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Global writing

Table of contents


Applying these basic principles will make your content more accessible for US customers and more effective for a global audience, both in English and when localized to other languages.

Content principles

  • Keep it simple. Break up long, complex sentences into shorter, simple sentences. It’s better for English, and it’s easier to translate.
  • Use everyday words. Replace jargon and buzzwords with common English words.
  • Keep global customers in mind. Culturally specific references, idioms, and metaphors lose meaning even when they can be translated literally. At worst, they may take on offensive meaning in another culture.
  • Remember that copy will be longer when translated. Keep within the recommended word or character count limits. Depending on the language, text can expand 30% to 300%.
  • Don’t embed text into images. When words are embedded into an image file, the text cannot be localized. Keep text in images as HTML; otherwise, a whole new image file must be created for localization. That adds cost, slows down the localization workflow, and it’s bad for accessibility and SEO.
  • Speak like a person. Be respectful, approachable, and genuine. Keep context and culture in mind: conversational doesn’t mean casual or colloquial. Many cultures place more importance on politeness than the United States.

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Keep sentences short

Use simple, declarative sentences in the present tense. Make the subject and verb clear, and avoid using long strings of modifiers and clauses. It’s easier for translation tools to translate accurately.

  • Break up ideas into shorter sentences.

NO: Access, integrate, and analyze information to generate preliminary layouts of railway system design corridors and visualizations, determining the optimal location for railway systems in the context of the existing environment and creating platform components that follow the geometry of the track perfectly.

YES: Analyze information to generate layouts of railway system designs. Establish the best location for railway systems based on current environments. Create platform components that follow the geometry of the track perfectly.

  • Use lists. They’re easier to scan. Make the construction parallel in bulleted lists.

NO: (English source) Plan highway designs confidently by integrating data to evaluate existing conditions, generating data-rich proposals in the context of the existing environment to develop plans and estimates at the appropriate level of detail to help confirm scope, budget, and schedule.

(Google translation—German) Plan Autobahn Designs souverän durch die Integration von Daten zu bestehenden Bedingungen zu bewerten, Erzeugen von Datenreiche Vorschläge im Zusammenhang mit der bestehenden Umgebung auf Planungen und Schätzungen auf der entsprechenden Ebene des Einzelnen zu helfen, bestätigen Umfang, Budget und Zeitplan zu entwickeln.

(Back translation—German to English) Plan highway designs to assess sovereign by integrating data on existing conditions, to help generating data Competitive proposals in connection with existing environment plans and estimates at the appropriate level of detail, confirm scope to develop budget and schedule.

YES: (English source) Evaluate existing conditions to create highway designs. Use concrete data to:

  • Document the scope of a project.
  • Develop a detailed budget.
  • Create a schedule.

(Google translation—German) Werten Sie bestehende Bedingungen zur Autobahn Entwürfe zu schaffen. Verwenden Sie konkrete Daten zu:

  • Dokumentieren Sie den Rahmen eines Projektes.
  • Entwicklung eines detaillierten Finanzplan.
  • Erstellen Sie einen Zeitplan.

(Back translation—German to English) Evaluate to establish existing conditions to the highway designs. Use concrete data to:

  • Documenting the scope of a project.
  • Development of a detailed budget.
  • Create a schedule.

Use simple words

Avoid complex words and noun strings (a string of several nouns that create a phrase) when simpler alternatives will do.

Noun strings are very difficult to localize. In German and Dutch, for example, noun strings become one long word. The translation becomes hard to scan or incomprehensible. It also poses design issues, especially in mobile views, buttons, tabs, and narrow web components.

NO: (English) Design view representations

In English, the additional words in a noun string can display on a second line.

(German) Konstruktionsansichtsdarstellungen

In German, the noun string becomes one long word that wraps—something we don’t do on the web.

YES: (English) Design views

(German) Konstruktionsansichts

Simplifying the English source helps.

In the example below, what exactly should the customer refer to: the Site Server, the LDAP Service, the directory, the server, the directory server?

NO: Please refer to the Site Server LDAP Service directory server.

YES: Please refer to the directory for the LDAP server.

Breaking up the noun string (Site Server LDAP Service directory server) into two separate, shorter nouns (directory and LDAP server) clarifies exactly what the customer should refer to. It also brings the relevant noun (directory) closer to the instruction (Please refer to), making it easier to scan and understand.

