you want to address your audience formally or informally?
While you want to get the answers to these (and many other questions) in the style guide before you start, there will inevitably be situations that weren’t addressed, or where the answer evolves. But this is a living document. If something changes, the person in charge must add the changes and inform the team working on the project so that everyone is on the same page. Have a change log so everyone can see who changed what and when.
It is important to understand that a translation style guide is a fundamental tool to optimize the performance of global content, improve translation, localization, and speed up the entire process.
Investing time and resources in creating a style guide generates an important return on investment, increases revenue by offering better content to a larger audience and simplifies future projects by creating a solid foundation of terms and information that can be extended to become your company’s most valuable tool.
To facilitate the creation of your guide, we provide a downloadable file with the most relevant points that every guide should include, where you only have to fill in the information required with your company details.