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How to Create a Translation Style Guide and Terminology Glossary

On-brand, localized content is vital to global marketing effectiveness.

Every marketer knows that language style guides are important to ensure high-quality professional translations, but many of us struggle to create them. These resource-intensive documents frequently get pushed down the priority list by projects and problems with tight deadlines or vocal advocates.

But in the global marketplace, translation style guides and terminology glossaries are high-value tools that go beyond helping your team create great content. These documents give your language services provider (LSP) the critical information required to ensure high-quality localized content for all target languages, markets, and locales.

A translation style guide is a set of rules for how your company presents itself textually and visually. Think of it as a guidebook for your language service provider (LSP) that includes rules about voice, writing style, sentence structure, spelling, and usage for your company.

A style guide isn’t a grammar manual with the rules of language. It’s a document that helps content creators and translators choose the preferred language elements for most effectively communicating with customers and prospects in target markets.

A terminology glossary contains the building blocks for your website content. It’s a database containing key terminology used by your company and customers and their approved translations in all target languages.

The glossary helps translators ensure that each time a defined key term appears in a corresponding language, it’s used consistently and correctly.

On-brand, localized content is vital to global marketing effectiveness.

A 2016 Aberdeen Group report found that companies that localize consistent, on-brand content see stronger marketing ROI—over double the average marketing ROI of companies that create local content without brand consistency (53% vs. 21%).

Aberdeen Group also found that companies that localize on-brand content achieve 46% higher customer retention rates compared to other businesses. You simply can’t afford not to have engaging and relevant content in every target language.

Why do I need a translation style guide and terminology glossary?

86% of localized campaign creative out-performed English versions in click-through and conversion rates, recording a 22% lift.*

Marketers know that localization is important. 40% of respondents in a 2015 Lionbridge survey said translation quality was the most important aspect of website localization. Yet 56% of global companies surveyed said translation quality was also their biggest localization challenge.

A style guide and glossary are vital tools for increasing translation quality and localization effectiveness. Further benefits of using these linguistic assets include:

  • Engagement: Increase relevance to customers and prospects. The glossary, in particular, ensures that the terms used by you and your customers are translated properly into target languages. This is crucial for building and maintaining your brand’s reputation, establishing trust, and improving engagement.

  • Time: Get to market faster. The style guide and glossary reduce protracted discussions about how to handle certain terms or which voice is appropriate. They also reduce cycle times by negating the need for back-and-forth emails and calls with questions about basic rules. Your LSP’s team works faster and more accurately by accessing the guide and enforcing its rules during the localization process, instead of having to stop and wait for guidance from you.

  • Quality: Present a consistent message across markets. These assets also ensure consistency across markets, enabling you to maintain consistent brand messaging in any language. Providing your LSP with these guidelines empowers their language experts to localize and/or transcreate from the same core concepts, giving you one voice in many languages.

  • Cost: Reduce spend. Style guides and glossaries reduce confusion and rework by providing a standard, authoritative reference for your marketing and translation teams. Approximately 15% of all translation project costs arise from rework, and the primary cause of rework is inconsistent terminology.

Developing a translation style guide and terminology glossary are the first steps in the localization process. You and your team can handle most of the work yourselves with guidance from your professional translation company, or you can consult with them on generating these assets for you. Whichever route you choose, it’s important to use your most up-to-date source content in order to create highly relevant linguistic assets.

Tip: A marketer, or someone else familiar with a company’s brand strategy, should work on creating a style guide and glossary before translation happens. An LSP can help to develop the actual materials, but a marketer must provide guidance around brand identity and industry terminology.

What to include in your translation style guide

Most companies adopt a base style manual that provides in-depth rules for just about everything related to style, punctuation, usage, spelling, and grammar. The most popular are the Chicago Manual of Style and the Associated Press Style Book.

The most useful, and therefore effective, style guides encourage consistency with easy-to-follow rules (and examples) of style that are unique to your company or exceptions to the published rules, including:

Reference materials. Establish the localization project with important background information, including the objective or purpose of the material to be localized (sales training, website, marketing campaign, etc.), how closely the LSP should adhere to your original source text, and whether the information should focus on information or style. Other important resources include samples of source text and/or previous transcreation work, and preferences for handling concatenated strings and other software string issues.

