Microsoft Word logoSo far in this series we’ve discussed some common formatting shortcuts that cause problems for translation, as well as the practice of embedding and linking files, which complicates the translation process.

In this article we’re going to look at a feature of Word that you really should use if you prepare long, complex documents: styles. As we’ll see below, using styles makes it much easier for translation partners to make document-wide changes that are necessary to format the translated text properly.

For many purposes “direct formatting” in Word is fine. Direct formatting is when you highlight text and use Word’s character menu to change the font, size or color, or to apply other attributes to text like bold or italics; or when you use the paragraph menu to change the space between lines or paragraphs. But, instead of formatting individual pieces of text, you can format all your headings, subheadings, paragraphs and characters using preset styles from Word’s styles menu.

Most people who regularly prepare long documents, such as user manuals and employee handbooks, have learned to use styles instead of direct formatting. These typically are lengthy documents with tables of contents and numerous headings, subheadings, diagram headings in different fonts, sizes, weights, and even colors. Word contains a number of Quick Styles—different style sets with elements that are designed to go together. You can also easily modify any of the preset styles to fit your preferences or you can add styles.

screenshot of Word Style Group

The advantages to using style for these types of documents are many:

  • You can apply all the text and paragraph attributes that you want by clicking on a style.
  • You can automatically generate a table of contents with page numbers that will update when you add or delete content.
  • If you want to change the look of any element (headings, for example), all you do is modify the style and the change is reflected throughout the document.
  • You can save your preferred styles to use on other similar documents.

screenshot of Word Styles Task PaneIn translation, the ability to modify style globally in a document is extremely helpful when it comes to formatting translated text properly. For instance, translation into a language that uses a different character set may require changing the fonts globally. Some languages don’t use attributes like italics. If you used Word’s Subtle Emphasis style for italics instead of direct formatting, your translation partner only has to modify that style to remove all the italics in the documents. Since text expansion often occurs in translation, it is good to be able to modify the size of fonts globally if that is necessary to get text to fit within the allowed space. And, if the pagination changes in the translated text, the page numbers can be automatically updated in the table of contents—no going through the entire document to determine what the page numbers should be.

Word also has built-in styles for lists and tables that can be modified to fit your needs. (NOTE: You should always also use styles for bulleted and numbered lists, instead of creating them manually, so that they do not accidentally get modified during the translation process.)

There are plenty of resources on the web to help you master styles starting with Microsoft’s “Style basics in Word.” If you see translation in your company’s future, start by making sure that documents are prepared correctly at the outset. The time you spend on learning will be well worth the investment.

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