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Editing for style: Should you apply a style guide to your multilingual content?

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When you open the Uber app, you’ll see words and phrases like ride or your trips, and you might even associate these with the Uber brand. This terminology is reflected on Uber’s website, in blog posts, across social media platforms and adverts, as well as direct communications with customers.

Uber uses specific terminology across channels

Not only are specific terms used, but the brand has a voice and style that is recognizable. It’s simple, direct, and communicates in a way that prioritizes audience-first. Achieving consistent brand communications when you operate across 10,000 cities (like Uber does) is thanks, in large part, to comprehensive style editing rules.

Style editing is about more than just capital and lower-case letters, though capitalization is important. It also covers word choices, content structure, and tone of voice. It makes up both the foundation and the finesse of your brand’s communication; the proper nouns and the personality.

International brands should establish a solid brand voice in their first language and use this to guide them when they create content for other markets. In this article, we cover exactly how your business can create its own editing style and bring the same value to all customers, across all content, in all languages.

Once your style guide is written, you should use a translation plugin to ensure that your translated content still maintains all the right meaning and nuance. Using Weglot, you can review and edit your translations to check the accuracy and polish your style before you hit publish.

The role of style editing in going global

Nobody can fault a business owner for their ambition. When you’re intending to take your business global, it might be tempting to go full steam ahead. However, if you want to expand into new markets, then you’ll want to do it confidently, so the best thing you can do is pause and ask yourself: Is my brand ready?

Taking a moment to reflect on your brand identity is not time wasted. It ensures your business is set up for success, which is important if you want to get internationalization right the first time.

During this process, you should look closely at your brand voice and core messaging. Are there any inconsistencies? Is there a lack of intention, clarity, or unity? The way to solve this is to create (or refresh) your style guide.

Creating a style guide

Your style guide sets out how your business should communicate itself both online and offline. This ensures you’ve created a unified brand that presents itself with intention and consistency, no matter what language, location or mode of communication.

You should create a style guide in your main language, defining the following aspects of your brand:

Core message

What makes your brand different? What makes it special? What does your brand do for its customer? This should all be clear from your core messaging. In your style editing rules, include your core brand message and what your business has set out to do.

As part of your core messaging, you’ll probably want to include taglines, but it’s worth noting that not all taglines travel well. For example, KFC’s slogan “finger-lickin’ good” was mistakenly translated to mean “eat your fingers off” in Chinese, a faux-pas that was far from appetizing.

Article in The Guardian about bad KFC translation

More recently, KFC dropped the slogan when it clashed with the global emphasis on hand hygiene during the pandemic, demonstrating that style guides may need tweaks to reflect cultural events and experiences.

Brand voice

The way your brand represents itself will depend on a combination of your business aims, the products or services you sell, and your target audience.

When defining your brand voice, ask yourself what your brand personality should be. Friendly or detached, playful or serious, quirky or professional?

Take selling life insurance as an example. Selling this type of product requires a different tone of voice to selling fast-moving consumer goods. Furthermore, how you communicate life insurance products should be tailored to the audience demographic you are targeting, making sure it is relevant for their age and life stage.

Example of tone of voice used by insurance provider Prudential

Style

Going hand-in-hand with your brand voice, defining your brand style helps you communicate your messages. Consider how formal or informal you want your business to seem, for example, whether you want to use (or steer clear of) business jargon or slang.

Often called house style, you can think of this part of your style guide as your very own company dictionary. Be specific with grammar and spelling rules, any relevant terminology and preferred vocabulary.

You should also highlight capitalization rules for your brand name and product names. These inform your internal team, but it teaches the rest of the world how to write about your brand too. For example, WordPress, not WordPress; Mailchimp, not MailChimp; and Apple’s products are written as iPhone, MacBook or iPad rather than Iphone, Macbook or Ipad.

Apple product examples

Side note: You probably have at least one team member who spends a significant amount of time reminding your other colleagues about product capitalization. If you don’t, you are that team member (and we support you).

Visual identity

Colors, fonts and imagery are important visual communication tools that represent your brand even without text. There are many instances where the colors brands choose can have a far-reaching and long-lasting impact, like how Coca-Cola turned Santa red to align with their brand’s visual identity.

Example of Coca Cola's strong visual impact

Having a clear set of rules about your brand’s visual identity helps your team stay consistent when branching out to new markets, but that’s not all. It also tells people outside of your business, such as business partners and collaborators, how to use your company branding. For example, Slack has a style guide that integrating technologies must adhere to.

Slask has a specific style guide for Company branding

Storytelling

People in all countries love a good story, especially if it’s related to the product’s home country. Think of the Harley Davidson, a symbol of freedom that lit a cultural wildfire when it was launched in 1903, out of a small shed in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In your style guide, highlight brand stories that are worth telling, time and time again.

Harley Davidson's strong storytelling

Style editing rules for each market

You absolutely do not need to write a whole new style guide for each market you are selling to. However, you do need to create iterations of your main style guide, using the original as a template so that you can produce an appropriate version for each market.

Think of these as localized style editing rules. You are converting your style guide for each location, considering possible mistranslations, cultural context, and including a terminology glossary. You should also cover any exceptions to your usual style editing process.

International marketing is complex. You need to cater to the unique context of each location while maintaining a single, unified brand identity that runs through your entire global marketing efforts. Having style copy editing rules equips your business to do that.

