Do You Know How To Write English For Global Audiences?

When you write for international audiences, mainly directly in English, you will need to develop an audience profile. In particular, you will have to show consistency and clarity in style/expression and you will have to be culturally sensitive. Both choices will make your documents easier to understand and translate and therefore, will decrease the cost of the localization project.

Some of my recommendations will be:

a. Use plain English and be clear in style

1. Use short and complete sentences in correct English 2. Use questions and statements in positive terms 3. Use relative pronouns 4. Definite abbreviations and acronyms 5. Use punctuation 6. Do not overuse advanced terminology

English allows writers to omit relative pronouns in some cases. For example: "The book you showed me is very interesting". Because the relative pronoun "that" is not strictly necessary, some writing divisions (of companies/organizations) routinely omit it in the interest of being concise. However, many other languages do not allow the same omission and the lack of the pronoun can cause problems for translators. Acronyms and abbreviations are heavily used in certain industries and sectors, such as telecommunications.

As a general writing principle, you should always write out completely the meaning of the abbreviation or acronym when you first use it, including the abbreviation or acronym in parentheses directly after it. For example: "They must open up, document and actively support their application programming interfaces (APIs) to allow third-party suppliers to plug into the core content management system (CMS).

b. Be culturally neutral

1. Avoid metaphors, analogies and similes 2. Use globally accepted icons and symbols 3. Avoid idioms and slang 4. Do not use neologisms 5. Avoid humor 6. Be cautious with descriptions of people, cultures and civilizations

Slang consists of vocabulary that is casual or playful. Slang is part of one's culture and often originates from television, movies and political events. Slang should be avoided as much as possible when writing for translation. Not only does slang almost certainly cause translation problems, but it can also cause your writing to become quickly obsolete. Just as with slang, the effective life of humor can be very short. Much humor is extremely topical. One year later it may no longer seem so funny. Humor is very dangerous to use in formal writing as people who share the same language fail to find the same things funny or very often, find them offensive.

While today's society can be obsessed with political correctness, it cannot be denied that humor is culturally based and should be used sparingly, if at all. Finally, symbols and icons should be globally accepted. For example, using a graphic design of a musical note for notes within documents, or an icon of an insect for the debug command are problems for translation. They rarely translate well and may introduce taboos as well. Graphics of human figures should also be avoided, unless they are generic. Some cultures have a more developed "gestural" vocabulary than English and a seemingly innocent graphic may be offensive.

No animal should be used to represent anything other than the actual animal. A cow, for example, might be fine for the USA but what about India? Animals are powerful symbols in many cultures, and there is no universal animal symbol template. A German ad for a bank shows mice sitting on some coins. Because mice is a slang word for money in German. Have you ever thought of that? Bottom line: don't use them unless you are representing the actual animal.

c. The plain English network (

The Plain English Network is a government-wide group of volunteers working to improve communications from the federal government to public. Their web site contains lots of resources to help writers achieve the goal of clear communication. Their main three principles are:

1. Use reader-oriented writing
2. Use natural expression
3. Make your document visual appealing.

Visit if you live in the UK for a similar campaign.

Thei Zervaki is a career and business coach and founder of the Ditch your Resume? portal ( She coaches individuals who don't like to edit resumes and don't know what to do when they grow up. She also delivers fun workshops. Email her at

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