Guideline B: Writing for an international audience

B2: Terminology


Guideline B2-1

Filter out typographical errors.

Make sure that the words you use are spelled correctly and that they are in approved references.

Example: use a Terminology database as a standard for your publications and information centers. IBM provides a page where English terminology can be found:

A simple typographical error can cause a disproportionate amount of additional translation time. Unless the error is obvious, the translator may think the misspelled word is a new term.

Also observe your organization's rule on the spelling convention to use, for example, American, British, or ISO/IEC. If no rule exists, choose a convention and follow it consistently.

Example: IBM practice is to follow the American spelling convention.

Guideline B2-2

Use correct terminology.

Make sure that you are using the words as they are defined in the references. The following are some terms that may have ambiguous meanings:

Term Explanation of the Ambiguity
a to Z The term a to Z or a-Z indicates the entire range of the English alphabet, but does the term also include characters such as Æ, Ø, è, and ü?
alphabet Does the term alphabet also include the non-Latin script alphabets such as the Greek or the Japanese kana alphabet?
and/or Many languages have no such equivalent construct. See Guideline B4-1 for more information.
ASCII The term ASCII is vague: there are many versions of ASCII, and the term can also mean text. See Coded Character Sets for more information.
billion The North American billion (1,000,000,000) is one thousand times smaller than the traditional British billion (1,000,000,000,000).
character Programmers often assume that a character is equal to a byte. See Introducing Asian Ideographic Scripts for more information. This is not true in many parts of the world. If your message prompts the user to enter no more than 30 characters, do you really mean 30 bytes?
Christian name, first name, last name The reason a North American family name is called last name is because people usually write their family names last, after their given names, which are also known as first names. In Asia, the practice is the reverse: people's names are shown with their family names before their given names. Non-Christians do not have Christian names. Use the term given names instead of the first names or Christian names, and use the term family name or surname instead of last name.
weekend The weekend in North America;includes Saturday and Sunday, in Israel it includes Friday and Saturday, and in Islamic countries it includes Thursday and Friday.
while The while in The display is locked while the printer is active can mean either during the time or on the other hand.

y or n

What is y and what is n? Use yes or no.

What is 1 and what is 0? Use on or off.

Guideline B2-3

Be consistent with terminology.

Use the same word or words each time you describe or refer to the same concept. If similar terms differ, explain the differences.

Example: When creating a message that requests the user to press a particular key on the keyboard, different developers often use a mixture of the following verbs for the same action:

Example: The following verbs can mean the same action:

Create a common glossary that everyone follows to ensure consistency in the use of terminology.

Guideline B2-4

Avoid referring to culture-specific standards.

Culture-specific standards are units of measurement, formats, and layouts that differ from region to region.

Example: The following are culture-specific terms:

Guideline B2-5

Avoid using names that have meaning in your country or region only.

Think beyond your country's border, and never assume your readers know about your country's culture, history, and geography.

When showing city names as examples, use international cities, such as, London, New York, and Tokyo.


Bad: This product was developed in our West Coast lab.
Better: This product was developed at the IBM Canada lab in Vancouver.

Example: Non-English speaking readers may not understand that names like John Doe, John Q. Public, and Jane Doe refer to nameless individuals.

Guideline B2-6

Avoid abbreviations, acronyms, and special symbols: they cannot be translated.

Abbreviations of words can lead to misunderstandings by the translators and by the readers. Rules for abbreviation vary from language to language: never assume that translators can understand the meaning of your abbreviations or can abbreviate their translations similarly. Languages such as Arabic do not allow abbreviation.

Never abbreviate English words in a sentence to satisfy Guideline A3 – Providing for UI Expansion. The target language may not be able to use abbreviations and require the additional expansion space.

If you must use an abbreviation or acronym, ensure that your translator knows its exact meaning, and that you allow enough space for the expression to be spelled out fully in other languages.

Example: North Americans use # for number, ' for feet or minute, " for inch or second, and c/o for care of. Other languages do not have such short form equivalents.

Mnemonics create other problems. Although mnemonics are recommended for use in choice selection, each one must be tailored to match the translated text.

Example: The English mnemonic E for Exit becomes the French S for Sortie after translation.