Everything Translation
why your company needs a translation style guide and glossary
Everything Translation

Why Your Company Needs a Translation Style Guide & Glossary

If you’re new to or less familiar with the localization industry, it may come as a surprise to learn that a “correct” translation is far more subjective than you think. Five professional linguists can translate the exact same source sentence differently, and all five versions can technically be correct! 

The tone of voice, target audience, company-specific terminology, colloquialisms, slang, culture, publication type, target language, and personal preference can all dramatically impact the final translation. 

Think about it. How many ways are there to express the simple idea of being “out of energy” and which one is correct? Tired, sleepy, gassed, exhausted, pooped, beat, worn out, fatigued, weary; they all mean the same thing, yet these words have different, even critical implications and the “correct” term is determined by the context in which it is used. 

Casual conversation, website translation, brochure, internal email, legal document, research journal, etc. require different translations. This is complicated by the fact that some words, phrases, and ideas simply do not exist in some languages.  

Translation-savvy clients have learned that more context equals high-quality translation (i.e. a “correct” translation). A style guide and glossary are two important tools that address this all-important, yet oft-overlooked, aspect of translation. Yes, having a native, experienced, and certified translator is crucial, but these go without saying. Let’s dive into what exactly a style guide and glossary are, and why including them in your translation brief can help you get better results from your translators

What is a translation style guide? 

A style guide is a comprehensive set of rules and guidelines that govern the consistent and uniform use of language, formatting, and design elements in various forms of communication. Typically used by organizations, publishers, or writers, a style guide ensures that written and visual content maintains a cohesive and professional appearance.

It covers aspects such language elements such as grammar, punctuation, spelling, tone, typography, citation formats, and branding elements. By adhering to a style guide, individuals and teams can create content that is clear, coherent, and aligned with a specific set of standards, promoting consistency and enhancing the overall quality of communication.

Best practices to improve your Style Guide and elevate translation quality

  1. Provide Comprehensive Background Information: Furnish ample context about your organization or website. A thorough understanding of your origins, objectives, and strategies helps translators grasp your message effectively. Encourage team participation in storytelling instead of merely duplicating your “About” page.
  2. Clearly Define Your Activities: While you are intimately familiar with your operations, others may not be. Simplify your explanations to enable your translation team to convey your message in foreign languages with clarity.
  3. Understand Your Target Audience: Identify and narrow down your target audience, be it busy executives or tech-savvy 20-somethings. Describe your typical audience to your translation team so they can tailor their translations to suit the appropriate tone.
  4. Research the Target Market: Before establishing linguistic conventions, conduct thorough research. Different countries may have significantly different linguistic norms from your own.
  5. Utilize Multiple Style Guides: Smartling allows for the use of multiple Style Guides. Take advantage of this flexibility when conventions like tone and formal language vary from one language to another.
  6. Cite Your References: For specific languages, ensure your translation teams are aware of the reference materials to follow, such as dictionaries, technical lexicons, or industry-sanctioned terminology.
  7. Provide Detailed Instructions: The more precise your instructions regarding translations, the better the outcome. You can offer guidelines for various aspects, from formatting dates, addresses, and abbreviations to specifying translation lengths.
  8. Keep Your Style Guide Updated: Your Style Guide need not remain static. In fact, it should evolve as your company’s messaging undergoes changes.
  9. Exercise Patience: If a translation resource team doesn’t get it right on the first attempt, don’t jump to conclusions about the usefulness of your Style Guide or the team’s competency. Investigate what content the translators find challenging, as it may uncover inconsistencies in your tone and messaging.

Why do I need a translation style guide and terminology glossary?

A translation style guide and terminology glossary are indispensable tools for maintaining consistency and quality in your translated content. They serve as essential references for both your in-house team and external translators.

The translation style guide outlines specific guidelines for tone, style, formatting, and language preferences, ensuring that your brand’s voice and message remain consistent across different languages. This consistency is crucial for preserving your own brand voice and identity and delivering a cohesive message to a global audience.

On the other hand, a terminology glossary establishes a standardized list of key terms and phrases unique to your industry or organization. It prevents confusion and inaccuracies by using basic rules and providing clear translations for specialized terminology, ensuring that technical or industry-specific content is accurately conveyed.

