BURG Translations Blog

How to create a translation style guide

If you’ve already read our article on how to get a document correctly translated, how to create a glossary, or pretty much any article on how to get benefit from a language service provider (LSP), you may have noticed that collaboration is the key.  You can create a translation style guide on your own. In fact, your company may have already created one for internal purposes. However, a translation style guide is for translating, not for writing original content.  This means that a lot of the work has already been done of you and the translator, because much of the style and what the translators needs to know is already in the content itself. The purpose of the translation style guide is to address anything that the content cannot address directly. 

There are many ways to say the same thing in any language.  For any variability that can’t be captured in a glossary, it can be captured by the translation style guide.  Technically, you can write anything you want in a style guide. At the end of the day, it is just a document that is going to the translator to help them translate your content the way you want.  

Before you start

Involve people who are about style guides, and the quality of the translation.  Some will know the target language and some may not, that’s ok. What matters is that you contribute where you can.  The more you and your team are involved in the process the more comfortable you will feel with the outcome and the better the outcome will be.  

Recognize that more than one style guide can be used.  Style guides can be divided by target language, department, content type, whatever you want.  The goal is to keep it brief, like under two pages. Remember that it’s important to keep it brief because there is no technology that is going to systematically implement style guide.  The translator will do their best to read, comprehend, retain, and apply what you write in the style guide, so keeping the information load small really helps ensure that what you write actually gets implemented.  


People tend to remember the beginning and the end the most and that is for translators as well.  The beginning of the style guide is the best place to talk directly to the translator. Describe the style, voice, personality of the source text – anything to help the translator understand what you’re going for.  

If the scope of the style guide is limited in any way, mention it.  “This is only for marketing material” or “This does not apply to highly technical documentation or documents from the legal department” is fine.  


If you’re using a style guide, you’re probably using a glossary too.  While the glossary is the right place to put terms, you can provide the rationale here to have the translator help you capture and contribute words to the glossary (in case you missed any).  Here is an example of a term section:

TerminologyDefault and examples
Abbreviations / AcronymsKeep source with target explanation in parentheses.
Brand names / TrademarksDo not translate.
Government agencies (e.g. FDA, AFSSAPS, etc.)Keep the source text untranslated, but add the target translation in parentheses, unless a localized version exists (e.g. WHO-OMS).
Job TitlesLocalize.
Taglines or slogansDo not translate.

Keep in mind that you’re not limited in any way.  This article is meant to show what can be useful to mention to the translators.  You can create a section or subsection on anything you think would help.  


Outside of nontranslatables, the most common kinds of numbers that translators will come across are dates, currencies, and measurements.  What kind of calendar should be followed? What currency should numbers be in? Should the translator always default to local measurements? Here is an example of a Numbers section:

ConversionsDefault and examples
CurrencyKeep source currency in translation.
Dates, timeLocalize as applicable, (mm/dd/yy to dd/mm/yy)
Measurement unitsLocalize all measures (English to metric, Fahrenheit to Celsius)

If your file has a lot of measurements in them, keep in mind what needs to match up with the documentation. For example, if your company manufactures a device and the documentation describes the measurement it uses, and the units of measure will not change, then the measurements in the documentation should not change.  


Company names would have been captured in the glossary, but in case there are other names that you missed or cannot predict, here is where you would explain what you are going for.  Here is an example:

Proper namesDefault and examples
PeopleKeep original Latin spellings. (If transliterated, cite Latin spelling initially in parentheses).
Place namesUse localized spelling where applicable (Mexico vs. México, Cologne vs. Köln, Nueva York versus New York, etc.), otherwise use source.


When translating content into different languages.  Graphics should be taken into account, such as matching ethnicity, etc.  Make it explicit if you want this service or not. Also mention qualifies of the graphics are acceptable including appropriate sources.  Here is an example:

PeopleIf you notice that the demographic or ethnicity of the document do not match the target audience, please let your point of contact at the company know so that arrangements can be made to modify the graphic. 

Graphics might also be a good place to put things like stamps and signatures.  For example, explain that for signatures, putting “(signature)” is adequate.  


If you have anyone on your team that is legitimately knowledgeable in the target language, they can contribute to elements in the target language, such as typographical conventions, spell, language rules, anything at all.  For example, as a rule, Arabic does not use abbreviations, so explaining what to do in this case might be helpful. Here is an example of this would be done:

AbbreviationsSome abbreviations and acronyms of well-known international organizations and institutions are used in Arabic as Arabicized names. For example: 

FAO, (الفاو)

ICARDA, (الإيكاردا)

UNESCO, (اليونسكو)

GATT, (الغات) 

If you don’t have anyone on our team that knows this stuff, don’t worry about it.  Let the translator set the precedence.  