Buyer persona or audience. While the marketing team likely has very detailed descriptions of each buyer persona or audience type, distilled versions are most useful within the style guide. Describing each persona or audience with the most critical attributes gives your LSP a clear picture of your prospect and customer including:

  • Key objectives

  • Most challenging obstacles

  • Fears and concerns

  • KPIs and success metrics

  • And information such as age, title, country, region, etc.

Spelling. Include the correct spellings of any words that are frequently misspelled. For instance, do you capitalize Tweet; is website one word or two? You may also include alternate spellings for various audiences, such as “color” for U.S. English speakers and “colour” for U.K. English speakers. Addressing these tiny but important issues streamlines the editing process and ensures consistency. (This is in addition to the glossary.)

Usage, punctuation, and grammar. In addition to establishing the rules for things like serial commas, this section also should include guidance on the common mistakes to avoid. Some examples:

  • Capitalization

  • Citations and attributions

  • First, second, or third person voice

  • Jargon, slang, puns, idioms, or culturally-specific references

  • Numerals, especially in currency

  • Slogans and headlines

  • Tenses

  • Trademarks and copyrighted terms

Visuals and formatting. We’re not talking graphics standards, here, but a clear set of guidelines for creating the look and feel for your site. This section includes information on how to use brand colors and logos, acceptable fonts, and rules for handling images and other design elements. Key details may include image placement, embedded images or text, list and table design, when and how to use captions or credits, treatments for headlines and subheads, alt text, and the use of italicized, bolded, or underlined text.

Voice and tone. This information ensures that your web copy sounds like your company. Voice and tone may be in your brand book, but a distillation is also useful in the context of a style guide. Many marketers include adjectives or personality types to explain how text should sound. Some examples:

  • Simple language

  • Technical language

  • Educational language

  • Academic or traditional language

  • Conversational tone

  • Authoritative tone

  • Neutral tone

  • Sophisticated tone

How to create a translation style guide

Style guides are a small investment with a large return, by helping to avoid countless corrections of errors in tone, syntax, and style.

If you already have a corporate style guide, you can adapt it for the localization process. If you’re starting from scratch, a guide typically takes 8 to 10 hours to create. (Depending on the size of your organization, breadth of product and service offerings, etc.)
To help your in-market experts participate in this important process, you can simplify their roles in one of two ways:

1. Create a checklist for reviewers to indicate their style preferences. You or your LSP can use these to create a formal guide.

2. Develop a style guide for each market and ask experts to review it. You or your LSP can use this feedback to validate market-specific guides.

Once you’ve done this internal work, you’re ready to share with your LSP. Here are the six main steps toward creating a style guide for your localization project:

1. Client compiles new (or revises existing) style guide and sends to LSP along with the content to be translated and all reference material including previous style guides, if any.

2. LSP performs the source text and reference material analysis to determine areas that need to be highlighted in the style guide—then extracts and defines those elements.

3. Client reviews and approves the suggested elements. If client has personnel in target markets who review material before publication, they should participate as well.

4. LSP compiles the guide. Again, if client has personnel in target markets who review material before publication, they should also participate.

5. Client reviews and approves the compilation.

6. LSP creates final style guide, inserts the localization tools and other linguistic assets to be used, and submits the guide to translators and editors.

What to include in your terminology glossary

Your glossary includes terms that must be translated consistently, or shouldn’t be translated at all. Here are some examples. Your list should be comprehensive, but not all-inclusive. Choose only terms that are critical to your enterprise, such as:

  • Company-specific terms. Include any names associated with your business, product or service, along with copyrighted or trademarked terms that should not be translated and that need to appear consistently in any language.
  • Industry-specific terms. Words with multiple meanings can create problems for translators. The term “monitor”, for instance, can mean a computer display, a sentry, or the act of overseeing. Locking these terms down with a clear definition avoids confusion for your LSP and your audience. You don’t need to include industry-standard terms that are widely used and understood by your target market.
  • Audience-specific terms. You invest in localization to improve relevance with speakers of target languages. One way to create deeper engagement is by including glossary terms that are most important to your target audience. These may include slang or other commonly used industry-specific terms (like “ghosting” in gaming or “locavore” for foodies).
  • Keywords. Surprisingly, this is one of the most overlooked glossary categories because translation and localization are separate from the SEO process—so most companies don’t realize how much overlap there is between the two. Including keywords in your terminology glossary ensures that they are used in digital content itself, so web copy matches the most commonly searched for terms in each local market. Include every keyword you want to win on in each target language and market.
  • Other data. Your glossary may also contain metadata such as the definition, context, part of speech, and approval or review date; and terms that appear in your user interface or technical documentation.

