Style Guide-whp

Localization comprises of not just the translation of various contents, but also means providing countries with content that has the same efficiency of tone as the original source content.

The quality of a translation piece is a very subjective concept.  You may ask several trusted translators to work on the same source document, and you’ll end up with a different translation from each professional who performed the trial, even if the conveyed meaning is correct.

As a matter of fact, a document can be translated accurately in many different ways. Some of these translations will be preferred by the customer because they are either:

  • More efficient for the target audience
  • More compliant with the corporate rules
  • More compliant with the customer culture and style
  • Consistent with other translations
  • And all sorts of other reasons, mostly subjective.

Translation quality can be assessed according to various criteria, including – but not limited to – the use of the right terminology and showing the appropriate look and feel that are unique to your company.

One part of the look and feel will be achieved through a well-defined graphic charter where the corporate visual identity is obvious, but this will most probably not apply to the written contents.

This is where the need for style guides arise.

What is a style guide?

A Style Guide is a compilation of rules leading to the selection of the preferred translation when several choices are possible. It is a very useful tool for the translator especially for marketing content such as commercial brochures where such rules are essential.

In brief, the style guide is a repository where you can list all these items that need to be standardized and homogenized across the written material you produce.

When and why do you need a style guide? 

One good practice is to have a style guide on hand at the time you develop the source contents… and then you have a good basis to implement tips intended for localization.

The style guide should be the backbone of any set of instructions provided to your localization and translation partner.  If you don’t have a style guide, you should consider developing one early enough to ensure that published contents will leave a consistent image in your audience’s mind.

This can be done before translation is launched and even before translatable contents are fully ready.

How can you build a style guide?

When no style guide can be provided, the translator will propose a style close to the source style or might refer to similar material provided by the customer.

However, when a significant flow of projects is expected, it is highly recommended to write the style guide upfront, using the authoring style guide or corporate guidelines when available.

The style guide will be complemented all along the cooperation through the detailed analysis of feedback received from the customer’s In Country Reviewer or language lead

One way to start is to compile the rules provided to technical and marketing writers.  The same rules are likely to apply to translators in the way they handle the foreign versions of the product or marketing documents.  These rules will then be sorted into categories (style, country considerations, general language rules and local usages, etc.).

The style guide may also be enriched with answers provided to questions during the translation phase regarding specific issues.

And last, but not least, the style guide needs to be reviewed, amended and approved by the customer team (following the same process as for terminology management).

What should a style guide contain?

style guideHere are some examples of rules that need to be settled in a style guide:

  • In a User’s manual, what verbal form is to be used to address the customer?  infinitive or imperative form?
  • Specific usages where official rules have gaps: how to express titles or bullet list items?   infinitive or imperative verbs, nouns or gerundives, capital letters in uppercase or not, period or comma at the end of each entry?
  • What convention should be adopted for chapters, section and sub-section titles ? verbs, nouns, gerundive forms?
  • In a video game, what is the tone to be used for each character (slang, formal…)?
  • For a software publisher, adherence to a reference terminology (i.e. Microsoft, IBM, Oracle or SAP, to name only a few).

For marketing content, don’t stick to the source text:  set yourself free from the content structure and re-write in places (copywriting or transcreation)

  • For e-learning contents, how far should localization go?  Should all character names be translated (like Marie will be Maria or Mary)?  Should the currencies and place names be adapted to other geographies?
  • In case of languages covering several countries like Spanish or English, which variant should be used?  In some selected cases, it is important to address the audience in the right locale.

It is advisable to provide some examples to clarify the rules.

Also, it may come in handy to have a subset of official rules repeated there, and even glossary-like sections:

  • References to official language rules:  Oxford or Webster’s Dictionary, The Times guidelines, or the typography rules from the French Imprimerie Nationale, Grévisse grammar, Académie Française, Duden to name but a few institutions.
  • Function and titles equivalents inside the company:  providing multilingual organization charts will prevent the translator from translating the various departments or titles freely… or will simply save the translation team the time to ask questions for each of these occurrences.
  • Another point of attention are is the lists of locations, addresses and phone numbers that are to be used in replacement of information disclosed in the source documents.  For example, if you mention that the technical support is to be reached by dialing a toll-free number in the United States, it is wise to mention a phone number that can be reached from outside the USA, or even a local number in the countries where the product will be made available.  This again will prevent a time-consuming question-and-answer cycle.
  • A list of approved reference material which is used in the company, for example glossaries, internal wiki or accessible intranet pages.
  • In relationship to the reference material, it is also great to have a list of the documents which also exist as a translation, with their full titles and part numbers (translated bibliography), and indicate if these occurrences should be localized in the translation project. Typically, if one refers to William Shakespeare’s « As you like it », it should appear as « Comme il vous plaira » in a French translation.
  • The same goes for quotations:  quoting excerpts from the Holy Bible or from famous people like Jack Welsh or Martin Luther King means that the translation should refer to some official translation of these texts (provided the source document mentions these quotations in the source language), and if the source document is a translation, then it is critical to find and use the original version of these.  (We had such a case for Cegos, a French learning and training provider, where lots of quotations were made from famous American economists).
  • Further to this « reference material » topic;  if you already have approved legal documents that are to be used to replace the original legal sections of your documentation, you have to provide them.  Else, translators will come up with a new translation, which might not be appropriate or accurate.  Note that such section may require a specific (localized) version for each country where the product will be made available, and in some cases, might even need to be approved by lawyers.
  • The list of possible style guide candidates could go on forever!

A style guide has no limitations and should be reviewed and updated regularly to match any corporate decision impacting the contents of published information.

 Consultancy around a style guide and beyond

 Thanks to an outstanding experience in localization projects with many different customers and various contexts, WhP will advise the customer on the best way to achieve the expected quality given the time and budget constraints, the type of content and the specific communication style.  Our teams will define the best approach to make your localization project a success, and as far as the style guide topic is concerned, this means deciding upon:

  • Building-up a style guide from reference material
  • Providing different samples of translation to allow for customer preference
  • Perform a stylistic review after the first deliveries and compile rules to add to the style guide from those reviews….
  • Help keep the style guide and other language assets up-to-date.


Also, when several reviewers are involved on the customer side, they shall ensure that their feedback and recommendations are fully consistent, and compliant with the defined style guide.  This is critical for languages used in several countries:  a reviewer based in Argentina may not feel the same way as a reviewer based in Spain or Ecuador about the same translation, especially for marketing contents.  Having a comprehensive style guide might help solve some issued and arguments.