• Marion Bazzoli

How to collaborate effectively with a translation professional, part 2: style guides and glossaries

Let’s start with short definitions:

- style guides: they set a frame for the writing style used for your brand and ensure consistency throughout your marketing materia

- glossaries: they guarantee the consistency of your brand’s writing style from the original language to the target language, with an emphasis on to the context in which the word/phrase should be used.


- If you already have a glossary

You should send it to your translator. Ask yourself who has written it: one of your employee, or a professional translator?

If it was written by another translator, you can assume the glossary can be used as it is. If not, I would advise you to ask your translator to check for inconsistencies (that may occur within the glossary or between the glossary and the wording actually used in your marketing material).

It is fairly common to find at least some, this is why this first step first is crucial. In the end, it will ease your translator’s work, and in return you will get your translations faster.

- If you don’t have a glossary

You should ask your provider to create one. For this purpose, I would suggest that you send them all your current marketing material. If you already had it translated (or at least partially), send them both the original texts and their translations. If you never had any translation done before, then you can ask your translator to create a glossary from scratch. It will take time to have a comprehensive glossary, but it will be worth it, especially if you keep the same provider.

Tip: Expect your translator to ask you questions about the glossary: this is proof of their professionalism. Indeed, a glossary isn’t just a formula as “English word X = French word Y”; it takes many criteria into account: your brand’s voice, the platform it will be used on, the context in which it will used (for instance, in an article or in a CTA), and so on.

Style guides

If you already have a style guide in the target language, you will only need to send it to your translations provider. But what if you don’t?

- You have a style guide, but only in English

You should send it to your translator anyway. Even if it is originally purposed for people writing in your mother tongue, it will help the translator understand your writing style and mirror it in the translation.

Tip: if you plan on needing regular translations (i.e. if you have new products and need their descriptions to be translated, if you plan on having a social media channel in the translated language, etc.), you can ask your translator to create a guideline in their target language.

- You don’t have a style guide at all:

You can start creating one by following the categories hereunder. This will be your first draft, which will grow and evolve over time.

  1. Style:

  • Your target audience: Are they adults or teenagers, men or women? What are they looking for when visiting your website (vegan clothing, a lower impact on the environment, or maybe buying recycled/upcycled items?).

  • Context of reading and platform: Will they rather read your content on a computer or on a smartphone, and on which platform: your website, your social media channels? Depending on the type of medium (newsletter, the description of a product, a CTA, etc.), you will have to adjust your style.

  • Tone of voice:

- Target audience: for instance if you directly target children, you may want to use the informal “tu”, instead of the more formal “vous” (both translations of “you”)

Tip: In French, the informal “tu” is used only to talk to children, friends and family members, while “vous” is used in other instances. As such, it is by far the most common translation of “you” in the ecommerce sector, and what I would recommend using in most cases.

- Your original voice: is your brand serious or funny? Direct or indirect? Do you use short or long sentences? Only descriptive or more literary? If there are words/sentences you would prefer to avoid, leave as it is or translate with a specific term, you can add it here, in addition to mentioning this piece of information in the glossary.

- Platform and medium: as we touched upon earlier, they will have an influence on your tone of voice.

2. Linguistic conventions

  • Active VS passive voice: active is preferred to be more direct, for instance when convincing the prospect to buy your products, but you may need to use the passive voice in some specific contexts (for e.g. when writing legal notices).

  • Short or long sentences: you need to take into account that the French wording is usually longer than the English one. As such, if your brand’s voice uses short, to the point sentences, ask your translator to recreate this kind of sentence structure as best as they can.

  • Orthography and typography (list not at all exhaustive!):

- Use or not an accent on an upper case?

- Use em dashes, or parenthesis (or both)?

- When the English copy puts an upper case on the first letter of each word (often seen in titles or email subjects), follow it or comply with the French grammar rule by writing only the first letter of the first word with an upper case?

  • English VS French words: In the clothing industry, using English words is quite common in several languages, including in French. However, there are some elements to be taken into account:

- Adapt your choice according to your target client: while the use of English terms will be appropriate for youngsters, I would advise you to ask for their counterpart in French (whenever they exist) when writing for adults, especially in the luxury sector (a simple example: “look” can be left as it is, but you could also use the French “tenue” or “ensemble”, for a more formal tone).

- There are English words that either are now part of French dictionaries (such as “designer” or “derby”), or don’t have a French translation at all (for instance, you can leave as it is words like “colour-block” or “legging”).

Tip: In case of uncertainty, you can look up on the Larousse dictionary. Yet be aware that it will be useful for the most common words, but not for the terms specific to the fashion industry, especially the most recent ones.

/!\ Be careful: by law (loi Toubon, 1994), you are obliged to use the French equivalents whenever available, otherwise you may incur a fine.

  • Target country: we referred earlier to your target audience. If you would like to reach out several French-speaking countries, your content may need changes from a country to the other, for instance according to the laws involved (such as the Toubon law we just mentioned) or the local wording (an example: “zip” is translated with “fermeture à glissière” in French from France, but with “tirette” in French from Belgium).

  • Numbers:

- Do you prefer always following the source formatting, or adjusting it according to the context? For instance, in descriptive texts, it is more common in French to spell out the digits than in English.

- Dates: you need to localize those for your French audience: in French, we follow the DD/MM/YYYY format. You can choose to use “/”, or “-“, or to have the date spelled out.

- Measures: to ensure consistency, you can create a size conversion table.

- Currencies: don’t forget to have your currencies automatically changed for the target country, or to put a handle on your website to do so. If you would like your translator to follow specific rules when they need to translate prices, do not forget to mention it in your style guide.

Final tip: ideally, your translator should have 3 elements in hand: a glossary, a style guide and reference material (previous translations, pictures, the layout in which will be inserted the translation, and so on). This is how they will be able to give you the best translation possible.

Remember: if you don’t have a glossary and/or a style guide, your translator will be the most qualified person to create them for you.