The Importance of a Translation Style Guide

Every company, association, or organization has its own brand, the image that it presents to the world. This image is conveyed in every communication, right down to the colors the company uses on its websites and the words it uses in its emails.

Since this brand identity must be consistent across all touchpoints, it’s essential for translations to follow suit. Therefore, each translation project needs to be as in line with the brand as possible. If your organization assigns projects to multiple translators, the most efficient way to ensure a consistent brand voice on every project is to create a style guide for translators.



What, exactly, is a style guide for translators?

A style guide is a reference document that helps guarantee consistency in a translation project. It defines the rules and conventions translators must follow when converting a brand communication from one language into another.

A style guide covers the syntax and typography inherent to the brand, but it also includes the tone of voice to use and the rules of adaptation across countries and languages. The style guide gives translators a set of rules to follow when adapting the elements of a global brand to fit the norms of a specific region.

The points addressed in a style guide include:

  • punctuation (the proper form of quotation marks, spacing between sentences, etc.)
  • spelling and typography (when to use uppercase letters, when to write out numbers, when to abbreviate)
  • formatting (when to use bold, italics, symbols or special characters)
  • adaptation (how to properly convert measurements or write telephone numbers)
  • localization (different product names depending on country, etc.)
  • customer’s preferences (terms or expressions to avoid or use)
  • the general or specific tone of the content

A style guide will have some rules regarding branding that apply to all languages, but it should also include specific rules for each country or language.

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What are the benefits of a style guide for translators?

The style guide will make the translation process go much faster because it results in a higher degree of consistency in the drafting or translation of texts.

The information regarding rules and norms are laid out for translators and editors, so they’ll spend more time creating the content and less time asking questions. It also benefits reviewers because they spend less time making corrections and ironing out inconsistencies in the text.

The result is a series of translations that read as if they were created in each of the target languages, but still communicate a cohesive brand identity across all languages.

The final version of a style guide creates greater consistency across multiple projects, but the creation of the style guide also increases agreement among the entire team, both at the client company and the translation company.

Ideally, the translation agency should be responsible for creating the style guide, particularly when the project involves multiple languages. However, the agency needs to work closely with the client’s communication team while developing it, as well as its own teams. This usually includes translators and project managers, but it can also include designers, who may be charged with managing layout and typography.

This raises another benefit: by involving the teams directly involved and collecting feedback from translators and reviewers, the style guide can be updated to improve consistency and efficiency even more.


What does a great style guide look like?

A great example of a style guide is the one used by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Although it focuses more on creating content than on translating it, the same principles apply.

The first section covers the form and structure of OECD publications, including style guidelines and a list of errors to avoid when using certain terms or expressions. The second section focuses on typographical rules, including punctuation, capitalization and number writing.

Of course, not all style guides need to be as comprehensive as the one from OECD, but it provides a good blueprint for what your team can put in place to ensure readability and consistency across multiple translation projects.

A brand isn’t just defined by a logo and tagline, It’s defined across all communications, from print and digital ads to corporate news and even internal documents. To maintain this brand across languages, have a style guide ready for your translation team.

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