Is your content ready for globalization?

This article first appeared in the Microsoft Language Portal.

Hardly a day goes by that we don't hear something about globalization and how it is impossible for companies to overlook the importance of building products and services for a global market.

The reasons are simple: Software and web application customers are no longer confined by geographic boundaries. Thanks to the Web, they might be located across the street or on the other side of the world. This means that the number of customers who are native American-English speakers is very small. Even if software content does not get localized, it must appeal to worldwide English readers. It must also be understandable for international customers for whom English is a second language.

This is a tough challenge. To help you, this article outlines some methods that you can use to make sure that your content is ready for a global market.

Globalized versus localized: Many people are confused by the difference between globalization and localization.

A globalized product contains content that is spec'd, designed, and implemented to accommodate any local market. A localized product contains content that meets the language, cultural, and political expectations and/or requirements of a specific local market. Localization often implies translation of text and UA content.

Globalization encompasses both the awareness and the practice of designing a product that is not locale dependent. It is the good habit of creating products, which at their core composition will be adequate for everyone to use, regardless of their country of origin. A product that is globalized properly can be localized with a minimum amount of difficulty.

Software content should always be globalized, even if there are no plans to localize it. In fact, large companies that are not localizing their products are even more compelled to globalize them, because their products may be distributed outside of the U.S. As a result, many of their customers may not be native English speakers.

A simple example of the difference

Globalization does not eliminate localization; however, if a product needs localization, globalization makes it easier. Here is an application of this statement:Let's suppose that you work at a computer company in Seattle and you want to write an invitation template. The theme you choose for your party is the Fourth of July. Your text reads "Come Celebrate Independence Day!" You add fireworks and an American flag to promote patriotism.

Although the text in the template could be translated into other languages, this invitation template still will be usable only in the United States of America. To localize it, the content would need to be translated and the purpose of the template would have to be "localized." For example, to reuse this template in France, the content description could be changed to celebrate Bastille Day, the date of the party would have to be changed, and the art containing the U.S. flag would have to be exchanged for art that is appropriate for this French holiday. This heavy-duty adaptation would need to be completed for every language that your invitation template is localized into.

However, if this template were globalized beforehand, its theme would be generic enough to not require any complex, time-consuming localization. The template would be a general party invitation, with a placeholder that would allow the user to select appropriate art. This globalized template would be easier to localize for all languages.

Most international companies develop their software products in English or have the content localized into English before handing the software off for further localization. Whether content is localized or not, globalized content must follow the "keep it simple" rules that make technical writing concise and clear. The below contains examples about how to make English content easy to translate.

If possible, technical writers and content editors should use words and phrases that have precise meanings. Simple, unambiguous terminology makes content easier to understand. For example, it is better to use "install the application" instead of "set up the application." Using short, concise paragraphs also helps reduce the risk that readers will misinterpret your content.

Meanings or concepts should be expressed with only one term. Terms such as "remove" and "delete" should not be used interchangeably. These terms have slightly different meanings: "delete" means to permanently remove data and "remove" means to remove data that can possibly be restored.

Contractions should generally be avoided (in particular, contractions that eliminate "is" since an "'s" following a noun can also be interpreted as a genitive "s" and thus confuse users). Using "The server is down" is better than "The server's down" since it is grammatically unambiguous.

Some contractions, especially modal verbs (don't, can't, won't), are acceptable to a global audience because they don't prevent the reader from correctly understanding the content. The following sentence is acceptable: "If you don't know the speed of the server's modem, ask your system administrator."

Articles, capitalization, and punctuation should be used consistently and correctly since they remove ambiguity from and add clarity to your content. For example, punctuation helps clarify complex and convoluted sentences because it provides a rhythm for the readers. Readers can more easily divide the sentence into parts and assimilate the concept that you are describing.

Verbification of nouns should also be avoided. Software users who are not native speakers of English will probably not find verbs that are made from nouns in their bilingual dictionaries. Consider abstaining from "budgetize" when you can use "create a budget" instead.

It is good to use concise and direct words. This benefits both native speakers of your language and international readers. It is cheaper and easier to localize fewer words. Fewer words also occupy less space on the screen or in the printed documentation, which increases legibility. Compare the conciseness of these sentences:

"If you are looking for additional information on this subject, click on the link Related Topics at the bottom of this page."

"For more information, click Related Topics."

Using active voice, instead of passive voice, is preferred since it often shortens sentences. The resulting sentence is constructed in a way that is familiar for most international readers. It means simply tell who or what is performing the action of the sentence. Compare these sentences:

Active voice: "The server manages the cursor." (The server is performing the action.)

Passive voice: "The cursor is managed by the server."

Convoluted and long-winded adverbs and expressions should be avoided. When possible, it is better to use "to" instead of "in order to", and "sold out" is better than "entirely sold out".

Simple verb forms generally work best; "click" in software applications is easier to understand than "you should be clicking on." Single-word verbs are preferred over multi-word verbs. "Lock the system" works better than "lock down the system", and "select" works better than "make a selection."

Developing globally functional software that is easily localizable has many benefits for companies. It enables greater flexibility in the number of languages released, shorter deltas between different language versions, and improved customer satisfaction. Internationalizing software is paramount for the success of businesses in today's global market place. By understanding the internationalization process, and the challenges facing it, we can reduce costs and improve the quality of all language versions our software products.

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