Use terms consistently

We use a number of terms frequently on dotcom and in product interfaces, including product noun phrases, industry terms, and UI nomenclature such as button names, menu items, calls to action, and navigational labels. Using these terms consistently helps the translation memory database and improves the speed and quality of localization.

Note: Some products have more than one product noun phrase. Use the recommended phrases rather than creating new ad hoc terms.

PRODUCT NOUN PHRASE: Maya LT {3D game development software}

Curly brackets { } indicate the string that gets translated.

AVOID AD HOC VARIATIONS: Maya LT {professional 3D tool}

When you encounter extremely long product noun phrases, you may break them up as you would noun strings, but do maintain the primary SEO phrase. Please consider the context and the main purpose of the product, in consultation with the Search team.

EXTREMELY LONG PRODUCT NOUN PHRASE: Moldflow {plastic injection molding simulation software}

Curly brackets { } indicate the string that gets translated.

BETTER: Moldflow {software for plastic injection molding and simulation}

Use consistent spelling and capitalization

We use American English spelling. Don’t capitalize words for emphasis; translators will assume it indicates a proper noun and translate accordingly.

See also the Spelling list. For words that are not on the Spelling list, use the first spelling listed in Merriam-Webster Online.

See also Capitalization.

Use active voice

In an active sentence, the subject does something. In a passive sentence, something is being done to someone or something, and it’s not always clear who is performing the action.

NO: Because most design clients use Autodesk software, a significant amount of time is saved.

YES: Design clients can save time by using Autodesk software.

Use gerunds sparingly

The English language is rich in gerunds, words than end in –ing. Gerunds can represent many different parts of speech, which can make them complex for machine translation.

NOUN GERUND: The grand opening was a success.

VERB GERUND: I caught him secretly opening the cookie jar.

NOUN: The community building is closed for Christmas holiday.

NOUN-STRING GERUND: Community building is essential for grass-roots organizations.

You can usually simplify a sentence and avoid or reduce the number of gerunds.

NO: (English source) Defining and applying file-naming conventions and customizing search fields for maintaining project accountability have never been easier.

(Google translation—Korean) 정의 및 파일 이름 지정 규칙을 적용하고 프로젝트의 책임 성을 유지하기 위해 검색 필드를 정의하는 것은 쉽게 적이있다.

(Back translation—Korean to English) It has never been easy to define and apply the file naming convention and define the search field to maintain the accountability of the project.

YES: (English source) Easily define and apply file-naming conventions. Customize search fields to maintain project accountability.

(Google translation—Korean) 쉽게 정의하고 파일 이름 지정 규칙 을 적용합니다. 프로젝트 의 책임 을 유지하기 위해 검색 필드 사용자 지정.

(Back translation—Korean to English) Easily define and apply the file naming convention. Search for customization to maintain the charge of the project.

Avoid negatives and double negatives

In English, some negative constructions like X and Y have never been easier mean the opposite: that X and Y are easy. Two negatives can also indicate a positive in English. In some languages however, a negative always means a negative and two negatives simply emphasize the negative.

Double negatives are particularly difficult to localize. For example, in English not uncommon means that something is common. But translated to some languages, it could mean extremely uncommon or very rare because the first negative (not) would emphasize the second negative (uncommon).

You can often rephrase a negative, conditional negative (unless, until, except…) or double negative with the simpler, positive construction.

NO: The new release will not be available until late January.

YES: The new release will be available in late January.

NO: Unless you accept the terms of use, you will not be able to download the trial.

YES: Accept the terms of use to download the trial.

NO: You can not only model bridges, but also generate production plans with our software.

YES: You can model bridges and generate production plans with our software.

NO: If he was not a talented writer, no one would have bought his books.

YES: People bought his books because he is a talented writer.

Use that and which

Though we often omit that and which in speech, in written text they can add much needed clarity. Include that or which, especially in long clauses or when there’s more than one clause.

NO: Offer feedback to show clients your proposal considers factors beyond the minimum requirements.

YES: Offer feedback to show clients that your proposal considers factors beyond the minimum requirements.

Define abbreviations and acronyms

In general, do not use abbreviations in text, and spell out acronyms on the first instance in body copy. Globally understood terms, such as 3D, don’t need to be spelled out. But be sure that the acronym really is a global term. If in doubt, spell it out.

NO: Flexible item and BOM configuration make it easier to edit your BOMs.

YES: Flexible item and bill of materials (BOM) configuration make it easier to edit your BOM.

It’s especially important to spell out the first instance of an acronym for localizing into nonWestern languages. Even in languages that use the Western alphabet, that language may use a translated or a completely different industry term, not the US terminology, in which case an English acronym (like CAM) may not make sense by itself.


