How to Write for a Global Audience
If you're advertising or writing about a carbonated beverage, what do you call it?
Soda? Pop? Fizzy drink? Mineral? All of these terms are "correct" depending on where
your readers are. Today, there is a greater chance of your work being read by
someone on a different continent, especially if you write online. It's predicted that
by 2011, there will be 1.5 billion people with Internet access, with most new users
coming from Brazil, Russia, India and China.
Be aware of differences in terminology
Such differences exist even between cities (like athletic shoes being called "sneakers"
or "tennis shoes") and there are many differing names to deal with on an international
scale. For example, what is called a "potato chip" in the U.S. is referred to as a "crisp"
in the UK. The best way to note these differences is to find out which countries your
readers are coming from (which can be done relatively easily online through analytics)
and have some people from those countries read your work before it's published.
There are many websites where you can find freelance editors and pay them to read
your work and point out any unclear terms. An alternative is to find forums or communities
where most of the members are from the country in question, and ask them if the writing
makes sense to them. If you always write about a particular topic, you'll eventually
become familiar with relevant differences in terminology, and you may not need as much feedback.
Use active or passive voice appropriately
You probably tend to write in either active or passive voice, depending on what is
customary in your country. If you are writing in active voice, you will write "The user turns
on the computer" whereas in passive voice, you would write "The computer is turned on
by the user." Some cultures, like Japanese and Chinese, consider active voice to be
condescending and rude. In countries where active voice is the norm, passive writing
may come off as awkward and impersonal. Read material written in English for and by
people in the country in question (such as in a magazine) and make note of whether
they prefer using the active or passive voice. Adjust your own writing accordingly.
• If in doubt, use active voice. It is generally better understood by non-native English speakers
Avoid colloquial (informal) writing
While you may not want your writing to be so formal that it alienates your audience,
some aspects of formal writing may help your work reach a wider audience:
• Colloquial words and phrases are called "colloquialisms." There are
also terms such as "ainít," which are not considered standard English and generally are
not appropriate for formal writing. Finally, there are non-words, combination of letters
and characters that do not form real words, such as "alot." If you are in doubt about a
certain word, look it up in the dictionary. If the dictionary makes no comment about it,
but it sounds informal to you, consult another dictionary. A dictionary will label an
incorrect word such as "ain't" as "Nonstandard" and informal word as "informal," "colloquial,
or "slang." Some dictionaries also include phrases. For example, when you look up
"to put up with" ("to tolerate") in the dictionary, you will see that it is informal.
• Avoid contractions. You may want to avoid all contractions or use
fewer contractions in your writing than you would use in your speech. "Cannot" is preferable
to "can't," especially in formal contexts. Some languages don't use contractions at all,
so this can become a big obstacle for translators.
• Do not use apostrophes to indicate possession, either, as it may be
confused for a contraction. Instead of writing "the calculator's battery" write "the calculator battery"
or "the battery of the calculator".
• Omit needless words. Look at every adjective and adverb in your
writing. Is it clear? Is it necessary? If not, take it out. A common "fluff" word is "really"
(e.g., I am really tired). It's a vague synonym for "very" that is not likely to be understood
by a non-native English speaker, who may wonder "What makes this tiredness more 'real'?"
List quantities in metric units
There are only three nations in the world that don't officially use the metric system:
Myanmar, Liberia and the United States. If you aren't using the metric system already,
and you want your work to be reach a global audience, it's time to start. This applies to
temperature, distance, ingredient amounts, height, weight, and any other measurement.
Keep in mind that while most of the countries officially use the metric system, some
of them continue to use Imperial units. If your writing is aimed at readers in the UK,
for example, you might indicate weight not only in kilograms, but also in pounds.