Style Guides: The Importance of Consistency

Companies and organizations use standard style guides to set the rules on the look and feel of their content and design. These guides help marketers, copywriters, and graphic designers use the correct wording, colors and design elements to ensure brand uniformity.  For example, Skype requires that all print materials use the Chaletbook typeface, while Apple says its channel signatures may only be shown in all black or all white.  Articles printed in The Economist never carry a byline.

One might say that a style guide’s major purpose is to ensure consistency. We tend to agree.  Translation projects often require several translators working on a single project around the clock.  Each translator may have his or her own style resulting in differences between sections.  That’s why we recommend developing translation style guides before the start of any project.  Translation style guides set standards before translation begins, which helps companies save time and money.

 What Are Translation Style Guides?

Companies outline their stylistic and editorial preferences in translation style guides to effectively embody a company’s product or message for foreign audiences in targeted markets. Unlike ordinary style guides, translation style guides are implemented when businesses seek oversea ventures with the purpose of creating structure and uniformity and avoiding cultural clash.

When businesses begin to expand around the world, they strive to maintain the essence of their products. Global businesses like Coca-Cola use different slogans for different countries, but keep the same slogans for countries that share cultural similarities (Open happiness in the U.S and Canada; Destapa la felicidad in Spain and Colombia; Abre a felicidade in Brazil and Portugal).  Translation style guides aid in the process of changing company slogans, campaigns, and branding to avoid cultural missteps. They create the structure necessary for Chinese editors to implement uniformity in foreign markets, while still altering it to appeal to the target foreign audience.

And it is here that translation style guides may play the most pivotal role.  Without a detailed translation style guide, translators may not actually understand who their intended audience is, resulting in “bad” translation.  For example, it may be appropriate to speak to the American guests of a luxury hotel in New York City in a conversational manner but Arab guests of the same chain in Saudi Arabia expect to be addressed in a formal manner.

How Are Translation Style Guides Created?

Global translation service providers create translation style guides by honing in on the editorial standards and goals of a company, while including the cultural and linguistic standards set by the target audience.

The complexity of translation makes creating a translation style guide difficult. To avoid this obstacle, translation services need to consider many areas of editing – stylistic preferences, foreign language linguistic standards, content translation, etc. – to optimize foreign communications.

The translation service providers must have a comprehensive understanding of the company’s goal in order to create an effective translation style guide. They must be aware of the components – tone, target audience, etc. – that deliver company’s goals.  With the correct understanding and an effective translation style guide, global translation services can help alleviate the decision-making process and reduce revisal time – and ultimately cut costs in the long run.

So before you start your next translation project, be sure to save yourself some headaches and make sure your translation service provider is clear on the following:

  • First or third person?
  • Gender specific?
  • Informal or Formal?
  • Purpose of materials?
  • Who is our audience and what do they expect/want?
  • Currency, date/time, units of measure conversions?
  • Required fonts?
  • Are there any items that do not require translation (brand names/trademarks/proper names/titles/websites, etc.)?
  • Are there specific terms, abbreviations or acronyms to be used?
  • Are there punctuation preferences?