Start With a Style Guide


Creating a language use guide for proper company branding across all materials and media is like supplying a map for a complicated journey: hours of copywriting missteps and wrong turns can be eliminated. With specific language requirements in hand, anyone writing marketing copy for your product literature or website can more easily retain the voice and attitude of your original material, in addition to precisely reproducing other less subjective details, such as layout and font options.

A style guide defines how to handle just about every language issue, thus answering hundreds of questions and providing a vision for everyone to follow. Ideally, all authors in the company should review it thoroughly before they begin, and refer to it all along the way. The guide outlines how to best verbalize ideas so that they come out “sounding like” your company, minimizing the need for individuals to base choices on personal preferences.

Begin by clarifying the desired audience, including the basics of age, gender, education level and technological ability. Delineate preferred tone, goals, syntax, and phraseology, using examples of “do’s” and “don’ts” whenever possible. Determine the details your company’s voice is best supported by in terms of formatting, fonts, punctuation, acronyms, etc., and itemize these for your translators. A focused effort to bring together these guiding principles is estimated to take 8-10 hours, with the likelihood of saving hundreds later on, while preventing embarrassing or costly errors.

Style guides are a powerful tool for improving the communication of your English-speaking staff, but they are also invaluable aids to branding across international markets. Augment your core style guide with tips from in-country language specialists and on-site staff members in the countries where you do business. The guide can be translated with special issues addressed for every language you work with (Facebook has 72 style guides for different markets), or it can be an English document with sections dedicated to guidance for other languages. With such a framework made clear to translators before they even begin their work, the more difficult tasks of interpreting ideas and recreating them in other languages will go that much more smoothly.

The benefits of style guides:

  • Providing a consistent product experience for customers, which increases confidence and encourages brand loyalty
  • Creation of stronger brand personality and global recognition
  • Consistent brand messaging among all languages used
  • Reduction of potentially damaging translation imprecision and errors that have to be cleaned up later
  • Easier focus for all concerned on the creation of powerful branding

Starting with product concepts that are mutually understood, and providing as much specific guidance as possible, you can also let your style guide evolve as you receive feedback from translators, in-country staff, and users. Translation is an art and the development of a style guide to maximize its effectiveness is a nuanced process, a dialogue between you, your translators and your customers, and it should continue to evolve over time.

Skrivanek is available to assist your company in creating style guides for multiple languages and countries.

Jacquelyn McShulskis

2 thoughts on “Start With a Style Guide

  1. Interesting thoughts and well summarized challenges of having a consistentn branding at every stage of the documentation process. One area that’s not addressed here is the importance of considering the translation workflow. There are not only human translators involved, there are automated processes. I think style guides should combine the branding and the vision of the product with the machine translation criteria (or translateability, if MT sounds too harsh). The more complicated and customized a style guide the messier the MT output, and the more expensive the Post-editing process. At a time when content is pushed quickly to users and becomes outdated quickly too, it’s critical to come up with simple and MT-ready rules.

  2. For me, the text seems too much attached to “branding”. In particular, out of 5 “benefits of style guides” 4 are described as branding-related. In the meantime, style guides serve for making materials user-friendly and efficient, more specifically – clear, unambiguous, simple. It doesn’t make much sense to cover all this within (too much extended) scope of “branding”.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s