Writing for an International Audience

When you are writing for an international audience, for whom English is most likely a second language, you should take care to:

  • Never hyphenate. Even a word like “international” is hard enough to read without a hyphen breaking it across two lines (“interna- tional).
  • Stay away from clichés (“easy as pie”) or local expressions (“like a Red Sox fan…”) that are difficult or impossible to explain.
  • Use straightforward, every-day language, not business or industry jargon or unexplained acronyms. Maybe everyone in the U.S. knows what FDA stands for; those initials have quite different meanings in various foreign countries.
  • Avoid product names that may have an embarrassing meaning in other languages. Even major corporations run into this problem regularly; check with a native language speaker to make sure you haven’t inadvertently insulted your customers or your own company.
  • Look closely at illustrations. Are men and women dressed or touching each other in ways that another culture would find offensive? Are background colors, words, furniture and even weather appropriate to the country you are trying to reach?
  • Leave enough space on the page and in tables, captions and figures for the extra words that may be needed to explain something for a foreign audience.

Those rules apply even if you are translating your content into the language of your customers. If translators struggle to explain clichés, jargon, acronyms and embarrassing product names and if they run out of space to translate your words exactly, their translation may misinterpret what you mean.

If you need help preparing your content for translation or for customers who read English as a second language, contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications. If we can’t help, we can direct you to companies that can.