When we say ‘localization style guide’, all the individual words are familiar, but it’s difficult to know what the term actually means. Localization style guides have been around for a long time, but the reason they did not gain mainstream traction, unlike the closely-related company terminologies, is probably the fact that companies need to invest more time into actually defining all the individual items covered in them.
What is a localization style guide?
If we were to briefly summarize what this actually is, we could say that a localization style guide consists of guidelines that translators need to follow in order to convey a brand’s message within target markets. It contains rules on spelling, language style, and punctuation.
It sounds so simple, right? Lots of style guides you can be found online, but some of the best style guides we have seen are, no wonder, released by the largest software companies, such as Google and Microsoft. If it is just a set of guidelines for translators, however, how come only the innovation giants present high quality in this matter?
What we will try to do in this two-piece blog series is to split the process into a few steps, allowing you to create a basic style guide. Today, in part one, we will focus on linguistic questions. In part two that follows shortly, we will focus on typography and internationalization issues.
If you are ready to draft your basic localization style guide, let us take it from the top!
Chapter #1. Linguistic Questions
The chapter you’re about to read will cover many of the most important topics a localization style guide needs to define.
It can contain (but does not have to contain) all the elements such as:
– writing style
– defining differences between individual products
– forms (imperative, infinitive)
– active and passive voice
– other potential topics
To explain the individual points, we could say that writing style defines the tone you want to use in the localized content. So, you perhaps want a generally formal or informal tone, or you may want translators to change the source text as much as is needed to convey the message.
Individual products will differ when it comes to legal and marketing texts. In legal texts, you would want a more formal tone, but in marketing copy, you want that humorous and catchy voice that will capture the audience’s attention.
You may be translating something for internal use within the company or something for your customers – take these differences into account. If you translate content for your customers across various target markets, things get a little bit more complicated, depending on the target market. We call it a ‘localization factor’ and you can read more about it here, here and here.
When defining how sentences are formed, you may prefer either breaking down larger sentences into shorter ones or retaining the original format. You may allow translators to also ignore paragraphs and really write the content in a fresh voice.
Forms are especially important in website translation and software localization. So, when you are translating CTA buttons involving actions from the user, you will use the imperative form like Select files. However, for buttons describing generic actions you can (and probably will) use the infinitive form, such as To send an invitation to person X, click Y. If you have such content, you may want to define how you want to localize it for individual target markets.
Acronyms are very important, as they are often company-specific. A lot of descriptions of products contain acronyms which may not be familiar to the translator working on the localization. Define whether you want to actually localize these acronyms or leave them as they are in the source content.
Nouns are closely linked to acronyms, in the sense that they both may be names of your products. Define if you will localize product names, or keep them as they are.
Active and Passive Voice
The use of active and passive voice also depends on the target market. For example, Spanish uses mostly the active voice, while English uses a lot of passive forms. Read more about translating content from English into Spanish here.
As mentioned earlier, if you cover at least some of these topics, you are almost ready to go. In Part Two we will focus on Typography and Internationalization. Stay tuned!