SIMPLE style guide (low translation volume) or “translator’s guide” should include: 

  • WHAT is being translated? (brochure? legal document? Facebook post?) 
  • WHO is the target audience? (formal or informal voice?) 
  • ANY specific instructions?  
  • ANY reference material? (URL, images, documentation) 

DETAILED style guide (high translation volume) may also include: 

  • Preferred format for time and units of measure  
  • Instructions regarding brand identity 
  • Pertinent industry background 

What to include in your translation style guide

In your translation style guide, it’s essential to provide comprehensive instructions and guidelines to ensure consistency and quality across all translated material and content. Here’s what you should include:

  1. Tone and Voice: Specify the desired tone, whether formal, casual, professional, or friendly, to match your brand’s voice. Include examples to illustrate the tone.
  2. Language Variations: Clarify any regional language variations or preferences. For instance, if you target both American and British English, indicate which to use where.
  3. Brand Guidelines: Share your brand’s core values, mission, and vision. Explain how these should be reflected in translated content.
  4. Content Formatting: Provide rules for formatting content, including headings, bullet points, and fonts. Address any specific formatting preferences for dates, numbers, and units of measurement.
  5. Cultural Sensitivity: Offer guidance on culturally sensitive topics, ensuring that translations respect local customs, beliefs, and taboos.
  6. Audience Persona: Describe your target audience, their demographics, and preferences. This helps translators adapt the content accordingly.
  7. Key Messages: Identify key messages, taglines, or slogans that must remain consistent across languages.
  8. Grammar and Style Rules: Specify preferred grammar rules and writing styles. Include examples for clarity.
  9. Approved Terminology: Provide a list of approved terminology, acronyms, and industry-specific jargon to ensure accuracy.
  10. Content Types: Distinguish between different types of content, such as marketing materials, technical documents, or legal texts, and explain the specific requirements for each.
  11. Review and Feedback Process: Outline the process for reviewing and providing feedback on translations, including contact information for questions or clarifications.
  12. Version Control: Keep track of revisions to the style guide to ensure that translators have access to the most up-to-date guidelines.
  13. Examples: Include plenty of examples to illustrate your expectations for translations, covering various scenarios and content types.

A well-documented translation style guide ensures that your company’s brand strategy and’s message is consistent, culturally sensitive, and linguistically accurate across multiple languages, enhancing your global communication efforts.

What is a translation glossary? 

A translation glossary is a list of defined key terms used by your company and their approved translations in all target languages.  

The translation glossary ensures key terms are translated consistently by all translators each time they appear in the source text, regardless of how often they are translated, or which translator does the work. A term glossary is designed specifically for industry, company and audience-specific terminology, slogans, and taglines. A glossary promotes translation consistency across markets, enabling you to maintain consistent brand messaging in all your target languages.   

Key Points: 

  • The glossary should be created before translation work begins. 
  • The LSP can assist, but the company must provide the terms and approve their translations. 
  • Include copyrighted or trademarked terms that should not be translated 

What to include in your terminology glossary

A terminology glossary is a critical reference tool that promotes precision and consistency in translated content. To create an effective terminology glossary, consider including the following elements:

  1. Key Terms: List the most crucial terms and phrases relevant to your industry, product, or service. These are words that have specific meanings or require precise translation.
  2. Definition: Provide concise and clear definitions for each term. This ensures that translators understand the term’s context and usage.
  3. Part of Speech: Specify whether a term is a noun, verb, adjective, or other part of speech to guide correct usage.
  4. Contextual Usage: Offer examples of how each term is used in sentences or phrases. This helps translators understand the term’s practical application.
  5. Preferred Translations: Provide preferred translations for each term in target languages. If applicable, differentiate between formal and informal translations.
  6. Avoided Terminology: Highlight terms that should be avoided or not used in translations due to ambiguity, inaccuracy, or cultural insensitivity.
  7. Acronyms and Abbreviations: Include commonly used acronyms and abbreviations along with their expanded forms.
  8. Notes and Comments: Add any additional notes or comments that clarify the usage of a term, its nuances, or potential pitfalls.
  9. Cross-References: Link related terms within the glossary to promote consistency and coherence in translated content.
  10. Version Control: Keep track of revisions and updates to the glossary, ensuring that translators always have access to the latest terminology guidance.
  11. Language Variants: If your organization targets multiple regions with distinct linguistic preferences, specify variations in terminology for each target region.
  12. Terminology Sources: Mention the sources or references used to compile the glossary, such as industry standards, in-house terminology databases, or authoritative dictionaries.

The bottom line 

Translation style guides and glossaries stand as indispensable assets in the realm of localization and global communication. These tools serve to bridge linguistic gaps, minimizing the potential for miscommunication with translation service providers. By adhering to established corporate style guide guidelines and referencing comprehensive glossaries, organizations can substantially enhance the quality of their translations.

Furthermore, the strategic use of these resources not only ensures linguistic accuracy but also contributes to cost efficiency in the localization process. By reducing the need for extensive revisions and clarifications, businesses can allocate resources more effectively. Most importantly, translation style guides and glossaries play a pivotal role in maintaining a cohesive and consistent brand voice, image and messaging consistency across diverse target languages and cultures, thus reinforcing brand integrity in the global marketplace. In essence, they are vital components of any successful international communication strategy, facilitating seamless cross-cultural engagement and fostering lasting connections with a global audience.

Need fast, high-quality translation?

Translate now

Get in Touch

Looking to natively embed your presence in new world markets? Speak with a representative today to discuss the perfect BLEND of localization services.