Writing for an international audience: General advice


Include a glossary of technical terms used in the product documentation.


High-quality material that is clear, concise, and consistent.

Penalty 1

Poor-quality material that causes confusion and misunderstanding.

Penalty 2

If your competitors have products of equal capability that are easier to use, your customers will desert you.

  • Use consistent terminology throughout the material.
  • In your glossary of technical terms, provide examples to go along with the term definitions.

  • Avoid jargon
  • Avoid idioms, slang, and too much “cuteness.”

This is a good rule for both technical and marketing material. However, a certain level of “cuteness” is what often makes marketing material, especially advertising, effective.

  • Follow a policy of “one concept, one word.”
  • Keep sentences short and simple.

Dependent clauses cause particular problems for non-native English speakers.

  • Use active voice whenever possible.
  • Use a simple vocabulary and conventional syntax.
  • Use bullets to break up longer thoughts.
  • Avoid colors that are difficult to read (e.g. red and green).
  • Use graphics whenever “a picture will equal a thousand words.” However, take care to avoid appearing “junky.”
  • Use a modular design that “chunks” material in sections of no more than a few paragraphs each.
  • Avoid icons that are not immediately obvious (and don’t assume that what’s obvious to use is obvious to other people).