What is a Translation Style Guide? How to Create a Translation Style Guide?

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Written by: pTranslate Contributors


When it comes to branding, consistency is everything.

However, when companies expand internationally, it can be a bit of a challenge to maintain brand image across borders. It is not easy to communicate your brand as you reach global markets and interact with various cultures. That’s why most agencies or freelancers will require a style guide from their client when taking on culture-sensitive projects, such as design projects or translation projects.

A translation style guide, or language guide, is an essential piece of document for professional translation projects, especially Marketing translations. A well-written style guide establishes a direction for the translators to follow when working on the project, as well as improves their speed and translation quality. All in all, a style guide benefits both the client and the translator, and it’s worth taking the time and effort to create one.

what is translation style guide? how to create a translation style guide

What is a translation style guide?

A translation style guide is a rulebook containing specifications on everything that contributes to the feel of your brand, linguistically. The style guide helps people working on the translation for your brand know exactly how to present your brand to the world. They can select the more suitable words and phrases that best communicate your brand image. 

Translation style guide is a powerful tool in the globalization journey of any business. In a way, a translation style guide is the international coordinator for your on-brand content. No matter where your customers/readers are, they are all experiencing the same underlying brand personality. It ensures a continuous brand experience. It’s this consistency across all languages and cultures that establishes a universal brand image. 

Why is a translation style guide important?

Translation style guide is a valuable linguistic asset, and using linguistic asset brings your company and the Language Service Provider (LSP) a wide range of benefits:

  • Consistency: Ensure a consistent brand experience across all languages and borders. A customer from Brazil will experience the same brand from China. This is crucial in the branding process, establishing a universal image, creating a sense of professionalism, integrity, improving engagement, which ultimately increases loyalty.
  • Quality: A style guide lays the foundation for the translator before they even look at the source material. When equipped with a style guide, the translator will be able to envision the final result from the get-go. In other words, it aligns the client’s expectations with the translator’s vision.
  • Speed: A translation style guide boosts the translation speed because it eliminates the need to perform pre-translation cultural research and market research. It also reduces the time and effort required to communicate the vision with each other. When the translator’s vision and the client’s expectations don’t align with each other, we may end up with a well-translated but misguided result, which is unacceptable. A translation style guide reduces that risk. 
  • Cost: Similarly, because a translation style guide reduces the risk of misunderstanding and miscommunication in the translation process, the client can save a lot of money that could have been spent to re-translate a misguided translation. Moreover, the faster the translation is done, the sooner the client can use it to enter the market and seize the opportunities it offers.

What should be included in a translation style guide?

There are a lot of factors that should be included in a translation style guide. A translation style guide is in many ways similar to a traditional style guide, but it focuses more on the linguistic aspects of the brand, instead of the visual aspects.

In short, the client should include 2 important things in their translation style guide: the brand image and the linguistic guide.

The brand image is the essence of the brand. It describes the brand in detail and communicates its underlying personalities to the translators. With a brand image guide, the translator knows what decisions to make when working on the project.

The linguistic guide ventures further into the complexities and nuances frequently encountered in a translation project.

1. Start off your translation style guide with a brand story

A brand story tells people what the brand is about. This is the common ground between a translation style guide and a traditional style guide.

It wraps up the company’s vision, mission, and core values.

Atlassian tells a wonderful brand story in a few sentences.

In the Brand section of their style guide, they state their mission as “to unleash the potential in every team.”

They also describe their personality as “Bold”, “Optimistic”, and “Practical with a wink”.

Specifically, Atlassian asserts that they take their stance, and they have their own point of view, but they don’t belittle their competitors or those who don’t share the same view. At the same time, they are “upbeat, resourceful, and friendly”. They have a can-do attitude. And, most importantly, they don’t take themselves too seriously. They want to be fun, but they don’t want to be crude and free with their humor.

After reading the brand description, we can get a “feel” of how the brand wants to present itself.

Putting your brand story up front is essential in the translation style guide creation process. It allows the translator to have the most comprehensive view of your brand and the project.

2. Include all of the reference materials for your translation project

Once we get the general out of the way, we can zoom in and focus on the details and the specifics.

You can now provide your translator with relevant information about your project. If you don’t know what information to include, try to answer the questions below:

– What is your translation material (user manual, business plan, HR documents, reports, website, etc.)?

– What is the purpose of your translation material?

– Who is going to read the translation?

– Do you prioritize Information or Style?

– Do you want to repsect the original version or do you allow some room for changes to your translation?

– What is the voice of your translated document?

– Do you have any sample or any reference material that best describes your vision for the final version?

All of these information is crucial. The translator can get a “feel” of what you want to achieve, and make sure that you describe correctly what aspect of the samples you want to achieve with your translation.

