If you are reading this article, it is highly likely that you have regular dealings with translators or translation agencies. We want to offer you the opportunity to provide them with the most efficient briefing. This means keeping email traffic to a minimum and making sure that everything you agree on is completely clear so that you get the result you want and deserve.

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📩 Incoming email

Our reaction:

Phew – rest assured, this email is totally fictitious and Karen doesn’t exist. Although I’ve called her Karen because she is a real Karen – if you get my meaning.

The email does however present a common pitfall that needs a solution: How do you ensure that your translator grasps what you need straight away and that your email doesn’t go straight into their spam folder?

Here we go.

1. Subject field: project name, language combination(s), volume and deadline

Hello Karen – first thing get rid of those caps and exclamation marks from your subject field. Translators are completely indifferent to them. Beats me, but they are.

No, seriously. Make sure that your subject field covers the full scope of your request. So that your intention is completely clear.

If, for instance, you want to translate the Rob Christmas catalogue from French into Dutch, your subject field should be:

Translation Christmas Catalogue Rob FR-NL, 7500 words, 31.12.2021

This immediately gives your translation partner a good idea of what your request entails and if it can be reasonably achieved.

2. Language combinations and language variants

Come on, Karen. You didn’t even mention which target language your text was to be translated into. Get a grip!

I get it. Inside your head, all is as clear as daylight. But that is not the case for your translation partner. Let’s give you an example, here in our agency we translate into 36 different languages. So that gives us 35 opportunities to get it wrong.

Once you have mentioned the target language the next important aspect is the language variant. By this I mean the specific market that your communication is aimed at. By way of example, if you want a translation into Dutch you should mention if it is aimed at Belgium, the Netherlands, or both markets. The Dutch that is used in the Netherlands and Belgium may well be identical on paper, but can be very different when it comes to tone of voice and idioms.

3. Translators calculate in numbers of words

This applies in particular to high-volume projects such as brochures, catalogues, blogs, etc. You can check the number of words in Word in the bar at the bottom of the page. If you are working in a different format just copy the content into a Word document where you can check the wordcount.

Translators are usually able to process about 2500 words per day. Some translators work more speedily than others, but this gives you a good ballpark figure. By providing the wordcount your translation partner can immediately see if they can fit your project into their schedule.

Worth noting: As an agency, we have the advantage of working with large teams of translators which enables us to translate a lot more words per day if needed. However, in these instances extra time must be set aside to carry out in-depth revisions to ensure that the tone and terminology are consistent throughout.

Worth noting also: All our translations are automatically scanned by the eagle eyes of our revisers. The average volume of revised words per day is approximately 8,000. They’re on fire!

4. An editable attachment speaks volumes.

Really… Karen, what were you thinking?

OK, now we are being really tough. And… I have to own up. Let him who is without the sin of forgetting an attachment cast the first stone.

But actually the point we are focussing on is the word “editable”. A file in which you can edit text without too much fiddling around. Word or Google Doc are the most obvious examples. Excel or PowerPoint are also fine.

Non-editable files such as PDFs or images with text have to be converted before we can work on them. This is not insurmountable, but takes some extra time and input.

Worth noting: If your project involves translating a graphic brochure and you don’t want to copy-paste everything like crazy, you can also send us the IDML file. We will then return it to you properly translated. Your graphic designer will thank you.

And yet another point worth noting: thanks to our DTP team, we can convert non-editable files into an editable format so that the translation you receive is in exactly the same layout as the original text.

5. Who is speaking?

“Writing is like speaking, but with a sheet of paper in between”, I read somewhere recently (but my poor old brain cells will not remember where I saw it). So whatever you do, don’t forget to name the person speaking.

You should, at the very least, tell your translation partner which brand or organisation is sending out the message. Where possible with some background information and the brand strapline. Google also works wonders, of course.

The aim here is for the translation team to be able to reproduce the brand voice as accurately as possible. A communication from Ikea will read completely differently than a message sent out by Ligne Roset to say the least.

6. How about brand voice and tone of voice?

It should read well! Is that so Karen? Well, yes, that wasn’t hard to imagine. (Just teasing, we love you really).

It’s very important not just for copywriters, but also for translators to know how readers should experience the brand or organisation in question. Basically, what tone of voice should be used.

Not only that, but: What does the brand stand for, what values does it defend and what makes it unique?

You can provide an answer to these questions by using word clusters – groups of words if you like. When you put these together they will create a kind of textual mood board* which guides the translator in their writing style. There’s lots more to read about this subject in our article TONE OF VOICE – Just tone it down a bit will you?

*Not as sexy as you might think.

7. Style guide and terminology

If your brand or organisation has already been around a bit, it’s quite probable that your marketing colleagues have already put together this kind of style guide. It would include guidelines like ‘wherever possible we use the active form’ or ‘we always replace paragraph numbers with bullet points’.

If you are lucky, you might find a glossary on the hard drive somewhere. You will find information like: ‘e-bike’ is the preferred terminology in English and it should never be translated as ‘electric bicycle’. (We use the latest Trados Studio technology to automatically trigger preferred terminology, if that is of any interest to you).

Karen hasn’t quite got there yet. But well done if you have!

8. How would you describe your target audience and the customer persona?

Writing and translating are both forms of communicating. You don’t want to fall on deaf ears. If you adhered to Point 6, you have already provided guidelines about tone of voice. That’s an excellent start. But now you need to clarify who you are communicating with.

The following questions about the target group will put you on the right path:

  • Age?
  • Location?
  • Gender?
  • Social class?
  • Income?
  • Interests?
  • Fears?
  • Dreams?
  • Pet peeves?

9. What is the communication meant to achieve? The goal?

Nobody sends a message out into the world willy-nilly. There is always a goal in mind. In the business world that goal is usually to sell something. Convincing potential customers to click, to add an item to their shopping cart or to subscribe to something.

Example: If you have still not subscribed to our newsletter, don’t wait another moment; subscribe HERE.


10. Visual context and reference material.

Design, photos and text are inextricably linked to one another. You can export the text of a website, but translating it without looking at the interface will be a foregone catastrophe. The same applies to CTAs, product descriptions or advertising copy.

So make sure that your translation team not only receives the text, but also the design or layout of the interface in which the text will be used. Otherwise you get a ‘blind translation’. And translating blind is like driving blind, there’s no way you will be able to avoid an accident.

You can, of course, add any other information you want to a briefing depending on your project. SEO guidelines or character limitations spring to mind as examples.

But if you can provide your translation team with answers to the above ten points you will become their numero uno client in one fell swoop.

To make things easier for you we have converted the information in this article into a practical and easy-to-understand checklist that you can download for free below.

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Enjoy! (And don’t you dare send us another job request without a briefing 😉)

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