How to create a terminology glossary

Most marketers have a decent start on a glossary already, with key words and special terms often outlined in the corporate style guide or other documents.

The optimal time to create a glossary is before localization starts since the document helps eliminate uncertainty during translation, enforces consistency, shortens the time it takes to translate a document, and reduces the overall cost of translation over time.

Here are five tips for compiling a useful glossary for localization of marketing materials:

1. For a new project, base your glossaries on the content specific to that project.

2. For projects that have already been translated, base your glossaries on the translated material, either segmented files or translation memories.

3. Select core terminology related to your product, processes, and company, focusing on the most common, important, and potentially complex terms only. (See what to include, above.)

4. Enlist your internal local experts to review every translated term and agree on the clearest translation.

5. Establish language variances, before you begin translating. For example, specify which language form (e.g., Portuguese Portuguese vs. Brazilian Portuguese) is correct for your target market.

Avoid this common mistake when localizing your website

“Marketers instinctively understand that they want their power claims and other key content to consistently reflect their equity around the world. However, they don’t always realize that these same glossaries also hold the key to their effectiveness in ranking highly in local search engines.”
--Ken Applin, Lionbridge SEO expert

One common—and costly—mistake marketers make is neglecting to include keywords in the terminology glossary. This omission makes it extremely difficult to rank highly in the local search engines on your must-win keywords.

In addition to including must-win keywords, determine the corresponding must-win keywords in each of your target markets and languages, as well. This involves identifying preferred local terms based on search volume.

For example, “diapers” is a must-win for a brand like Pampers in the U.S. market. But even in most other English-speaking countries outside the U.S., “diapers” is not the preferred local term. In the U.K., Australia, parts of Africa, etc., babies wear “nappies.” If the term “diapers” is used in these countries, the traffic will go to the competition.

With global SEO, no matter how the search engine algorithms change over time, the best way to win on a keyword will always be to use that keyword in the translated and localized content on your web pages.

Once you have your internally generated list, you’re ready to work with your LSP to create the terminology glossary. There are six steps in the process:

1. Client creates a list of terms that includes definitions and context and sends to LSP along with the content to be translated and all reference material—including previous glossaries.

2. LSP analyzes source text and reference material, and extracts terms and candidates from your source language into each target language specified.

3. Client approves source term candidates. If client has personnel in target markets who review material before publication, they should participate.

4. LSP translates and researches terms.

5. Client reviews and approves translated terminology. Again, if client has personnel in target markets who review material before publication, they should participate.

6. LSP creates final glossary and inserts it in the translation technology and other linguistic assets to be used.

Tip: Coordinate your SEO with your localization efforts to save time and money. While many global SEO companies perform global search analysis, few have the experience and capacity to accurately research and vet terms in every language and market. Working with an established, full-service LSP gives you the ability to combine the research phase to cover keywords and other crucial terms in any language or market in the world.

To remain current, your glossary should be updated periodically based on new content and reviewer recommendations from your team. It resides in the LSP’s translation management system (TMS) or translation productivity platform along with other assets.


A translation style guide and terminology glossary are critical tools for optimizing your global content performance. These resources are key to improving translation and localization quality, controlling associated costs, and accelerating the entire process.

Investing time and resources into creating a style guide and glossary for your localization project yields a major return on investment. You save time and money in the creation of the project, you increase revenue by offering better content to a larger audience, and you simplify future projects by creating a solid base of terms and information that can be expanded upon to become even more valuable to your global organization.

These linguistic assets help you and your LSP improve success metrics and KPIs and more effectively gain competitive advantage in an increasingly crowded global marketplace.

Want to learn more best practices for marketing content translation and global branding? Download our Global Translation Glossary Whitepaper.
This blog post was originally published in August 2015 and has been updated for relevance and accuracy.

*“Language Localization Drives Higher Mobile Ad Engagement”, Mobile Marketing Watch.
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