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Written by Steven Bussey
on February 20, 2020

Translator’s style guide is a document outlining stylistic instructions for use in translation of content into another language.

A style guide establishes and enforces style to improve communication and ensure consistency within a document and between multiple documents. It includes guidelines on language usage, composition, and orthography. Style guides are common in academia, medicine, journalism, law, government, and business communication. In some cases, a style guide may also include guidelines on academic ethics and technical or regulatory compliance. It may also mention terminology - more commonly listed in a separate termbase, or visual style (colors, fonts and layout) - more commonly found in brand identity documents. A short style guide can be called a style sheet, while long and comprehensive ones are known as stylebooks.

Style guides have been used in the publishing industry for decades. The most famous ones include:

Companies and organizations often create their own style guides, such as:

Finally, some examples of multilingual style guides:

 

Why do you need a style guide?

Style guides are a small investment with large and long-term returns. A typical style guide for a medium-sized company takes a few hours to create and brings several important benefits:

  • Consistency - Stronger and clearer voice across all points of contact, internal departments and markets.
  • Better user experience - Consistently written content is easier to read and understand.
  • Increase speed - Less guesswork by writers and translators results in faster content creation.
  • Smoother review - Reviewers have a single point of reference, which helps avoid disagreements, and reduces delays and costs related to rework.
  • Improve TM matches – Texts written in consistent style and terminology have more translation memory matches and are more suitable for Machine Translation.

 

What’s included in a style guide

A style guide will usually cover some or all of these areas:

  • Target audience - Is the content aimed at hip teenagers or high-level executives? The language used should reflect this.
  • Tone of voice - Do you want to be formal or informal? Persuasive or instructional? Fun or serious?
  • Branding guidelines - What are company or brand names and trademarks? How should they be used in text?
  • Locale-specific requirements - Formats of date and time, numbers, phone numbers, currencies, percentages, units of measure.
  • Language – Grammar, syntax, punctuation, capitalization, spelling, acronyms and abbreviations.
  • Reference materials – The best way to make instructions clear is to include examples of right and wrong usage and links to existing high-quality materials.

 

Translator’s style guides

While many businesses understand the importance of using style guides for the creation of content, many are unaware that similar documents can be designed for translation projects. As a matter of fact, they become even more important when you consider translation of content, since every additional language increases the risk of inconsistencies and errors. Style guides are indispensable tools that help translators recreate your global brand voice in local markets. Replicating your brand’s look, feel, and overall character in each target market is an important way to cement your global corporate identity and provide a consistent customer experience everywhere.

In addition to the regular contents of a style guide, you need to add localization, language and locale specific information, and to clarify issues that may occur during translation and localization.

 

How to create a style guide

  1. Start with source language - A style guide for your main language will keep your source materials consistent and can be the basis for style guides in other languages.
  2. Choose target locale and language - Each language and locale should have a separate style guide. The issues in Arabic will be different than those in Spanish, while Spanish used in Spain and in Latin American countries is not the same.
  3. Engage all stakeholders - It is important to involve key people with a stake in how content is created and translated. On one hand, there are those who create, review and use the materials; on the other, there are decision-makers who have the authority to sign-off and enforce the style guide. Your marketing or translation agency can help create a style guide for you, but make sure you have a say in its creation and final approval.
  4. Avoid copying others - While it may seem easiest to just reuse a style guide created by others, including irrelevant information will result in a document which will simply cause delays and confusion without solving any problems.
  5. Less is more – Don’t obsess about detailed use of each punctuation mark in any conceivable circumstance, and avoid including common sense rules obvious to any professional writer and translator. Focus on issues specific to your content and especially those that have caused problems in the past. A quality style guide that’s one page long is better than a mini-book that nobody uses.
  6. List examples – Showing samples of correct and incorrect language makes stylistic instructions easier to understand and follow.
  7. Keep it alive – Same as a termbase, a style guide is never finished. Language changes over time, while writers and translators encounter issues nobody predicted beforehand. Make sure the style guide is not set in stone and update it whenever required.

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