A hierarchy of localization needs

Bill Swallow / Localization, Opinion4 Comments

Do you need to supply translated content? Use this hierarchy of localization needs to shape your localization strategy.

A few years ago, Sarah O’Keefe wrote about a hierarchy of content needs. In much the same way, localization needs have a similar hierarchy.

A hierarchy of localization needs: available, accurate, appropriate, tailored, organic

As with the hierarchy of content needs, the bottom three levels make up the requirements for minimum viable translation—it’s available, accurate, and appropriate.


Available translation means that a translation exists and people have access to it.

The translations may not be available in all the same formats as the source language (just a PDF, for example, where the source may be published to PDF, web, help, etc.), but the information is complete.

However, available translation does not account for quality. It can include nothing more than a quick machine translation of the source language content, or a hasty translation cobbled together by a regional sales office.


Accurate translations are proofed for quality. At this stage, translation memory and professional translation staff enter the picture. Translation memory allows translators to build upon previously translated content. Professional translators make use of translation memory to ensure consistency and to reduce the overall translation effort (and cost).

Accurate translation relies heavily on managed terminology and translation glossaries. This ensures that important terms and phrases are translated correctly. Supplying translators with contextual background information (explanations about the content that may not be obvious, such as a use case or user story) is also critical at this stage. Translators use the contextual information to ensure they understand exactly how content should be translated.


Appropriate translations account for cultural and regional differences. What is normal to one culture may seem strange or offensive to another culture.

Appropriate translations also account for terminology and linguistic differences in different geographic regions. These differences may be subtle, but they are important if you want to provide truly appropriate translations.

For example, if you work in the food industry there are multiple regional differences for various foods just within the U.S. English market alone. You might have a sandwich/hoagie/sub/grinder for lunch, and wash it down with a soft drink/soda/pop/Coke.


Tailored translations take appropriateness one step further by including transcreation in the mix. Transcreation is the process of rewriting content explicitly for a target language and cultural audience. The general idea of the message or concept—along with requirements and other criteria—are sent to a regional expert who creates new content from scratch in that language for the target audience.

Tailored translations may also involve different deliverable formats than the source language delivery formats. In regions that predominantly use mobile technology for Internet connectivity, responsive HTML might be the target format of choice instead of PDF or traditional help formats.


Organic translation incorporates all of the other levels of the pyramid and removes any indication that what you are supplying is in fact a translation. Organic translations look and feel as if they were written from scratch and custom-tailored for their audience. The language reads naturally and it’s readily available in the formats people expect.

Given that the hierarchy of content needs places intelligent content at the top, organic translation must include all forms of communication and interoperability, from help desk forums and chatbots to rendering content in varying devices and formats.

Does this hierarchy of localization needs map to what you are doing? Are you at least supplying minimum viable translation (available, accurate, and appropriate)? Do you disagree with this hierarchy? I welcome your comments!

Of note, Common Sense Advisory has a Localization Maturity Model that dives into more detail and includes several additional stages. Our hierarchy of localization needs takes a simpler approach from the audience’s perspective and addresses what’s needed to meet each level of need.

About the Author

Bill Swallow


Bill Swallow, Director of Operations, partners with enterprise content owners to design and build content systems that solve complex information management and localization problems.

4 Comments on “A hierarchy of localization needs”

  1. Hi, Bill. I am a technical communications manager with Honeywell in Minnesota. I coordinate translation work for our product literature for the Honeywell Homes and Buildings Technologies business.

    I agree with everything in your article.

    I would like to add that under the umbrella of Tailored is the need to provide consistency in term usage across the various literature for a line of products. For example, the basic components of a product and how you describe its use should be fairly consistent across all the literature for particular product or product line.

    As we have evolved in getting our literature translated we discovered that we have inconsistencies when we review the English content and those have resulted in inconsistencies with translations. We now are more diligent about applying consistency to the original English versions and having internal reviewers (Honeywell engineers and marketing people who are fluent speakers of the target language) review for consistency as well as accuracy.

    Nice article and thanks for sharing your expertise with the rest of us! 🙂

    1. Thanks Cynthia! Agreed; consistency is critical, not only in terminology but in phrasing.

      Moving upwards from Tailored to Organic, it’s important to document and govern the use of synonyms. At that point, having a robust term base is critical, complete with the single approved term, the acceptable synonyms, and the synonyms that should never be used. Each should have definitions, use cases, examples, and approved translations. Fun!

  2. Pingback: A hierarchy of localization needs – Technical Writing World

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