In Translation/Localization

The source file is the most important document in the translation process. The source file, which is the file to be translated into another language, highly affects the outcome of the target text or the translated text. In this blog post, we’ll explore the characteristics of a good source file.

Where to Begin

To determine what makes a good source file, we looked to the experts who evaluate source files on a daily basis – our translation team. Our translation team unanimously agreed that the #1 best practice when writing or developing a source file is to write clearly in the source language. You can only achieve clearly written translated content when you start with well-written source content. Try reading your content from the perspective of your target audience (the people who will be reading or using it) to determine if it’s understandable. Be wary of colloquialisms, regionalisms, idioms, or slang that might be confusing in another culture.

If writing clearly is the #1 best practice, a closely related concept comes in at #2: keep it simple. When developing source content destined for translation, it’s best to put your thesaurus away. Keeping your words, sentences, and paragraphs short, simple, and direct yields a better-quality translation. When your source content is in English, consider writing in Global English. Global English is a set of guidelines for written English aimed at producing an easy-to-understand document. Take a look at our blog, “Global English. What Is It and Why Should You Use It?” for details.

Keep it Simple

Beyond writing in clear, simple, and direct language, our translation team tells us that formatting cannot be overlooked. Formatting, numbers, and images must be reviewed carefully when preparing a source file for translation. If the layout of the design is packed tight with text formatted around images with little or no wiggle room, the translation will be more difficult to complete. Keep in mind that words aren’t always the same length in another language. In fact, single words in one language could take an entire phrase to translate in another language. Take, for example, the 5-letter English word “email.” In Arabic, this must be translated as two words, “electronic mail,” and takes up substantially more space:


البريد الإلكتروني

Beyond that, Arabic is written right-to-left. So, text carefully formatted around a left-justified image may just not look right in the Arabic translation. Keep the formatting as simple as possible to allow for text expansion or contraction. Extracting text from charts, graphs, or images will speed up the translation process.

Provide Context

Another tip offered by our translators is “never overlook the power of reference materials.” Glossaries, brand guidelines, and even explanatory materials to give context to the content to be translated all make for a better translation. For example, a glossary is a helpful resource to the translator when translating very technical documentation, such as engineering, scientific, or medical-related material. If the words within your document could have meanings that aren’t generally associated with them, then a glossary will allow the translator to fully understand the meaning of the term, and therefore, allow them to provide a more accurate translation. A glossary can be as simple as defining terms in the source text within a separate word document and can even include preferred translations.

Brand guidelines help ensure that your carefully cultivated brand image remains consistent across cultures. All languages have synonyms and words or phrases with substantially similar meanings, but different nuance based on context. Sharing your brand guidelines with your translation team will help them find the right words or phrases to most closely match your intended message.

Glossaries, brand guidelines, and other reference materials help set context. Context helps translators know when “tire” means to lose energy and when a part of a wheel. It helps them choose the right pronoun, especially when translating from a language that has genderless pronouns, like Turkish, into one with gendered pronouns, like English. In this context (pun intended), our translators offer a bonus tip: be wary of machine translation without human editing and review. Take a look at, “Another Google Translate Blunder” for more on this.

Don’t Forget About Localization

The final word of advice from our translators is this: don’t forget about images and colors. If your source file contains images, graphs, and colors, you must consider the perception of these items in the countries where the target language is spoken.

Take the lovely wedding dress, for example. In the United States, the traditional color for wedding dresses is white. But in China, it’s red. In Morocco, it’s bright yellow or green. In Spain, it’s black. In several cultures, specific prints or patterns are used, like flowers, butterflies, or specific patterns of colors. Localizing Beyond the Words: Images, Emojis, and Colors is a blog that dives deeper on this topic. The general idea is that localization should be considered before you begin the translation. If the source file contains items that haven’t been localized, you’re bound to run into some problems.

When you are getting ready to create your source content, think about how you can ensure the best possible quality target language content. Start with a clearly written and concise document that has simple formatting. Consider whether you need any reference materials to set context or define any tricky or uncommon terms. Take a look at your formatting and consider whether it is flexible enough to handle any changes. Finally, consider whether you need to localize your images and colors.

If you’re preparing a source file for the first time, don’t hesitate to connect with us to make sure you’re on the right track!

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