How to create a style guide and glossary for your brand (and why they are important)

Translation is a highly subjective matter. Give the same text to three translators with no guidelines whatsoever, and there’s a good chance that you’ll end up with three very different outputs. Give all these translations to three clients, and again, the probability that they each prefer a different one is fairly high. The truth is that, as the customer, you don’t so much want a great translation, as you want the right translation.

Getting localised content that meets your expectations is like ordering a steak in a restaurant. If you don’t specify how you like it cooked (medium-rare for me), as talented as the chef may be, you might end up with a great dish that still doesn’t make your taste buds go, wow! As part of your localisation strategy, you need to publish on-brand content that conveys the right image using the right tone. Overall consistency is key to this endeavour and can only be achieved if the translation process is guided right from the start – enter the style guide and glossary.


How would you like your translation?

‘I would like it relevant and consistent please. If you can make it within a reasonable timeframe and take out any unpleasant cost surprises, that would be perfect!’

Style guides and glossaries are essential tools that help your linguists to whip up top-quality translated content all the while helping you to streamline your localisation workflow:

Enhanced relevancy

This advantage rings particularly true for the glossary, which ensures that the terms you and your customers use are translated properly. Essentially, it’s about making sure that you’re speaking the same language. This is a key aspect of establishing trust and maintaining your brand’s reputation.

Improved quality

As mentioned earlier, a style guide and glossary to guide the localisation process will give your translation partner the utensils to ensure end-to-end consistency and serve your signature content on a global scale.

Time reduction

You might not be aware, but one single term can lead to lengthy discussions and debates as to how it should be translated: ‘The Larousse says X’, ‘Yes, but this white paper uses Y’, ‘To be honest, in a corporate environment, we only use the English word, Z’… This type of situation generally triggers an email to the client to see what their preference is, which often goes hand in hand with putting the translation work on hold.

Cost savings

You may have figured it out already that this benefit is directly linked to the others. Indeed, a fair chunk of all translation project costs stem from rework (mainly due to inconsistent terminology).


We need a style guide and a glossary for table 6!

‘That sounds perfect, but we don’t have these assets available right now. How can we create a style guide and a glossary?’

A style guide is a concise reference document that tells your linguists about your brand and how you want to communicate with your audience.

Your style guide is like a cookbook for linguists: something they read through before they get started so they have a good understanding of what your signature style is.

Your style guide should, above all, provide high-level information about your company in order to give some background to the linguists working on your content:

  • What is your company?
  • What products or service do you sell?
  • What’s your vision/ambition?
  • Who is your target audience? (In my opinion, this is probably the most important question, as the answer defines the tone and style of how you communicate.)
  • Tone: Are we talking to professionals/subject matter experts or end users who are not particularly domain-savvy? How do you want to come across?
  • Can you share reference material that is in line with your expectations?

It should also cover language conventions, which include all linguistic preferences for each language you’re translating into:

  • Should we address the reader formally or informally (e.g. with tu or vous in French)?
  • Do you encourage the use of active or passive voice?
  • Are you okay with using abbreviations?
  • User interface (UI) elements: If your company sells an app or a software, is it already localised? If so, can you share a glossary of the UI terms? If not, are you planning on localising it and what approach should be taken? Should the UI terms be kept in English followed by a translation in brackets or translated from scratch?
  • Do you want to apply inclusive writing principles? If so, to what extent and how should they be formalised? Options include using the interpunct, brackets, epicene (that is to say gender-neutral) words and the plural form.
  • How should bullet lists be treated in terms of capitalisation and punctuation?
  • What categories of terms shouldn’t be translated? URLs, product/plan/feature names, etc.
  • Should the linguist localise currencies, times or units of measure?

A glossary is a list of terms that must always be translated in the same way to keep your translations consistent across all your communications.

Think of your glossary as a list of signature ingredients to be used in your recipes.

Though the more comprehensive, the better, you really need to focus on how to translate the terms that are critical to ensuring your content is relevant to your audience and consistent throughout. Examples include:

  • Industry-specific terms that will resonate with your audience
  • Company-specific terms that define your brand
  • ‘Do not translate’ (DNT) terms, i.e. words that should be kept in the original language
  • All-purpose words that you would like a specific translation or spelling for (‘plateforme’ or ‘plateforme’, for example)
  • A short definition for each term is definitely a plus

While gathering and providing all this information to your translation partner might seem like a daunting task, remember that style guides and glossaries are the means for you to get the right translation.


The chef’s recommendation, coming right up!

‘I’m afraid we don’t have anyone in-house that could create a style guide and a glossary, what can we do?’

We are aware that you might not have people in-house dedicated to creating linguistic assets. We’ve got you covered. We offer the creation of style guides and glossaries as part of our services. It’s the cherry on the cake, isn’t it? We can create these linguistic assets for you and share them with our linguists before any actual translation work starts, so they know exactly what is expected of them and so they can get your translation just right.

All you need to do share is the URL of your website and any reference material (such as your brand guidelines) in your source language with us, and we’ll entrust the preparation work to seasoned linguists. We will provide you with a list of suggested key terms – along with their translation and definition – as well as a carefully drafted style guide for you to approve before the actual translation work commences. …Did I say ‘cherry on the cake’ already?

Now that you have a clearer understanding of why creating a style guide and a glossary is important, let your translation partner know what your secret ingredients are to ensure you get the right translation. If you don’t feel like cooking up these assets yourself, you can always choose to order ‘take-out’ and have them delivered straight to your mailbox – and trust me when I say AJT is a great cook!

PS: Sorry if this article has made you hungry!


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