I recall, whilst at university in the late 90’s, one of my lecturers claiming (with quite a bit of foresight) that when it came to building websites in the future – ‘content would be king’. Unfortunately at the time I misheard him, thought he had said ‘concept would be king’ and spent the next few years designing conceptually fantastic websites that lacked much in the way of content. Fast forward 15 years and I find myself designing, managing, building and working with content everyday. The concept is still important but the content is undeniably king.
As a marketer I appreciate the importance of content. Its what helps customers make decisions, drives business and builds brands. Design is important but content is critical. Creating content for specific markets is one thing, but what if you’re tasked with the challenge of obtaining a translation of your content – how can you be sure that your message will render correctly? As a marketer how can you adapt your source text to help the with the translation from one language to another?
Here are my 6 tips for helping to create ‘translation ready source’ text.
1. Avoid colloquialism. Colloquialisms can work well in marketing copy but very rarely do they translate correctly. There might be a similar phrase or a colloquial word that will work well in another language, but usually there will not. If you want your text to say the same no matter what language it’s presented in – ditch the colloquial.
2. Keep it simple. The easiest text to translate, in terms of ensuring message consistency, are texts made up of simple short sentences and paragraphs. This doesn’t mean you have to have content that resembles a pre-schoolers reading book, just that overly complex or long-winded text is kept to a minimum.
3. Keep a consistent tone of voice and style. No two translators will produce the same translation. Each translator will have their own prefered style and way of saying (translating) things – the same as no two copywriters will produce the same content. By keeping your content consistent in terms of your tone of voice, you’re making the work of translation easier because it means the translator (who will be able to pick up on the tone of voice) can retain one style throughout – making the text easier to follow and read.
4. Use images to illustrate points. A picture speaks a thousand words, and can massively help illustrate a point not only to your intended audience but also to the translator who is adapting your text into another language. If they can visualise what is written then they can better describe it. Be careful to include images that will work globally – images that includes peoples faces for example, may need to be localised for various markets.
5. Keep briefing notes and provide guidance. Its not uncommon to be presented with content to be translated that is accompanied by little or no guidance in terms of what the text is about, what the expectation of the translations are, and no style guides. Although all good reliable translators should be subject matter experts, guidance on what the expectations are, what the text is about and the intended market etc (all the things that are typically provided to a source language copywriter), can go a long way to producing a well adapted translation. The more background information you can supply to a translator the better. Any glossaries, technical terms that you already have translated or need to remain in English should also be supplied.
6. Sensible formatting. Translators hate working with poorly formatted text. If they have to spend half their time undoing and reformatting text, then there will be less time to translate the text. Often the translator will be working in a CAT tool (rather than the original program the text was created in) which can add another level of complexity. The best text to work with has simple formatting applied (one or two fonts as a maximum) and laid out in a sensible way that can be accessed easily.
If content is king, then text that has been mis-translated because of poor source text is more like a wicked step-uncle who is trying to overthrow the king in a bid to seize power.