Back in the dark ages, when I was growing up in New York City, I was taught to be creative when I write. Even in science reports (the equivalent of technical writing for someone who is 9), the rule was, never say the same thing the same way twice. Always use different words. And use a lot of words. Using a lot of words shows off your vocabulary.

I took these instructions to heart. I think that many of the writers I know took these instructions to heart, too. Consequently, I have seen the simple phrase, “Click OK” written at least 12 different ways in the same documentation suite. Not sure what I mean?

  • Click OK.
  • Click on OK.
  • Click the OK button.
  • Click on the OK button.
  • Click the button.
  • Press OK.
  • Press on the OK button.
  • Select OK.

… you get the gist.

When it comes to spending money on translation, saying the same thing many different ways, using as many words as possible is the kiss of death. I’ve discussed this before, and I’ll say it again, you need to say the same thing, the same way, every time you say it.

Standardizing both your terminology and your sentences makes your content much easier to read. It also makes your content easier and faster to translate.  And, it saves a lot of money. You can achieve the perfect trifecta – cheaper, faster, better – by standardizing your content.

Whoa you say! It’s SOOOOO boring! Well, yes. It can be boring to say the same thing, the same way, every time you say it. But, if you are someone for whom English is a second or third language, or if you are an average American with an 8th grade reading level and you are trying to configure your VCR, boring is good! Boring is great! Especially if the boring sentence is simple, straightforward, and easy to understand.

Whoa again you say! I write marketing material. I’m not supposed to be boring! Well, I understand. And I don’t disagree. Marketing copy is supposed to pack an emotional punch. It is supposed to keep the reader engaged and interested. Saying the same thing, the same way doesn’t always allow for the type of creativity that most marketing writers want.

Remember how you pay for translation:

(number of  words) * (price per word) * (number languages) = cost of translation

Once a segment has been translated into a particular language, the translation is stored in translation memory. As long as you use the exact same words next time, you will never have to pay to have that segment translated into that language again.

So, if you are a marketing writer, you need to find some middle ground. You need to balance the emotional punch and creativity you want with the cost of translation. Keep in mind that much of the emotional punch cannot be translated anyway. In fact, the phrase “emotional punch” is not translatable. What good is a brilliant marketing message if the rest of the world outside of the U.S. does not understand what it means?

To recap:

Simple Rule #1: Use shorter sentences.

Simple Rule #2: Standardize.

Val Swisher
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