Translation Style Guide 101: Purpose, Content, Usage

Typically, when someone thinks of a style guide they view it as a means to maintain a consistent content style. What some international businesses may not realize is that you can create a translation style guide. This version of a style guide can assist with improving the quality and speed of a translator’s work, as well as encourage consistency. A translation style guide serves many purposes and can provide great benefits to both brands and translators.

 What is a translation style guide?

A style guide creates a template that improves consistency when a text requires translation into multiple languages. These guides can address cultural differences, linguistic difficulties, and required formats or structures. Every language presents unique challenges, sometimes even for each variant. Spanish is a language where variants occur, as it is widely spoken in many different geographic regions. Different Spanish-speaking countries may use a distinct Spanish variant. When translating from American English to U.S. Spanish, a translator should leave the date format as is (mm-dd-yyyy). However, when translating into Argentinean Spanish or LATAM Spanish, the date format should be changed to dd-mm-yyy. One should always have in mind who the target audience is. Which is why there is usually a style guide dedicated to each language or language variant that translators must translate a text into.

This type of style guide can also dictate word choice, which is particularly helpful if terminology can be translated multiple ways. Using the same terminology throughout a text lessens chance of reader confusion. The same goes for any area of text that one can format in a variety of ways, like dates and times.

 What does a style guide contain?

A translation style guide will in many ways be similar to a traditional style guide, but with a heavy focus on terminology. Generally, you can expect to find the following things in a style guide used to assist translation.

  • General Linguistic Considerations: In order to have consistent grammar usage, a style guide can outline preferred syntax and semantics. Rules about grammar choices such as verb forms, tenses, and capitalization can be included.
  • Punctuation & Orthographical Marks: Oxford commas, spaces, quotation marks, and other punctuation based rules deserve a spot in the guide.
  • Formatting: If your translators should make select words bold, use a certain font, or stick to other formatting rules, those choices should be clearly outlined.
  • Bulleted Lists & Tables: How bulleted lists or tables are to be formatted can be specified. As can instructions for formatting a table of contents, such as if the table of contents should be in alphabetical order. 
  • Tone: Now is the time to define your voice. Do you only want a translator to write in active tense? Do you have a set tone you’d like to portray? Include any tone preferences in this guide. For example, for style guides regarding Spanish or French, a preference for the “formal” or “informal” tone should be noted. 
  • Localization: Address how you’d prefer a translator format symbols and units of measurement. For example, money, time, acronyms, and dates. As well as how URLs need to be localized.
  • Branding: Set guidelines for brand

 Why is this guide so important?

Translators use these style guides to recreate a global brand’s voice in local markets. These guides allow a translator to replicate your brand’s style and vision throughout your target markets. Doing so helps brands cement their global corporate identity. And they can provide a consistent customer experience around the world. Speed is also a benefit of using a style guide. Both translators and reviewers can work more efficiently when they have less guess work.

A translation style guide is not one and done. It’s important that a style guide changes over time. Language, culture, and styles evolve frequently. Feel free to update your guide as necessary.

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