Writing documentation for an international audience Edit

Highlight: Write documentation for a global audience considering translation.

WordPress is a global project, with its developer community and users spanning the globe. Both developers and users speak a variety of languages. Approaching documentation from a global perspective helps the understanding of readers around the globe; while also increasing its reach.

Both developer and end-user WordPress documentation is written in US English. Just about half of WordPress installs are in non-English locales. It is presumable that your documentation would be read by developers and users whose primary language is not English. Hence, writing documentation considering internationalization, localization, and translation is essential.

What is internationalization, localization, and translation?

Internationalization and localization (commonly abbreviated as i18n and l10n respectively) are terms used to describe the effort to make WordPress (and other such projects) available in languages other than the source, or original, language for people from different locales, who have different dialects and local preferences.

The process of localizing software has two steps. The first step is when developers provide a mechanism and method for the eventual translation of the product and its interface to suit local preferences and languages for users worldwide. Its process includes designing the product and documentation such that localization requires minimum effort. This process is called internationalization (i18n). WordPress developers have done this already, so in theory, WordPress can be used in any language.

The second step is the actual localization (l10n). It is the process by which a product or service is translated and adapted to another language and culture along with its documentation. The framework prescribed by developers of the software is used for this purpose. Localization is done by people who are familiar with the local language and culture. For example, the l10n process involves adapting to the laws, currency and political requirements of a specific locale (market). WordPress has already been localized into many languages (see WordPress’ list of teams for more information).

Translation is simply changing the language of the content to another language. Translation can be done by both editors from the community as well as machine-aided translation.

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General guidelines

  • If you write for international audiences, research, read, and learn more about them.
  • Don’t be specific in terms of culture and religion in your documentation.
  • Use diverse examples that would cater to an international audience. These include diverse and inclusive names, email addresses, locations, and professions in examples.
  • Avoid colloquialisms, popular culture references, slang, and idioms in your documentation. Phrases like you got it, that’s sick!, cool are hard to translate and perceive by global audiences.
  • Avoid culturally-specific humor and references to cultural practices, traditions, holidays, seasons, etc.
  • Express data using the standard international conventions. Measurement units, character encoding, currencies, text layouts, date and time formats, phone numbers etc. are different all over the world. Don’t assume that everyone is familiar with US standards.

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Language guidelines

  • Write concise and succinct sentences, while using simple verbs and vocabulary. Longer sentences are difficult to translate and require higher effort.
  • If the sentence consists of more than a few commas, it usually indicates and complex sentence. Review the sentence and consider breaking it down to multiple sentences. Also, replace complex sentences and paragraphs with illustrations, tables, and lists.
  • Use active voice, present tense, and second person.
  • Avoid long chains of modifying words. Keep adverbs and adjectives close to their modifying words. Be mindful of placement of words like only.
  • Make abundant use of articles such as a, an, the and helper words such as if, then, etc.
  • Avoid shortcuts, symbols, and abbreviations that could easily be spelled out.
  • Ensure overall consistency in language – particularly names, terminology, punctuation and capitalization.
  • Use consistent text and media formatting. See additional information on Text Formatting.
  • Deviate from conventional standards only when there’s a genuinely compelling purpose in implementing an unconventional style.

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Additional resources

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