Clear Writing, Clear Benefits

When you get a text translated, do you care if the readers can understand it?

If not, then you can happily save money by finding the cheapest translator possible, and you can save time by not reading the rest of this article. But, of course, if you are going to communicate a message, then you want to put it across effectively.

What does that mean in practice? Well, you need to use correct grammar, terms and punctuation. Obviously.

But there’s much more to it than that.

Convey the message

Write tight

Clear written English demands fairly short sentences, on average 20 words, not convoluted behemoths full of subclauses that trip over each other and leave the meaning as clear as mud. Of course, not every sentence should be the same length – you can’t convey your point if your rigid style has sent your readers to sleep. But many sentences can be pruned down and split up to make their content shine through; and that takes skill and judgement.

For a quick example, the ugly “due to the fact that” can often simply be replaced by “because”.

Equally, the line

She made him swear that he would not divulge it in any way.

can be distilled down to

She swore him to absolute secrecy.

Avoid ambiguity

Ambiguity

To make your message clear, ensure you don’t give your readers the chance to get the wrong end of the stick.

Take this line, for example: “The tour starts in Arezzo on Tuesday morning. We spend the first night in Florence. After two days, we move on to Venice.” How many days do you spend in Florence? It all depends on whether “after two days” means “after two days in Florence” or “two days after the tour starts”. In the latter case, guests will have only one day in Florence, which may cause disappointment.

A rewrite would have avoided the problem: “The tour starts in Arezzo on Tuesday morning. We spend the first night in Florence, and after a full day there, we move on to Venice.”

Kill the cliché

Nothing makes you roll your eyes with ennui than the sight of a tired, hackneyed old phrase or piece of jargon that has no business being there:

  • “Service is in our DNA.” <yawn>
  • “Italy is a land of contrasts.” <sigh>
  • “We leverage synergies to create added value.” <enough already>

Those are the sorts of linguistic offence that a professional translator, copyeditor or copywriter does not commit.

There is much more to incisive, clear writing than the three topics that I’ve discussed above, but if you can avoid errors like those, then you’ve made a good start, and there is a much greater chance that your target audience will actually read your text, be engaged by it (not bored or distracted), and respond to what you have to say.

And that’s what you wanted all along.

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