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May 26, 2020

Managing multiple languages in the authoring process

Employees are (and should be) hired for their knowledge and skill, not necessarily their multilingual skills. In a global organization with many offices worldwide, the result is a diverse team with content developers and contributors that speak many different languages. Collaborating on content development—especially on the same document—can be difficult if employees do not speak the same language fluently (or at all).

weaving loom

Weaving together content written in several languages takes discipline and practice.

In many organizations, the answer is to pick a common language (usually English) and edit heavily. But what do you do when you can’t identify a common language?

To support content collaboration across languages, you need an internal localization process combined with formalized content development workflows and infrastructure. The idea is to continually translate content so it is available to all content authors and contributors in their respective languages. What this looks like, specifically, will vary based on the number of languages, the authoring tools, and the content management systems in use.

While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, there are some best practices that can help you formulate a solution that works best for you.

Roll out a shared multilingual style guide

First and foremost, you need a style guide. If you work for a global organization, chances are good that you already have one (or several). You will also need to identify any localization resources that your organization uses when translating content. These could include even more style guides, translation glossaries and taxonomies, approved and prohibited terminology, and so on.

After collecting all of your style and localization resources, combine them into one multilingual style guide that covers writing rules for all of your written source languages. Send this guide to your global content teams for review; they will likely have suggestions and questions, and may also identify additional needs and exceptions for their languages.

When the guide has been revised and approved, begin using it throughout your global organization. As content is translated from one language to another and shared, you should begin to see a more consistent writing style across the board.

Use consistent templates or structures

Another great way to ease multilingual collaboration is through consistent use of authoring applications, templates, and smarter, structured content. As you translate content, you can directly use the translated files in localized publications without needing to copy and paste or reformat content by hand.

For unstructured authoring applications such as Word or InDesign, make sure your document templates use the same style names and conventions across all languages. The formatting may need to vary from language to language, but using the same style names makes it easy to share files. Just apply your local templates and all styles will update to use the correct formatting for your language.

For structured authoring scenarios, make sure everyone is using the same schema and content tagging approach. Even if using a lightweight text markup language such as Markdown, be consistent in how that markup syntax is used from language to language. In structured authoring and lightweight markup scenarios, all content formatting is applied automatically when you publish.

Fine-tune your workflows

As you begin to collaborate across languages, you will discover hiccups in your content workflows. Collaboration on content for a single product may result in delays if you don’t have a nimble translation workflow in place. Likewise, you may see delays if writers need to send files back and forth to each other instead of working within a shared or mirrored repository. Content reviews could be missed if reviewers need to be contacted directly versus being automatically notified.

Be mindful of the long-term cost of ad hoc workarounds needed to solve a critical problem. Try to automate as much of your workflows as possible and replace workarounds with improvements to your workflows.


Do you have other best practices for managing mixed language content development? Please leave a comment! If you would like assistance with improving your global content development processes, we can help you.