Style guides and glossaries: Critical tools to improve your translations

It’s not exactly front-page news: Most of us don’t enjoy extra work. There’s enough of that work stuff to do as it is.

So when you hear your language service provider talk about the importance and value of style guides and glossaries—and oh, by the way, can you help us create those for you—it probably doesn’t sound too appealing.

You’re busy, and we get this. But assuming the role of crinkly faced, wise elder for a moment, you must unlearn what you have learned. Because style guides and glossaries, while requiring a little effort upfront, actually go a long way toward saving you time, effort and money later on.

Why going without is risky

Let’s assume you’ve never heard of style guides or glossaries when authoring for content localization. Everyone in your research and development team uses the term “accelerate” in their original content that describes your new product’s performance, while your image-centric poets in marketing are opting for descriptors like “skyrocket.”

Even trickier, maybe you’ve got multiple divisions whose various team members are creating documents according to their own standards. You can see how this makes for some considerable language consistency challenges for translation.

Your language service provider’s linguists do their best, but then the in-country approver takes a look at the translation and says it’s not hitting the mark in the target language. Maybe the word choice is a little off or it was authored for the wrong dialect—say, Latin American Spanish rather than Mexican Spanish. Now it needs to be reworked, adding time and costs to the process. Everyone is stressed, including you.

Less than ideal results

You’ve figured out what you don’t want, but you’ve arrived there in a roundabout way that squandered a lot of time and other valuable resources.

Why not make style guides and glossaries available at the outset to ensure that translation and content localization projects go as smoothly and efficiently as possible? It’s to your benefit as well as to your linguists’—it fast-tracks the overall process, helps you meet tight deadlines and ensures consistent messaging in every target language.

In short, when you empower your language service provider to do the best job possible for you, everyone wins.

Nifty cheat sheets: Style guides and glossaries

Style guides and glossaries help to educate your linguists about your company, so ideally you should strive for creating them for each target language. Not sure which one to start with? A glossary tends to be the more critical piece. Here’s what you should know about these helpful resources:

A glossary is an organization’s list of approved, standardized terms in your source language that are specific to the company. It specifies the context and part of speech for each term’s usage, approved translations for each target language or dialect and even which terms not to translate. A glossary makes authoring content simpler at the start since your language service provider knows which terminology to use and when to use it, resulting in greater consistency.

Similarly, a style guide is a framework for understanding the textual and visual presentation of a company’s content. Typical elements include capitalization, modes of measurement when metrics are involved, tone and style of language—and even common errors to avoid when translating into certain target languages.

A little forethought now, a lot of time saved later

By spending a little time thinking about and standardizing your content’s terminology, tone, style and other particulars surrounding your brand and messaging, you can avoid headaches down the road. In fact, your language service provider can take the wheel and drive the creation of your style guides and glossaries—all you need to do is point the way.

Start by asking yourself and all stakeholders a few simple questions. What do you want to see in the documents? What don’t you want to see? Should the tone of the materials come across as quirky, formal, conversational? Which words or phrases should be included in the do-not-translate list (acronyms, trademarks or something else that is unique to the company)? Which terms does the company use most frequently?

An even easier way: Automation and linguist input

Some language service providers (like us) offer automation technology to help you create these resources. Certain translation memory software can crawl through your content, picking out often-used terms. While you should keep in mind that frequently used terms aren’t necessarily the best ones, this option can still save you a lot of time.

Your language service provider can also work with in-country linguists to generate style guides and glossaries for you. These linguists can provide invaluable input on what kind of messaging will resonate best with target audiences since linguists are immersed in the language and culture, and they also have industry experience. Your language service provider also knows the industry norms and can bring highly valuable knowledge to the table as well.

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Hopefully now you can see the value of procuring style guides and glossaries for your translation needs—and why sometimes a little extra work can spare you and everyone else from a whole lot of hassle down the road.

What do you think? Have you worked with your language service provider on creating these documents? If so, what would you share with someone who is considering the merits of style guides and glossaries? Hit us back below.

Related posts:

5 must do tactics for effective website localization
Quality in equals quality out – Part I and Part II
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  1. I found that working with glossaries is quite tricky when working with multiple translators to complete a project. I do believe, however, that working from word document templates is a great idea, and also that glossaries would be better maintained as databases (preferably online) to allow centralised control. You could even check whether or not a particular translator actually checked up a word or not. This is definitely one of the more challenging aspects of co-ordinating translation.

  2. Style guides are a great idea. Most of the time during my 20 years of experience, I have not been given a style guide by a client. Fortunately I have an eye for what clients expect to see (an “internal” guide, one might say). Also, “great minds think alike”, so when I’m working with other good translators it’s usually a pleasure.

    The problem comes with working with the other kind. Twice in the past 4 years, I have worked on large projects coordinating other translators. I put together a guide, a list of things that would make their work more consistent and mine a little easier. It started with little things: include the reference number in the subject of your reply when sending the email back. Please name the translated file with the original filename plus the suffix ” Eng” or “Spa”. There was a group that stubbornly insisted on naming their document simply “Translation” and on using just that word in the Subject: line. And those people tended to ignore other instructions on terminology and formatting. Or, when I corrected an obvious mistake that was not covered by the guide, some remarked, “You didn’t tell me that in your instructions.”

    But a guide is still indispensable any time there is more than one translator working on a project, and when there is not time for each person to read the work of every other one. In other words, real life. — Steven

  3. Dear colleagues,

    Glossaries and style guides are necessary both for a Customer, and for a Translator. Especially to manage a term and style consistency. In my experience, a glossary shall be as detailed as possible, and contain all lexical units (not only ‘pure’ terms). Yes, in this case the glossary can be voluminous, but I have to provide a consistency. I prefer to develop a terminology and customize Machine Translation dictionaries. Plus Translation Rules and DoNotTranslate lists within a MT system. In this case, I try to provide an MT output which already contains all lexical units and ‘style elements’. Post-editors have (ideally) to correct a style: all the vocabulary is forced to files to be translated.
    In my opinion, simply providing translators (post editors) with glossaries and style guides is not efficient way: too much manual searches.



  1. Weekly favorites (July 9-15) | Adventures in Freelance Translation - [...] the Localization Industry Does the global banking system disadvantage translators? Can we fix it? Style guides and glossaries: Critical …

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