Cecily's Reviews > The Global English Style Guide: Writing Clear, Translatable Documentation for a Global Market

The Global English Style Guide by John R. Kohl
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Nov 18, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: language-related
Read in January, 2009

Aimed at technical authors, not novelists, this is an excellent guide to writing English in a way that is easier for non-native speakers to understand and for translators to translate. It includes plenty of examples.

However, it also reprises many rules and guidelines of English grammar that would be useful to a wider audience.

Although much of the guidance just reinforced what I already know and do professionally (though not in reviews!), it was good to have it crystallised, aided by lots of clear practical examples and the fact it is easy to find information.

Cardinal rule

Don’t make any change that will sound unnatural to a native English speaker, just to fit the global guidance.

Key points

• Use correct, standard grammar and punctuation. (Follow the prescriptivists, for once.)

• Avoid idioms and non-literal analogies (do you really "hover" over something on a screen?) unless you are sure they are standard terms and have been defined. Even then, machine translation may slip up.

• Watch for ambiguity, especially in noun phrases; hyphenation can help. Is a “spatial data file” a data file that is spatial or a file that contains spatial data?

• Keep related sentence components together; try not to separate them with other elements ("turn off the zoom tool by clicking" is better than "turn the zoom tool off").

• Keep sentences short and be generous with commas. Have potential interrupters like "however", "for example" and "if necessary" at the start of a new sentence, rather than the middle of a longer one.

• Bullets are great. But make sure the lead-in words fit what follows and that each bullet point makes sense on its own.

• Limit passives. They are tricky to translate because many languages use it less or in different ways.

• Be positive; negatives, especially multiple ones, can be confusing.

• Use verb-centered writing ("explain" is better than "provide an explanation").

• Use simplest tense. In particular, beware the unnecessary future (auxiliary “will”): "X has no effect" is better than "X will have no effect".

• Ensure it's clear exactly what pronouns and phrases like “either... or” and "both... and” refer to.

• Reinforce causality with "If... then...".

• Gerunds - gah. They have a whole chapter. Look for ambiguity, punctuate correctly, consider using hyphens. Take care with gerund headings when it’s not clear if it’s a verb or a noun, e.g. is “Editing options” about how to edit options or is it about options for editing?

• Use syntactic cues (including the much derided "that", especially after verbs such as: assume, ensure, require, specify), even if they add slightly to length.

• Initial capitals are often over-used. It's not just a visual distraction; translators often don't translate proper nouns.

• Consistency is even more important for documents that will be translated, so take special care with any that are worked on by more than one author.

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08/01/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-10 of 10) (10 new)

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message 1: by Caroline (new)

Caroline Gosh, it sounds a minefield.

My only experience with translation is on flickr, where I communicate with several people who don't speak English, and I don't speak their language either. We often both lean heavily on something like Google translate, often with gobbledegook results. I have learnt to keep it simple...


Cecily Google translate is better than nothing at all, and it's better than flicking through a dictionary word by word (like the Rivers sisters in Jane Eyre), but it's no good for serious translation.

However, professional translation agencies often use machine translation for a first parse, then have human translators to check and polish.

Either way, keeping it simple is, as you say, key. But harder than it sounds!


message 3: by Caroline (last edited Apr 04, 2015 03:15AM) (new)

Caroline Cecily wrote: "Google translate is better than nothing at all, and it's better than flicking through a dictionary word by word (like the Rivers sisters in Jane Eyre), but it's no good for serious translation.

Ho..."


How amazing to learn that professional translation agencies often start off with a machine translation! I would have thought it would make things much worse rather than better - not least because you would still have to give the original document a close reading. It suggests that heavy editing is easier than starting from scratch....


Cecily Yep. I was shocked when I found out. And the cleverer MT becomes, the more it will be used.


message 5: by Ruth (new)

Ruth We have a small (tiny really) translation business and at first we so snubbed MT. But we have discovered, particularly, as MT improves, that believe it or not, heavy editing is easier. (Can't believe I just said that in public.)


Cecily Well, I'd already let the secret out in general. ;)

Mind you, it makes me wonder why Google Translate is not better than it is.


message 7: by Bavyan (new)

Bavyan Pleases, could you recommend me some books to improve my writing skills and to avoid the grammar mistakes that appear in writing? Or to learn how to write a novel . I would appreciate that.


Cecily Bavyan wrote: "Pleases, could you recommend me some books to improve my writing skills and to avoid the grammar mistakes that appear in writing? Or to learn how to write a novel . I would appreciate that."

Hi Bavyan. I'm not a teacher and I've never attempted to write a novel. I can only suggest you read a lot of novels in the genre you want to write it. Readers make the best writers, I'm assured.


message 9: by Samra (new) - added it

Samra Yusuf You are a lovely teacher........
"readers make best writers"..what else can a great teacher say?


Cecily Samra wrote: "You are a lovely teacher........
"readers make best writers"..what else can a great teacher say?"


You're a lovely friend, but my advice is not really mine. I think it's been said by quite a few proper writers, though not necessarily in those exact words.


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