Writing for an international audience: Acknowledge your users’ uniqueness


Translate your material into your customers’ native language.

Business Advantage

You’ll earn their business and their loyalty.


Internationalize your material, even if you don’t plan to localize it; for example:

  • Reference countries or cities outside North America.
  • Include both miles and kilometers for distance measurements.
  • Avoid references to seasons that would imply weather patterns in the Northern Hemisphere.
  • Avoid references to holidays that are unique to the U.S., Western culture, or the Christian religion.
  • Avoid references to a work week of Monday through Friday.

Consider paper size for all target audiences. North American paper size is 8-1/2 x 11 inches, but in Europe it’s A4: 8.25 x 11.75 inches. In addition, Europeans punch two holes instead of three for binder insertion.

To avoid expense rework, be aware of local “green laws” that might affect printing, packaging, and binding.

Localize for specific target audiences; for example:

  • Format of numbers, especially the decimal point and thousands separator (1,000,000.00 vs 1.000.000,00)
  • Format of date and time (4:30 p.m. vs 1630; 3/31/19 vs 31.03.19)
  • Order of family and given names and forms of polite address

Translate for all audiences where North American English material will be a hindrance in understanding or using your product.  Include at least 30% white space, both for readability and to allow for translation.

For online information, consider rules such as the following:

  • Minimize abbreviations and acronyms.
  • Use a simple vocabulary and conventional syntax. Follow the same conventions that someone studying your language would use first.
  • Use a standard typeface, especially for readers unfamiliar with the Roman alphabet.
  • Avoid prepositions in short phrases. Prepositions are difficult to translate accurately, especially when they appear in short phrases out of context, such as phrases on a menu.
  • Include online glossaries with examples.