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Odi et amo. Quare id faciam, fortasse requiris.

Nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior.

 

(I hate and I love. Why do I do this, perhaps you ask.

I do not know, but I feel it happening and I am tortured.)

 

- Catullus 85

 

"Odi et amo". I hate and I love is what the Latin poet Catullus wrote. That is exactly the kind of contrasting feelings that, several hundred years later, hit translators, reviewers, and copywriters/transcreators when dealing with style guides - which means, if you are in the translation and localization industry, more or less every day. Catullus clearly did not need a style guide (and that is why his "love and hate" feelings were simply addressed to his mistress Lesbia), but we do. Oh, if we do, then why? Well, because it is an essential work document serving both the brand (as cleverly explained by fellow translator Laura Cattaneo in her recent guest post on Jo Rourke's blog) and the linguists/writers committed to recreating that brand's soul with words.

No matter how crucial it is, the style guide is equally loved and hated. Loved, because it is the main writing reference to look at when it comes to voice and style as well as a super-powerful tool that helps to ensure consistency and coherency, which is a true safety net in many situations. The master of all style guides, published by Microsoft, set the standard several years ago and it is still a must-read for everyone in the industry.

However, the style guide is also hated, as it too often ends up being an endless, unstructured set of instructions, full of useless information that is difficult to reference. In my experience as a translator and localizer, I have collected tons of style guides, some of which I have been using every single day for more than 10 years. Comparing them, it is easy to see what makes them stand out or not, so I decided to compile a very short list of what are the best practices to keep in mind when writing this document. Efforts to improve it are never wasted, and they benefit its writers and users alike.

 

DOS

 

  1. KEEP IT AS SHORT AS POSSIBLE 

Long reference materials are a burden, not an aid. Linguists are usually given a very short time to "digest" references - sad but true. Avoid long sections and explanations. Always go straight to the point. Every time a specific piece of information is needed, just give it in a concise and direct way.

 

  1. MAKE USE OF VISUAL AIDS

Many people have a photographic memory and can feel a little daunted by endless text blocks. Regardless of the kind of memory one is equipped with, however, visual aids can be beneficial to everyone. Try to sum up concepts with bullet points, charts, tables, and infographics that are easily understood and memorized.

 

  1. PROVIDE EXAMPLES AND CHEAT SHEETS

It is good to define clear instructions for each and every situation that the linguist might encounter. It is even better to provide examples that translate abstract concepts into real-life situations. This will help linguists remember the information and avoid ambiguity or misunderstandings. Consistency and alignment are key in l10n.

Moreover, style guides are all very similar and it is easy to get confused. If you think you have very peculiar instructions concerning specific points, consider providing cheat sheets that sum them up in a concise, easy-to-use quick reference.

 

  1. PROVIDE RECAP CHARTS AT UPDATES

Style guides follow the life of the brand that they serve, thereby changing and evolving with it. Updates are good, but there's nothing more frustrating, as a linguist, than having to go through a 165 page guide only to find out that just a couple of lines were amended. Anytime you add or remove something, provide change summaries so that the readers know where and what to look for.

 

  1. ASK FOR FEEDBACK - AND USE IT!

Linguists are the main users of a style guide. They read it so extensively that they sometimes know it by heart. For this reason, they will notice all the good and bad parts of it. Ask for their valuable feedback and then use it for improvement.

 

DON’TS

 

  1. AVOID OBVIOUS INFO

I've got news for you: if you feel the need to instruct a linguist about how to write accents or use punctuation, you're not hiring a pro. This kind of information is tedious and useless for most professionals. Avoid details that are well known by educated writers, unless you decide to deviate from the norm for certain reasons (marketing choices, brand distinctiveness, etc.).

 

  1. DON'T MIX CONTENTS

Keep separate sections for a different type of contents and try to identify as many areas of interest as possible. Don't mix instruction related, for example, to marketing texts with those intended for technical documents. Again, make contents easy to be scanned through and remember that repetitions are welcome when necessary.

 

  1. AVOID UNFRIENDLY LAYOUTS AND FORMATS

When it comes to written texts, the layout is king, and style guides make no exception. Structure yours in clear sections and make good use of summaries, cross-links, headers, and paragraphs.

The format is equally important. Style guides are usually provided in Word or as a PDF: they are not the best choices. They are heavy, visually boring and, what's worse, local; they are not contemporary formats in the present cloud era. Consider using different formats instead. For example, I have seen very good style guides offered as an online help. They're simply wonderful: easy to use, easily searchable, easily shareable, and easily accessible.

 

It all boils down to asking yourself a few questions: What is most important to you? Who are the intended users of your style guide? What do you really want them to pay attention to? Answer these and everything else will follow.

 

 

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  Sara Pisano

  Traduttrice e localizzatrice

  L.4/13 G.U.26.01.13 

  Socia ordinaria AITI 208054

  P.IVA 02594360733

 

 

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