Understanding the Importance of a Translation Style Guide

Translation Style guide

When most of us think about a style guide, we think about citing references in formal papers and reports. Some of the most common guides are the Oxford Style Manual, the Chicago Manual of Style, MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, or the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, (APA).

Within the translation industry, there is not a singular style guide that encompasses every language, culture, and industry; therefore, discussions about translation style guides are a vital component of any translation project.

Even within the same language, style guides cause confusion. When a paper is written using the Oxford Style Manual but your publisher wants the text and citations in APA format, there can be frustration, hard feelings, and a lot of extra work and expense.

Consider that you have written an amazing book, published new findings, formalized a contract, or are marketing a new product line. This information now needs to get to your global audiences.

In order to ensure you are on the same page as your translator, you need to have a document that clearly delineates literary and grammatical expectations. This document is known as a translation style guide.

The Importance of a Translation Style Guide

When multiple departments or individuals have a hand in the creation of a document, they bring their individual expressions, terminology, and style. It is important for document or project unity and clarity that this is mitigated as much as possible.

When working with multiple languages, style guides create a template for addressing cultural differences, linguistic difficulties, or variances in format and structure. Because each language presents its own individual challenges, there are often style guides for each language that a text will be translated into.

The style guide not only ensures that there is consistency and flow throughout the document or project, but with multiple texts, projects, or presentations that may be made in the target language.

After all, you don’t want each of your documents to come across differently and confuse your audience. If you have referenced a “Return Key” several times in your text or campaign, you don’t suddenly want to start calling it an “Enter Button”; if you have always written your times and dates a certain way, it could cause major confusion to change the format, especially with an international audience.

When dealing with a brand, you don’t want variance in your presentation or information. A major piece of the branding process is creating a consistent identity. Disconnects in your literature can hinder or destroy this process.

Common Components of a Translation Style Guide

There are several important components of a translation style guide. While each part does not need to be in every guide, the more detailed the guide, the greater the chances that your documents will be consistent while looking and sounding just the way you want them to. A few of the more common are:

  • Translation glossary: The glossary helps translators understand unique words or terms. It ensures consistent use of vocabulary and meaning. The glossary also identifies the ways acronyms and buzzwords will be translated.
  • Punctuation: Will you use an Oxford comma? How will you use spaces? What are the rules for quotation marks, question marks, etc?
  • Formatting: When do you make words bold, what fonts will you use, what are the rules for white space or orphaned lines?
  • Tone: What level of formality will be used? What voice will be expressed: active, passive?
  • Localization: How will you deal with money, time, dates?

The Use of Multiple Guides in Translation

A style guide makes your relationship with your translator much easier. It also saves time and money. However, just as there are different levels of books in your source language and different marketing campaigns for different segments of society, you may want your texts to be accessible to a variety of different cultures, people groups, and markets. In this instance, you would want several style guides.

Documents translated into Japanese will likely require a more formal tone since this is part of Japanese culture. Texts strictly for medical specialists can be translated with advanced technical information, but when presented to more of a lay audience, the text may need to be simplified. Other considerations are your target audience’s technical skills, brand familiarity, and age (especially in Asian cultures).

This post is written by Robert Stitt, a content writer with Ulatus.

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