Choosing the right word: Guidelines for our global audience? (take II)

Subject: Choosing the right word: Guidelines for our global audience? (take II)
From: Geoff Hart <ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca>
To: techwr-l List <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>, Kate Wilcox <kwilcox -at- ensim -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 01 Oct 2007 15:00:06 -0400

Kate Wilcox noted: <<That's good advice for projects that are
localized. However, we have only one version of English manuals. We
don't currently localize for the UK, India, and the US, and it's not
clear which is the larger audience.>>

If you're not localizing, then you should instead by taking steps to
minimize the misunderstandings. The examples you provided in your
previous message all show situations in which at least one
representative member of your Indian audience considers the wording
rude. Personally, that's not a situation I'd be willing to risk were
I selling a product into a potentially huge market, so it's worth
reconsidering whether you should be localizing for the Indian market.
If so, hire an Indian localization group to do the job for you.

You may not have to make this effort for the UK market, since the UK
is more accustomed to US cultural imperialism <grin> and since the
cultural differences are smaller than those with India. Our British
colleagues are accustomed to these differences, but being unwilling
to make the extra effort for a large market is still not the optimal
business strategy. A reasonable compromise to full localization in
this case might be to hire a local editor and give them a single
task: don't edit anything except US idiom that will be misleading to
a UK audience. Your example of team is/are is a classic example: both
are correct (see: "notional accord"), though I can never remember
which form the UK prefers. I'd guess "team are", but wait for

<<Since writers in India and the US often have different opinions
when it comes to choosing the right word, how do you determine which
words are right?>>

The same way you do when you're writing only within a single market:
hire an editor or a writer who plays one on TV <grin>. Really.
Correct word choice isn't a matter of opinion: you need to rely on
someone who knows word usage well and can defend that usage.

<<As a manager, how would you decide and how would you explain that
decision to writers whose opinions differ?>>

In some cases, it's simply a matter of pointing them to a dictionary.
Google, if you understand how to constrain a search properly and
evaluate the quality of your sources (e.g., an international
standards body is more credible than a Usenet newsgroup about boy
bands), can also provide good insights into usage. Referring to
credible published materials also demonstrates usage authoritatively.
Where there's a risk of serious consequences if the meaning is
misunderstood, both words are the wrong choice; choose a word that
doesn't carry that risk.

And sometimes you'll find that two writers disagree, and both have
strong support for their opinion. This happens sometimes, witness the
way Microsoft's style guide contradicts the dictionary and common
usage in many cases; both are right for different contexts (e.g.,
speak Microsoft if you work for Microsoft). In that case, you do what
you're hired to do as a manager: choose the one you feel is right,
make that choice your corporate standard (add it to the style guide
and teach your editors to look for misuse of the other word), and
move on to bigger challenges. Any writer who gets bent out of shape
over a simple word choice and can't convince anyone else they're
right needs to learn to cope.

Note, however, that if you're referring to the specific situation in
which the Indian writer considers the wording rude and your American
colleagues don't. When writing for the Indian market, the Indian
writer's experience trumps that of the American writers ***for that

-- Geoff Hart
ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca / geoffhart -at- mac -dot- com
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Choosing the right word: Guidelines for our global audience: From: Kate Wilcox
Choosing the right word: Guidelines for our global audience?: From: Geoff Hart
RE: Choosing the right word: Guidelines for our global audience?: From: Kate Wilcox

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