Style matters

Especially if you translate for direct clients, it’s important to think about style; not as in “she has a wordy writing style” (which I do…) but as in Chicago Style versus AP Style versus the many house style guides or subject-specific style guides that are out there, versus no style guide whatsoever, which is what many clients use now.

Why, you might wonder, is style so important? Well:

  • Perhaps most importantly, style guides keep things consistent and thus easier to read. They keep your documents from looking like a ragged mess.
  • A style guide serves as a single point of reference for everyone who writes or translates for a client.
  • A style guide saves time. Instead of looking up, for the twelfth time, how the company’s address is formatted on their website (Park Ave? Parke Ave.? Park Avenue?), you just refer to the style guide.
  • A style guide saves money, both in the time spent editing documents after the fact, and in the cost of fixing or even re-printing documents that have inconsistencies in them.

Working with clients that have a house style guide can be great: the rules are all laid out for you. But it can also be confusing, because house style guides generally mean that the client is not completely satisfied with any of the standard style guides out there (such as Chicago and AP)and decided to create their own. House style guides often tend to be long. If you translate regularly for the same clients, you get familiar with their house style; but if it’s a one-off job, it can be a significant time drain to familiarize yourself with a 27-page style guide to translate 500 words.

I’m a big fan of the Chicago Manual of Style, partially because I think serial commas (which Chicago style advocates, and AP style discourages) are absolutely the way to go. Otherwise you end up with sentences like “He was joined on stage by his two ex-wives, Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings” (thanks to the New Yorker’s comma queen for that one…). So, for general guidelines, like capitalization (West Africa or west Africa?), numbers (the second day or the 2nd day?), or plurals (she got all As, or she got all A’s?), I use Chicago. And while we’re at it, you can now get the 16th (most current) edition of Chicago Style in Spanish.

Whether my clients have a house style guide, or whether I’m using Chicago for my own reference, I often try to create a style guide of client-specific names and terms. Here are some entries you may want to put in client-specific style guides:

  • Staff names and titles, especially the head honchos. Especially if key staff have complicated names, you need the correct version: was the CEO’s name Krzyzewski or Krzizewsky? Who’s the VP who always uses her middle initial? Does the top person like to be referred to as CEO or Chief Executive Officer, or something else? Creating standard translations for job titles and departments in your language is a great idea and can be a huge time-saver: Mergers and Acquisitions? Mergers & Acquisitions? Mergers/Acquisitions?
  • The company/entity name. This sounds crazy, but organization names are often styled in a particular way, and the preferred style may change over time. And, clearly, a mistake in an organization’s name is a major source of embarrassment. In the 90s, Kentucky Fried Chicken and the American Association of Retired Persons decided to scrap their full names and just use initials. In 2004, LG suddenly decided that its initials stood for “Life’s Good.” So, make sure you have the official style of the company name.
  • Product names. This is critical if you translate for clients that sell products under different names in different regions or countries. For example, Nestlé’s chocolate milk powder used to be referred to as Nestlé Quik in the US but as Nesquik in Europe. The skin cream Oil of Olay used to go by Oil of Ulay in Europe. Definitely include things like this in your client-specific style guide.
  • Client preferences. Clients sometimes have preferences that may seem odd to us; but since they’re the ones who pay the bills, we need to accommodate them. For example I’ve had several clients that use the European floor numbering system (ground floor, first floor, second floor) in English. I have a couple of clients that mix US and UK spellings: for example UK spellings except for “ize” words, and so on. These kinds of things don’t necessarily stick in your head, so include them in your style guide.

Readers, over to you: any other thoughts on style guides?

6 Responses to “Style matters”
  1. Lucy October 29, 2015
  2. Borja October 29, 2015
  3. Kate Sotejeff-Wilson October 29, 2015
  4. Brigida Selmeczi-Bowen October 29, 2015
  5. Michael Schubert October 29, 2015
  6. Jay McLellan-Veroeven November 2, 2015

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