When it comes to audio or video, the most common discussion is around how to pronounce company or product names.  Should it be an American accent? Local accent? etc. Also, around subtitles or LCD screens on machinery, if you know there is a character limit you want to mention it.  For example:

PronunciationDefault and examples
Proper NamesPronounce in the target language.
AbbreviationsSpell out the acronym. Exceptions:

GB: Global Brigades (with local accent)

Keep it updated

Each time you update your local version of the style guide, be sure to update the version intended for translators or inconsistency will creep in.  

Just cheat and use our style guide creation form

You could create your own style guide from scratch, or you can just fill out this handy translation style guide template, which will get you well on your way with minimal effort.  You can also download a PDF version below:

If you’d like to learn more about how BURG Translations helps you ensure high-quality translations, contact us today.

The importance of writing style in document translations

The Glossary and the translation Style Guide are the two main tools (after translation memory) that translators use to optimize the quality of their translations by taking into account client preferred terms and style.  The glossary revolves around words that are explicitly determined (exactly what source terms and target terms should be used), while the translation style guide revolves around words that are abstractly defined (eg: whether to write formally or informally).   

This article will explain how language service providers (LSPs) standardize writing style, what tool they use, and how it works.  We will also cover when it makes sense to bother with this tool.  

How do LSPs maintain consistent writing style?

Assuming the LSP is using professionally trained translators, LSPs standardize writing style using a tool called a Translation Style Guide – or simply a style guide.  If you read our article on glossaries, then you know that glossaries are meant to standardize terms. What if you can’t write out every word or phrase you want to standardize? What if you just want to explain the ideas behind the writing style? That’s exactly what a translation style guide does for translators.   

What is a Translation Style Guide?

Most people know of style guides as documents that formally define style and formatting – they are meant for multiple authors to maintain uniformity across multiple documents.  A translation style guide is the same, but different.  Authors need to know what to write in order to be consistent, but translators can see the style and other information in the source files they translate.  

So what more do translators need to know? 

Whatever else is not explicitly in the source text but is nonetheless required information to be able to translate properly.  One example is abbreviations.  The source text may have an abbreviation in it.  Should the author keep the abbreviation, translate the abbreviation, translate the abbreviation but keep the original source in parenthesis, keep the abbreviation in the source language but translate it in parenthesis? Other examples might be related to whether or not measurements should be converted to metric, currencies converted into local currencies, how to deal with place names, etc. Some of this stuff is extremely subjective, so if translators don’t get guidance, they go by their preference rather than yours. The style guide is your opportunity to control for this.   

Here is a glimpse of a section of a style guide:

ConversionsDefault and examples
CurrencyKeep source currency in translation.
Dates, timeLocalize as applicable, (mm/dd/yy to dd/mm/yy)
Measurement unitsLocalize all measures (English to metric, Fahrenheit to Celsius)

Translation style guides are typically doc files and tend to have several sections in them.  The section above only covers what to do when faced with currencies, time and measurements. There can be any number of sections in a style guide, but you want to keep style guides brief in general.  Here are the details for how to create a translation style guide.  

How does a Translation Style Guide work?

First and foremost, a translation style guide is a document that accompanies the source files meant for translation.  When the translator receives the source files, they will also receive the style guide and read it in order to understand how to go about translating the source files.  There is no accompanying technology to help the translator. They are stuck reading the style guide, understanding it, memorizing whatever they can, and applying it, without the aid of any technology.  This is because, almost by definition, the style guide contains information that cannot be perfectly defined by specific translated words. This means that the main role a translation style guide has is to give instructions to the translator.  These instructions can be structured, like defining what to do when encountering different kinds of numbers, conversions, abbreviations, etc. or it can be unstructured, and be a message to the translator describing who the target audience is and voice, or personality, you were going for in the original authoring.  

How important is a Translation Style Guide?

It depends, on how important is the articulation of the translation to you. It’s not always important.  If accuracy is all you care about, then there is no need to bother with a style guide. If how that accuracy is conveyed matters, then a style guide is the tool that will get you what you need.  For example, clients who need a document translated into English, for the purpose of simply understanding what a document says, don’t care about style guides – they just want to know what it says.  On the other hand, Marketing will care a lot about whether or not a style guide is applied to translation projects.

If you’d like to learn more about how BURG Translations helps you ensure high-quality translations, contact us today.

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