Translating with Style: The Benefits of Using a Style Guide

Translation is far more complex than a simple mechanical conversion from one language to another – and without a clear set of guidelines for translators, it can be very tricky to produce a translation that satisfies a client’s expectations. With that being said, it’s important to solidify and communicate these expectations in a written translation style guide.

A Translation Style Guide?

A translation style guide is a document that sets clear guidelines for linguists to follow. These guidelines outline the client’s preferred tone, register, and style to be used in translation. When creating a style guide, we may ask the client to provide any glossaries they have created, successful previous translations and their respective source documents, or any internal style guides for English content that might exemplify important points to consider in translation. 

While it might not be necessary to develop a style guide for every new client, it can certainly help facilitate a lasting partnership and streamline processes. A style guide communicates expectations in a clear manner and benefits all parties involved. And should a client require a bit of guidance in determining their preferred style, we work with them to develop a style guide to suit their particular needs.

Why Would You Need a Style Guide?

The benefits to implementing a well-planned style guide are numerous. A style guide can help:

Maintain Consistency

One of the great benefits of utilizing a style guide is ensuring consistency across projects. Consistency applies not only to ambiguities in grammar (see: the great Oxford Comma debate), but also to register and style. Often, large projects necessitate a team of linguists who may have their own intuitions about nuances of grammar and style. And while linguists’ differing preferences might not be incorrect, the discrepancies between them could prove problematic for a singular client in need of a distinct tone and a focused message. 

Example of how punctuation affects messaging
Example of how punctuation can affect messaging

A consistent voice is vital when it comes to effective marketing translations. For example, a style guide might lay out certain guidelines about sentence length, urging the translator to opt for a concise, more economical translation wherever possible. Or, it might call for the translator to use a more formal tone when translating into a language with more gradients of formality than the source language – and, conversely, it may help guide toward a lighter and humorous tone when preferred.

Give Concrete Examples

An effective style guide puts forth examples of the client’s rules and preferences in action. These examples may be drawn from a previously successful translation project, or they may be created in anticipation of challenges a linguist could face down the road. But sample translations don’t always have to show when things go right: translators will be forever grateful for a style guide which anticipates problematic situations and offers suggestions or established methods for handling such situations. For instance, an English>Spanish style guide might provide rules for producing gendered speech or when to use the informal or the formal usted.

Identify the Target Audience

There’s a simple yet important question to bear in mind during the translation process: who is the translation for? A good style guide provides specific details about a project’s target audience or target market. Particularly for the world’s most commonly spoken languages, there are diverse subsets within these larger language communities that carry their own linguistic norms, their own cultural subtexts, and their own turns of phrase, and linguists need to know how to adjust their work accordingly.

Not only do regional variants of language play an important role is defining one’s audience, but readers’ presumed level of knowledge is a crucial piece of information for translators. Any specific data about the demographics or technical background of an audience are paramount to a linguist tasked with bridging a client with their multilingual audience. Would you take the same approach to translating a document for a symposium of leading physicists as with translating materials for a 3rd grade science class?

Streamline Communications

Returning clients want to streamline processes as much as possible, and having a style guide already in place eliminates the need for clients to repeat their requirements and expectations for deliverables for project after project. Multilingual Connections’ Language Quality Manager, Osvaldo, often works with clients to identify the need for a style guide and to create one that would fit their needs. “Style Guides are one of the most important support we have for delivering quality translations,” Osvaldo says. “We create company-specific guidelines based on conversations with clients and our own thorough research. A style guide is always an asset because it gives us control over some of the inherent discrepancies between translators.”

On the other hand, a style guide does not need to be a static fixture in the translation process. It can evolve with time and experience, and it can also provide a set of norms from which special exceptions for unique, one-off projects depart. Osvaldo notes, “Our style guides are also stored in the cloud, such that they can be easily updated in real-time should a change be required.” Large organizations such as universities or corporations often have different departments with vastly different needs for language services. And even then, a client might have different project streams which have nothing to do with each other, or they might suddenly reverse course and completely rewrite their brand or platform. As such, it’s often necessary to develop multiple style guides for the same client. At Multilingual Connections, we take great care to maintain an ongoing dialogue with our partners to learn how their needs are constantly evolving – so that we can adapt our services accordingly.

Anchor Quality Assurance Checks

A clear and comprehensive style guide also serves as a reliable rubric for quality assurance checks. While style guides will vary from client to client (and possibly from project to project), linguists’ adherence to these guidelines can be measured uniformly. By cross-checking a linguist’s output with the project’s style guide, a quality assurance check can count the number of instances in which a translation deviates from the written guidelines. Given the inherently subjective nature of language services, such quantitative metrics are valuable tools for ensuring the quality of services, and they would not be possible without an explicit set of rules for linguists to follow.

A style guide may include:

  • Details about the client’s desired tone or voice
  • Nuances of the brand or message
  • General guidelines for translation
  • Resolutions for ambiguities of grammar
  • Words or phrases to avoid and what to use instead
  • Notes and instructions for using CAT software
  • Guidelines for handling gendered language
  • Notes about handling numbers, proper nouns, or official titles
  • The preferred variant of the target language (e.g. Latin American Spanish)
  • Samples of correctly translated segments

Of course, the features of a good style guide aren’t limited to those listed above. Style guides must necessarily adapt to each individual client by shrinking and expanding according to the scope of the project at hand.

At Multilingual Connections, we aim to inspire trust in our clients and to fine tune our translations to accommodate the intricacies they require . We partner closely with them to lay out exactly what their intended message is and how they’d like to present it. Developing a unique style guide is a crucial step in tailoring our services to our clients’ specific needs.

Interested in learning more about how our language services can help you and your organization? Reach out to us with questions or to get started!

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