Best practices for localized style editing rules

Writing translation style guides

1. General translation guidelines

Include:

  • Rules for style
  • Sentence structure
  • Spelling
  • Capitalization
  • Tone of voice
  • Grammar
  • Punctuation

2. Nuances

Outline:

  • Nuances of the brand or message
  • Words or expressions to avoid
  • Idioms, jargon, puns – and whether these translate, or can be swapped for better-suited alternatives
  • Culturally specific references

3. Grammar ambiguities

Prepare:

  • Solutions to resolve grammar ambiguities
  • Grammar rules specific to your brand

4. Common language queries

Advise how to handle:

  • Gendered language
  • Proper nouns
  • Official titles and abbreviations

5. Language variants

Choose:

  • Your preferred language variants. For example, you might want to communicate in English by default, but there are variations: US English, UK English, AU English.

6. Examples

Provide samples of:

  • Translated text
  • Resources for reference

7. Other visual elements

Cover:

  • Logo usage
  • Image positioning
  • Formatting such as table design
  • Using bold text, italics, etc
  • Bullet points and other lists

Writing terminology glossaries

Your terminology glossary is part of your brand toolkit. It removes ambiguity and helps your team make communication choices by defining how terms should be written and used.

Woocommerce terminology glossary

Glossaries can define grammar, spelling, meaning and use cases. Here are some examples from WooCommerce’s terminology glossary:

  • log in and log into (verb) and login (noun)”
  • OK not Ok or okay or okey”
  • PayPal: Capital P, capital P”
  • which vs. that: The store that sells widgets (not: The store which sells widgets) and The store on the corner, which is open 9-9 on weekdays.”

What to include in terminology glossaries:

  1. Company-specific terms
  2. Industry-specific terms
  3. Terms relevant to an audience and market, such as “clout” in social media communities or “ghosting” in gaming communities
  4. Must-win keywords for a particular market, such as “biscuit” and “nappy” in the UK versus “cookie” and “diaper” in the US
  5. Specific #hashtags for digital content 

More than just a pedantic list, terminology glossaries enable your copy editors to use language consistently. This helps your brand feel familiar to returning customers and contributes to long-term brand loyalty and customer retention.

Listing exceptions to the rules

Inevitably, there are going to be exceptions to some of your rules. You may need to implement these exceptions if meaning gets lost in translation, because of cultural differences, or for a whole host of other reasons.

Create a list of exceptions to the rules, such as scenarios when it’s acceptable to:

  • change headings
  • re-write sections
  • edit the style or register
  • refocus the subject
  • re-order the structure of paragraphs

Risks of having no localized style editing rules

Things are never black and white, and by now you should see how writing up your style guide ensures that the nuance of your brand message is consistent across languages and markets. But what happens if you don’t?

You might end up with a lot of work to undo later, which means your business has wasted time and money.

Without a style guide outlining specific rules for a language or market, your risk: 

  • No uniformity or consistency: Style guides tighten up your brand identity. By creating these reference points, you encourage uniformity and consistency. If you go without, your brand communications will likely suffer.
  • Lack of direction for the agency or translator: Your extended team needs guidance from you. With no direction, whether they get it right is down to luck. Guesswork can result in mistakes, delays and additional costs for revisions.
  • Potentially losing traffic to the competition: SEO strategies should be based on keywords that are genuinely used by your target market. You need to:
    • ensure the keywords are translated correctly – or, if necessary, adapted – for each new market
    • make the keywords for each market clear to your team.

      Otherwise, you may give other businesses a competitive advantage.
  • Poor brand reputation: Without localized style editing rules, you risk publishing content with clichés and negative connotations that could discredit your brand’s reputation. Read more about this in our post on creating multilingual content. 

How to nail your style in every language

If you want your brand to hit the mark in every target market, use Weglot. You can turn your website multilingual in minutes, then manage translations as you proofread and have confidence your content is accurate and your style is polished.

Manually edit and polish your translations

After automatic translation, you can check and manually edit web content in Weglot.

1. Open the Weglot dashboard

2. Click Translations

3. Select the language

How to find automatic translations with a Weglot search

Now you’ll be able to review all of your translated content. Use the search tool to locate specific content quickly.

The "Mark as reviewed" Weglot option

1. Proofread the automatic translation

2. Click and type to make an edit

3. Changes are saved automatically, but you can log your progress by clicking Mark as reviewed even if you don’t make a change to the automatic translation

Customize glossaries

You can customize glossaries to apply rules for your translations. For example, a rule to never translate a word, or to always translate it in a specific way for a particular language.

Add glossary rule

1. Open the Weglot dashboard

2. Click Translations

3. Click Glossary

4. Click Add glossary rule

5. Select the rule and language from drop-down lists

6. Type in the word

7. Click save

Order professional translations directly from the dashboard

If you need support checking your translations, you can order a professional service from within Weglot.

Order a professional translation

1. Open the Weglot dashboard

2. Click Translations

3. Select the language

4. Click the checkbox next to the translation(s) you’d like to send to a professional translator

5. Click the shopping basket icon on the bottom right side of the page to order professional translation

6. Review your order and check out

What to remember with style editing

A style guide plays an important part in changing, defining or reinforcing brand image. When you are taking a business global, create a style guide in your main language first, then add localized style editing rules. Don’t forget to include terminology glossaries and any exceptions to your rules.

With no localized style editing rules, your brand communications could lack uniformity and consistency, and your extended team won’t have a clear direction. This could result in mistakes that damage brand reputation, are costly to fix, and leave space for competitors to take the lead.

Remember, style editing rules strengthen your brand, especially when growth is your goal. These can be implemented in all languages and locations relevant to your target audiences. Most importantly, this process helps ensure that when you expand into new markets, you get it right the first time.

Sign up for a free trial with Weglot to take your next steps towards website localization.

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