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We are creating an enterprise web app for a global audience. I am responsible for creating microcopy - the content you see all over the web interface, such as button text, error messages, guiding text, etc. So, what are some important aspects that I should consider or research when my audience are from all over the world?

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Are you talking about many languages or just English users globally? –  JohnGB Feb 19 '13 at 15:38

1 Answer 1

Disclaimer : A few of the I am posting are from a blog post I wrote recently,so if this is considered as a attempt at self promotion, please let me know I'll remove my answer.

Here is a brief list of the things I would call out before while writing content for international audiences

  • Research your audience and find out the local language in thier region : There are a number of countries which have multiple languages and what might be considered acceptable in one of the languages might not be the case there. So while creating content, be mindful of the language of the area you are targeting. To quote the W3C internationalization page :

The script may also change by legislation or with changes in government policy. For example, to reach the Azeri-speaking population in Iran, you would use Arabic script. From the late 1930s, Cyrillic was the script of choice in Azerbaijan itself and became policy in 1940. Due to the fall of the Soviet Union, beginning in 1991 a gradual switch to Latin occurred, becoming mandatory for official uses in 2001. However, for your target audience and unofficial uses, you might want to use Cyrillic for older audiences and Latin for younger audiences, and most likely both to reach the general Azerbaijani population. If you want to reach all Azeri speakers, you would use all 3 scripts. (Note that there might be terminology and other differences among Azeri speakers in different countries, just as there are differences between English or French speakers in different countries.)

You also should be aware that your choice of script may have political, religious, demographic or cultural overtones. In countries where the language of higher learning was Russian, Cyrillic will be used by educated people. Latin is associated with Pan-Turkic movements, and more generally can indicate Western-tending movements. Arabic script has associations with Islamist movements.

  • Get a professional translator : The web is replete with stories of poorly translated tag lines or messages which were a failure in the target countries due to incorrect translations or automated translation. To quote an example from my blog post :

Pepsi’s ‘Come alive with the Pepsi Generation’ slogan reportedly turned into ‘Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave’ when translated into Chinese.

Germany was not entirely receptive of Irish Mist whiskey liqueur, Clairol’s mist stick curling iron or the Rolls Royce Silver Mist model. This isn’t surprising when you consider that ‘mist’ is German for ‘manure’.

  • Be Mindful of small details: While writing text for international audiences or audiences from a specific country, ensure that you are mindful of small details which might influence the way your users perceive your app. Some details are :

    • Dates: Be mindful of date formats used (DD/MM/YYYY vs. MM/DD/YYYY)
    • Time: 12-hour vs. 24-hour time.
    • Currency: Pay attention to conversions and formats.
    • Phone Numbers: Formats are different around the world.
    • National Holidays: Holidays are country and region specific.
    • Metric Units : Be mindful of the metric units being used in that country
    • Website Language Codes: ISO codes are important to know.
  • Understand how users access your site (the platforms they use) : You need to do some research about the kind of platforms your users might use to access your site. Though your site might be a web app, chances are a lot of users might access it through a mobile browser. A good example is that of that of how facebook customizes its tag line and leading text depending upon its audience :

The English page says, “Facebook helps you connect and share with the people in your life.” The Japanese page says, “Using Facebook, you can connect with friends, colleagues and classmates to deepen your connections. Also access Facebook from cell phones and smartphones.”

The thing to notice is that the Japanese page mentions users can access the site with phones, but the English page doesn’t. This is perhaps because this study 95% of the Japanese population is mobile subscribers.

I also recommend looking at this article for additional inputs. To quote the article :

  • Ensure you follow the spelling of the area you are targeting: For example,if your user base is mostly american, they you need to ensure your spelling follows american english guidelines but if your user base uses mostly British english, then change the spellings accordingly
  • Avoid idioms or metaphors unless you are sure your users will understand them
  • Avoid specific cultural references
  • Keep sentences short and light Jargon, multiple sub clauses, obtuse syntax – it’s just going to give everyone a headache
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Thanks, Mervin. This is will help. –  Senthil Feb 20 '13 at 4:30
    
@Senthil Can you mark this as the answer if it was helpful ? –  Mervin Johnsingh Feb 22 '13 at 15:23

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