(English) Computer-aided manufacturing (CAM)

(French) Fabrication assistée par ordinateur (FAO)

(Japanese) 高度なコンピュータ支援製造(CAM)


(English) Building Information Modeling (BIM)

(Polish) Modelowanie informacji o budynku (MIB)

(Korean) 빌딩 정보 모델링


For system requirements and numerical terms, abbreviations are preferred. See Numbers for more detail.

NO: 15 percent

YES: 15%

NO: 5 gigabytes


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Think globally

Our customers live in many different countries. Speaking to a culturally diverse audience ensures that we won’t exclude non-US customers.

Avoid US-centric references

Avoid US cultural references and words like foreign and domestic. Something German may be foreign to someone in the US, but it isn’t foreign to our German customers.

NO: With stunning effects, your next presentation will look like the Fourth of July fireworks.

YES: Create a presentation with stunning effects.

Don’t assume nation means the US to all customers.

NO: This case study shows how the largest construction firm in the nation uses Revit software.

YES: See how the largest construction firm in the United States uses Revit software.

Keep in mind that not all types of US offer details may apply in every country.

NO: Subscriptions are currently available in monthly, quarterly, annual, and multiyear terms.

YES: Subscriptions are currently available in monthly, quarterly, annual, and multiyear terms. Note: Some terms are not available in all countries.

Avoid jargon, buzzwords, and idioms

Jargon, buzzwords, and idiomatic expressions derive meaning from cultural context. For this reason, they don’t localize well. They can even take on unintended or offensive meanings in other cultures.

IDIOM: (French) Il touche sa bille.

TRANSLATION: He touches his marble.

MEANING: He knows a lot, he knows what he’s doing.

IDIOM: (Japanese) 猿も木から落ちる

TRANSLATION: Even monkeys fall from trees.

MEANING: Even experts get it wrong.

IDIOM: (Korean) 배보다 배꼽이 크다

TRANSLATION: The belly button is bigger than the belly.

MEANING: The cost or effort to do something is greater than the thing itself.

Avoid clever headlines

Like buzzwords and idioms, clever headlines don’t localize easily. They may sound cool or funny in English, but end up awkward to global audiences and in translation. For most types of content, stick to concrete, straightforward language.

NO: (English source) Design differently

(Google translation—German) Design anders

Technically correct, but not fluent sounding. A German speaker suggested a more German phrasing might be “gestalt anders,” meaning “to shape differently.”

(Back translation) Design differently

YES: (English source) Sculpt surfaces in 3D

(Google translation—German) Sculpt Oberflächen in 3D

(Back translation) Sculpt surfaces in 3D

NO: (English source) Design differently

(Google translation—Portuguese) projeto de forma diferente

Awkward, not fluent. “Projeto de forma” is a noun, as Portuguese does not have a verb equivalent, “to design.”

(Back translation) Project (n.) different

YES: (English source) Sculpt surfaces in 3D

(Google translation—Portuguese) Esculpir superfícies em 3D

(Back translation) Sculpt surfaces in 3D

For a list of specific words to avoid, see Buzzwords.

Note: If you’re creating a global marketing campaign, please contact the Marketing Localization team three to four weeks before global.com publication. It can help make sure that your campaign’s concept, theme, and emotions are culturally adapted to local target markets.

Be aware of text expansion

Follow the maximum character or word counts for your project. Expect at least a 30% increase after translation. The shorter the content type—such as button names, UI labels, and headlines—the greater the expansion, as much as 300%.

Text expansion isn’t just about character count. Non-Western languages can require more vertical or horizontal space per character, even when they sometimes use fewer characters.

Desktop (English: 7 characters)

デスクトップ (Japanese: 6 characters)

Source: WC3 Internationalization

The tables below show average character count increases and text (spatial) expansion after translation.

Number of characters (English) Average character count increase
Up to 10 200%–300%
11–20 180%–200%
21–30 160%–180%
31–50 140%–160%
51–70 151%–170%
Over 70 130%

Source: WC3 Internationalization

Number of characters (English) Additional space required
Up to 10 100%–200%
11–20 80%–100%
21–30 60%–80%
31–50 40%–60%
51–70 31%–40%
Over 70 30%

Source: IBM

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Internal references

Autodesk Translation Style Guides - for translators (access required)

External references

Bytelevel – web globalization glossary

Global by Design

W3C Internationalization

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