Especially if you work with direct clients–although this could definitely work with agencies too–client-specific style sheets are a great way to improve the quality and consistency of your translations, while adding value for your clients. Style sheets are different from glossaries, although they share some of the same features and benefits.
If you Google “style sheet,” the first definition you’ll get is “a manual detailing the house style of a particular publisher, publication, etc.” House style is a concept with which many clients are unfamiliar. As the definition correctly points out, entities like publishers, newspapers, etc. have extensive house style manuals. The comma wars between the New Yorker and the New York Times are a good example; word-based businesses generally care very much about style. Entities such as the World Health Organization also have extensive style guides. But many clients do not, and that’s where you come in.
Before you get to client-specific style sheets, know which style manual you want to follow in your translations. In the US, I’d say that the standard is the Chicago Manual of Style. It’s important to have a preferred style guide. Years ago, Grant Hamilton taught me that when a client asks a style-related question, such as how you feel about the singular use of “they,” or whether you should capitalize “iPads” at the start of a sentence, it’s good to be able to point to a style guide. It certainly sounds more authoritative than saying, “I think it looks/sounds better that way.” So that’s your first step: pick a style guide.
Then, move on to client-specific style sheets. You can create these using a simple Excel sheet or even a Word table. I tend to use Word tables because they’re easy for clients to navigate. A style sheet can contain nearly anything that you find helpful for purposes of consistency, but one thing I find–over and over again–is that my clients are not good about deciding upon and using consistent titles for their employees in English. I translate a lot of content marketing and corporate communications materials where my employees often talk about their employees: who’s doing what, who spoke at what conference, who’s been promoted. So for each client, I prepare a special style sheet, called “Names and Titles,” containing:
- A list of their key employees, with their names spelled correctly and in the form that the employee prefers. Yes, people within a company consistently spell colleagues’ names wrong, and some people like a certain styling of their name. Some people always use their middle initial, some have two last names but don’t like them hyphenated, or do like them hyphenated, and so on. The list of names is crucial; I find misspelled employee names in my clients’ materials all the time.
- The employees’ French job titles.
- My proposed English equivalents for the French titles. Many of my clients’ current English title stylings are all over the map: even within the same document, the same person might be referred to as “President,” “CEO,” and “Chief Executive Officer.” Some clients will have strong preferences about these titles, while others will simply leave it up to you. But the main thing is to create this document and then enforce consistency; every time that person’s name appears in print, it’s in the same style and with the same target-language title.
Style guides can contain a whole range of information: the company’s location names, product names, and any wording preferences. For example I once worked for a client that insisted on using the European floor numbering system in English. So instead of saying first floor, second floor, etc., they said ground floor, first floor, etc. I was not in favor of this, and explained to the client that if you send an American to “the first floor,” they’re going to walk in the door and think that they’re there. But the point of a style guide isn’t to beat your client into agreeing with you: it’s to make sure that your translations are consistent. So, into the style guide “ground floor” went.
I highly recommend creating a style guide for every client for whom you work regularly. Readers, any other thoughts on style guides or what could/should be included in them?