3. Include linguistic guidance to assist the translation

You can include the following things in the style guide to provide your translation with even more guidance and direction for their translation:

  • General Linguistic Considerations: these are basic linguistic guidance, such as preferred syntax and semantics, grammar choices, or capitalization. For example, the client can request the translator to minimize the use of passive voice or avoid passive voice completely. Sometimes a lot of rules for capitalization are also added. If you are translating an academic paper, it’s necessary to add citations and attributions requirements.
  • Punctuation and Orthographical Marks: these include rules on the Oxford commas, spaces, quotation marks, and other punctuation rules. 
  • Language Variant: there are small but significant differences between UK English and US English. Different regions of India use different languages. Not all Chinese speakers use the same kind of Chinese. Similarly, France’s French and Canada’s French are not identical. Language gets complicated very fast, and translators need to have geolinguistic knowledge when doing translation for those languages. Therefore, it’s better to specify the language you need to use from the get-go. If you don’t know exactly which language your target audience use, you can specify the regions that your target audience comes from.
  • Formatting: translators usually include formatting services in their translation. Most of the time they will try their best to replicate the source material in terms of formatting. However, if you want to format your translated version in any specific way, tell your translators to do so in your translation style guide. For example, if you want to use a certain font, use bold/italic/underlined formatting in certain parts of the text, or add any other formatting rules, just add them in the style guide.
  • Tone: Translators usually know what your tone is when they read your brand story. However, if you want to be extra specific, you can add another layer of description. In some languages, such as French or Spanish, there is a huge difference between formal and informal language, so the tone should be clearly stated. 

A few examples of tone in translation:

– Simple Language (if your target audience is young, or have limited language proficiency)

– Technical Language (if the document is specialized)

– Conversational Language (for brands that have a casual tone)

– Authoritative Tone (for brands that position themselves as the market leader)

  • Bulleted Lists and Tables: Specify your requirements for bulleted lists and tables. Do you want to create a list in alphabetical order? Do you want to use any specific color/formatting style for your table? A clearly outlined formatting rule for your table allows you to have control over the visual aspect of your translation.

4. Add visual guidance

This is another common ground between a translation style guide and a traditional style guide. Of course, we’re not diving deep into the graphic aspects of the translation. However, sometimes, when working on a translation project, translators need to incorporate some design elements into the project. If you clearly defined the design rules for your translator, they will know better what to do and what not to do in case they need to adjust some visual elements of your file.

Some design rules you should add in your translation style guide:

– Brand color
– Logo
– Logo Variants (Primary, Secondary, and Incorrect Logo Usage)
– Logo Size
– Color Scheme/Palette and HEX code
– Typography (including Font, Font Size, and other Font Properties)

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Steps to create a translation style guide

Most companies have developed their own style guide to use for their brand’s visual aspects. You can “recycle” this style guide by adding the linguistic guidelines we mention above and transform it into a translation style guide.

If you don’t have a style guide to use, you have to create everything from scratch. These are the steps you need to take when creating a style guide:

1. Understand your brand

You’re creating a style guide for your brand, so you must understand it. Answer the questions below to make sure that you include all of the necessary reference materials in your style guide:

– What is your brand story?
– What image does your brand evoke in your customers?
– What is your brand’s value proposition?
– Do you have an existing style guide for your brand’s visual aspects?
– Do you have an existing style guide for your brand’s linguistic aspects?

2. Understand your market

It’s worth noting that different markets need a different style guide. If the differences are too great, you can create a separate style guide dedicated to that market. If not, you can include a small section that specifies the style you want to use for that market.

After performing a deep market research, you must have gained some insights into the market you want to enter. With those market knowledge, you can develop a style guide to cater to that specific audience. Answer the questions below to develop a market-sensitive style guide:

– What are the differences in the customer behavior between your local market and your target foreign market?

– What image does your brand evoke in your foreign customers?

– What are the existing trends in your targeted demographic?

– What are the preferences of your demographic in terms of the language they use?

– What symbols/slang/cultural phrases evoke an emotional response from your customers?

Have a look at our guide on market research here to better understand the approaches to take towards understanding a new market.

3. Compile a style guide

After you have everything ready, you can create the translation style guide that you want. It might not be perfect, but it’s a great starting point. You should have gained a comprehensive image of how your translation should look like, and you have your own expectations for what you will receive.

This is a truly important step. You now have built healthy expectations for your translators, and the translators should also thank you for the valuable insights and information that you give them.

Creating a style guide doesn’t take too much time. The time it takes to research, compile, and design a translation style guide varies based on the size of your organization. But, at the end of the day, it’s a high-ROI investment. You can use your style guide for so many projects in the future, and the impact of a well-written, well-researched translation style guide on the translation quality is immeasurable. We highly recommend that you take this step seriously.

4. Review and Approval

Once the translation style guide has been written, the client can send it to the LSP along with their source material. The LSP can start reading and reviewing it. If they want clarification, they will contact the client and ask them for details. This will potentially take some back-and-forth emailing, messaging, or calling, but it’s still a worthy investment of your time. It’s better to have everything clearly addressed from the get-go than fixing things along the way.

However, in reality, LSPs work just fine with a style guide that is fairly well-written. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Sometimes translators have to craft a mental style guide for themselves, and it can be quite a mentally stimulating task to do. If you want to allow some room for the translator to do, or don’t have the manpower to craft a detailed style guide, it’s alright. The translator will do it all by themselves, thanks to their experience.


A translation style guide is a powerful tool for translators. It allows them to understand better the brand they’re working with, and the requirements they need to follow to meet the expectation of the clients.The clients will also be able to maintain consistency in their brand voice and reduce the risk of cultural misunderstanding. In short, both parties benefit from the creation of a translation style guide.

Not all organizations have the resource to develop a style guide. However, by following the steps we outlined in this article, you should be able to develop one that is detailed enough to help your translator navigate through the intricacies of cultural differences. 

Do you have something to share about the process of creating a translation style guide? Feel free to share with us in the comments below!

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