Thomas Jefferson famously said, “The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.” Brevity is a golden rule of writing. Along with brevity, clarity is another ingredient that will ensure your copy resonates with native and non-native English speakers alike.
Content creators too often focus on their English audience, forgetting that their text will serve as a base for content in other languages via translation. No matter how good a translation team or vendor is, the quality of the translated copy is dependent on how well the original text is written. Long sentences with complex syntactic structure are not only costly but also difficult to handle for translation. If the English text is not written with localization in mind, the quality of the target copy will most likely be impacted.
When writing for a global audience, copywriters need to convey the primary benefit and message clearly and concisely. It is about using plain language – words that are simple, direct and human. It is about making text grammar and structure easier to understand while preserving the key message. It’s choosing a different expression that is not so specific for the English-speaking audience, that still translates well to other languages. Writing clearly and concisely is about getting straight to your point in a way your audience can easily understand.
Best practices for writing clearly and concisely:
1. Put things in subject-verb-object order
○ Users must meet the following requirements. (subject-verb-object) vs.
○ The following are the requirements that users must meet. (object-subject-verb)
2. Put the action at the beginning of the sentence
○ We will usually pay you a cancellation fee for your time, if the customer or the restaurant cancelled an order. vs.
○ If the customer or the restaurant cancelled an order, we will usually pay you a cancellation fee for your time.
3. Use the active voice
○ The support team will only look at accounts with tickets filed. vs.
○ Only accounts with tickets filed will be looked at by the support team.
4. Replace uncommon words with a more familiar term or phrase
“comprising” → “there are about”.
5. Remove words that add color but not meaning to the sentence
○ Whatever your destination, our safety measures prioritize everyone’s health. Vs.
○ Whether you’re heading to a birthday dinner out or a small gathering in the park, our safety measures put the health of you and your loved ones first.
6. Write clear, precise and simple instructions
○ Tap “YXZ” on the feedback screen. vs.
○ When you see the feedback screen, tap “YXZ”
7. Do not make noun clusters of more than three nouns
○ email account of the Partner Admin Company” vs.
○ “Partner Admin Company email account”
8. When appropriate, use an article (the, a, an) or a demonstrative adjective (this, these) before a noun
○ “Play the movie or the show again.” vs.
○ “Play the movie or show again”
9. Avoid the use of gerunds / -ing form
○ “We send them a message to confirm their membership.” vs.
○ “We send them a message confirming their membership.”
10. Split long sentences into two: Avoid using more than 20 words in any sentence.
○ “The app is available in over 60 countries and 10,000 cities. It is easy for your team to request rides and order meals around the world.” vs.
○ “The app is available in over 60 countries and 10,000 cities, making it easy for your team to request rides and order meals around the world.”
If you are a copywriter, refer to the 10 tips above when editing your own content. If you are a localization professional, share these best practices with your writer’s team to ensure the English copy is optimized for translation. Having a clear and concise source copy will make your content more accessible and understandable for global audiences.