Writing for an international audience

Ideally, software and its documentation is localized into the languages of the target markets. However, in many cases, localization is not cost-effective. Therefore, software and documentation is created in English. This article shows some problems that can occur if you do not write specially for an international audience.

Even if the target markets are countries in which English is spoken, problems can occur. For example, differences exist between the way English is used in the US, the UK, and Australia. Usually, most readers have no problem whether they see 'dialog box' or 'dialogue box' (if they know what a dialog box is). However, is '12/1/2019' the 12th January 2019 or 1st December 2019?

Many verbs in English have two words or three words. Usually, the meaning of a multi-word verb is different from the meanings of its component words. Usually, people who read English as a second language struggle to understand multi-word verbs. Therefore, use an equivalent one-word verb. The table shows some examples:

Multi-word verbs and equivalent one-word verbs
Do not use Use
bring up (a menu) obtain
end up with (a result) results in
fill out (a form) complete
put off (a decision) delay
turn up (the volume) increase

Finally, and not very seriously, if users break their keyboards after you tell them to 'hit' the Enter key when you mean 'press', who is to blame?

See also

Guidelines for Writing English Language Technical Documentation for an International Audience, INTECOM (www.tekom.de/upload/alg/INTECOM_Guidelines.pdf)

ASD-STE100 Simplified Technical English

International English section of the TechScribe website

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