Last time we looked at some tips about choosing words when writing for translation. This time we’ll look at some tips on the way words are put together in phrases.

Use articles where possible

Use definite and indefinite articles (“the,” “a,” “an”) wherever possible. Some technical writers have been taught to omit articles for the sake of brevity, but this also sacrifices clarity since it can be difficult to tell whether you are referring to a particular person or thing or just any one of a class of people or objects.

Avoid using nouns as adjectives

In English, we often use a noun to modify another noun (“That dress color suits you”). Sometimes this results in a series of nouns strung together (“university plant biology research center”). A noun string can be hard for English-speakers to unscramble, but it is even harder for translators—human or software. It’s better to reword the phrase (“The color of that dress” or “the university’s center for research on plant biology”).

Don’t omit “that”

In English we often omit the word “that” as a relative pronoun or as a conjunction. For instance, we can say “the car he bought” or “I knew he bought a car.” But including the word “that” is helpful for translation because it clarifies the intent of the sentence. Write “the car that he bought” or “I knew that he bought a car” instead of what you might actually say.

Avoid phrasal verbs

Verb combinations, such as “set up” or “shut down,” are called phrasal verbs. Such phrases can be hard to avoid in English, but they often create problems for translators and translation software since they don’t exist in most other languages. Try to replace them with simple verbs (“establish an office” instead of “set up an office;” “descend the hill” instead of “go down the hill”). If you do use a phrasal verb, don’t separate the parts (“Go down the hill slowly” not “go slowly down the hill”).

Use nouns, not pronouns

Repeat a noun instead of using a backward-referring pronoun like “it,” “they,” “this,” or “these,” unless the noun the pronoun refers to is unmistakable. How many times have you listened to someone telling a story about a number of people and gotten confused by references to “he” and “she?” Repeating the noun ensures that the reference is clear.

These tips are “syntactic cues,” cues that help non-native speakers navigate sentences.

Next time: “Tips on Writing for Translation 3: Sentence Structure

Download our Localization Quick Guide “Tips on Writing for Translation”

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