Maintaining Tone of Voice in Multilingual Technical Documentation

Everyone within a growing, international organization is on a global journey. At each stage of this journey, there are volumes of content produced, from patent applications to user generated content on social media, that communicate to a variety of audiences and stakeholders, many with different requirements. Although many content types have different levels of impact, regardless of language, they must consistently represent the company and its brand portfolio.

In the 2016 Welocalize Client Survey, we asked our clients what their anticipated localization needs were for 2017 and approximately 47% of respondents included localization of technical documentation. Technical documentation is #2 in Welocalize’s list of Top 10 Needs for Localization and Translation Being Outsourced to LSP’s in 2017.

While the main objective in the translation and localization of technical documentation is a high level of accuracy and quality, consistency of style and tone of voice are also important and a deciding factor in selecting a strategic localization partner. At the Welocalize LocLeaders Local Germany 2016 event in Stuttgart, many attendees who are heavily involved in the production and translation of technical documentation were keen to discuss how to strike a balance between content accuracy and keeping a consistent, culturally appropriate brand voice. The traditional approach of pure translation for technical documentation is relevant, but there is a growing emphasis on content transformation to ensure consistency of brand and a cultural relevancy in each local market.

To accomplish this, many global brands are embracing techniques like transcreation. Transcreation is where facts are directly translated, but concepts and brand messages are culturally adapted to meet local market requirements. This results in a consistent style and tone of voice across all content produced by a global organization.

The e-book by Acrolinx, Watch Your Tone! outlines the importance of tone of voice and the different types and elements of tone. The ebook states “…even purely informative content, such as technical documentation, may suffer if translated literally, because motivations and attitudes differ so much across cultures. For example, while US training tends to be interactive and hands-on, French people tend to prefer more information, less participation…”

How is style and tone of voice integrated?

For any language team working on technical documentation, they must be fluent, native linguists and hold a good level of subject matter expertise. To be able to hit the right tone of voice, it is important for teams to be familiar with the company, brand portfolio, and, also, know more about the product or service experience to ensure proper context in any translation work. Putting translators, linguists, and reviewers into the shoes of the customer creates a deeper understanding of overall objectives which is delivered into all locales. This approach is applied across products within one brand portfolio, but also for the different content types throughout the globalization journey.

Welocalize runs product and brand immersion workshops, where translators and reviewers receive training, with the client, to ensure they understand the product and the context of the content with which they’re working. This reduces review cycles and forges good working relationships with open lines of communication. As a result, there is more retention and less churn on productive working groups.

Sharing tools like translation memory (TM), terminology management, style guides, glossaries, and product training documents across the organization creates good interaction between internal teams, as well as between the client and the language services provider. Seeing localization and translation strategically as a whole, rather than in silos of individual translation tasks, is a big step towards delivering consistent brand value in multiple markets.

In a report conducted by Acrolinx, Terminology Management, How Companies Use Their Words & Phrases That Matter Most to Their Business, maintaining the integrity of the source content and translation are the main reasons why companies manage their words and phrases. Almost half of content professionals surveyed said that the top reason they maintain a list of words and phrases is to either ensure correct usage or enforce the company’s style and tone of voice.

It holds great value and benefit to any global business to forge a long-term partnership with a strategic language services provider who can localize across all content and achieve a consistent tone of voice, for both source and translated content. Having content teams that are invested in the brand long-term ensures style, terminology, technical facts, jargon, and engineering detail are 100% accurate in every target locale.


Garry Levitt is Welocalize Vice President, Europe.

In November 2016, localization and content professionals gathered in Stuttgart to attend the first Welocalize LocLeaders Local event held in Germany. Style and tone of voice in the localization of technical documentation was one of many topics we discussed. At any Welocalize LocLeaders event, there is always a boundless enthusiasm for industry peer-to-peer networking and collaboration. People love hearing from other people who share the same challenges and opportunities. It’s a great form of therapy. By sharing real, concrete experiences and scenarios, the discussion flows naturally. LocLeaders is about open engagement and participation.  In 2017, we’re hoping to run more LocLeaders Local events across Europe and North America so if content transformation is your business, then please join us or email for more information.