Content Strategy

Writing for a global audience:  The world is knocking

Posted by Susan Joly on Oct 10, 2017 11:29:03 AM

Localization iStock-501821118.jpgWhen you travel abroad, you might notice how much locals appreciate it if you speak a few words of their native language. In today’s global workplace, considering the context and needs of readers around the world isn’t just something that’s nice to have—it’s necessary for effective communication. 

Awareness of different locales, cultures, and needs of an international audience should drive content planning, design, and development.

Let’s talk about how you can make your content world-ready—easy to understand and relevant to readers around the globe.

First, consider some basic questions.

  • Will your content be translated?
  • Will it be adapted for certain countries or regions?

There are different levels of customizing content for other locales—ranging from translating to localizing to globalizing.


Translating content for a specific market is at the language level. It doesn’t account for cultural, country, or regional differences. Yet elements like graphics, writing style, and colors are often infused with cultural meaning.

Here are few examples:

  • A picture of a trash can might not be universally understood in some countries.
  • Some cultures tend to use a circular rather than linear writing style.
  • The color red has a range of meanings around the world. It can symbolize happiness, luck, purity, mourning, religion, power, danger, and other concepts.


Localizing is more than translating the language. It’s customizing the content for a specific market and culture. You’ll have to consider cultural variations and context for things like which day of the week comes first, telephone numbers, address formats, units of measurement, sort order, date formats, and time formats.

Also, different places that speak the same language can have different localization needs—such as French in Canada versus France, or Spanish in Spain versus Mexico.


Globalizing is an overarching process of planning, design, and development. The goal is to ensure that the content that you create meets the needs of an international audience, is easy to localize, and that readers can understand it. Some ways to achieve these goals include:

  • Use consistent terminology.
  • Include a glossary to define key terms.
  • Use illustrations that are geographically appropriate.
  • Use both metric and US customary measurements.
  • Specify the currency you’re talking about—and use the right symbols.
  • Remember that text length can increase when translated. English is more concise than many other languages. When translating from English, allow 30 percent more space for text.
  • Allow extra space for translating figure captions and callouts. Also, font size can increase in some languages such as East Asian languages. This means that user interface text will use more vertical space.

What if the content will only be in English?

Even if your content won’t be translated or localized, your audience will benefit from simple, clear, and precise language.

If plans change and you eventually decide to translate or localize, building a good foundation early on means that you reduce time designing, creating, editing, and reviewing later.

Let’s look at some ways that you can design world-ready content from the start by using global English and keeping an international audience in mind.

Guidelines for using global English

Global English makes it easier for non-native English speakers—and everyone else—to understand your content. Consider these guidelines:

  • Use direct, concise language and short sentences.
  • Avoid jargon, slang, and idioms.
  • Use simple, active verbs—for example, “select” instead of “make a selection” and use the present tense, when possible.
  • In general, use active voice rather than passive voice.
  • Cut extra words like “in order to,” “really,” and “absolutely.”
  • Use correct capitalization and punctuation, and avoid common errors like “it’s” vs. “its” and “you’re” vs. “your.”
  • Spell out acronyms and abbreviations on first mention.
  • Don’t omit articles: “a,” “an,” and “the.”
  • Avoid using nouns as verbs such as “impact” and words that can either be nouns or verbs such as “result” or “present.” For example: “Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present.”
  • Avoid phrases with more than three consecutive nouns (noun stacks). Instead of “employee safety protection procedures,” write “procedures to protect employee safety.”

Again, designing your content for world-readiness from the start leads to better communication, and saves you time, effort, and money later, if you decide to localize.