Writing for a global audience

We write our developer documentation in US English, but some of it is translated into languages other than English or is read by developers for whom English is not their primary language.

Write with localization, translation, and internationalization in mind. The following list defines these terms:

  • Localization: Adapting a product and its associated documentation for a specific country. This process involves more than translation, for example, using local currencies or units of measurement.
  • Translation: Translating one language to another language. This process might involve localization, but the two terms aren't synonomous with one another.
  • Internationalization: Designing a product and its associated documentation to mimimize the localization effort. For example, placing all UI strings in a separate file to simplify translation.

For more information, see Language localization.

General dos and don'ts

  • Use present tense.
  • Write dates and times in unambiguous and clear ways.
  • Use screenshots and text in figures sparingly. For more information, see Figures and other images.
  • Use qualifying nouns for technical keywords. For example, when referring to a file called example.yaml, call it the example.yaml file and not example.yaml by itself. For more information, see Keywords.
  • Provide context. Don't assume the reader already knows what you're talking about.
  • Avoid negative constructions when possible. Consider whether it’s necessary to tell the user what they can’t do instead of what they can.
  • Avoid directional language (for example, above or below) in procedural documentation. For more information, see UI elements and interaction.

Write short, clear, and precise sentences

The shorter the sentence, the easier it is to translate. English sentences can be shorter in length than other languages, so an English sentence of average length might result in a long sentence when translated. Longer sentences can impair understanding, cause rendering issues on the page or product interface, lengthen translation time, and increase translation and review costs.

  • Use active voice. The subject of the sentence is the person or thing performing the action. With passive voice, it's often hard for readers to figure out who's supposed to do something. For more information, see Active voice.
  • Address the reader directly. Use you, instead of the user or they. For more information, see Second person and first person.
  • Use simple verbs. For example, don't use words like utilize when the simpler word use conveys the same information.
  • Avoid phrasal verbs when possible. A phrasal verb combines multiple words to form a single verb phrase. These verbs are also known as compound verbs. Try to substitute a simpler verb first. There might not be a better verb; for example, a few exceptions to this rule include set up, log in, and sign in.

    Not recommended: This document makes use of the following terms:

    Recommended: This document uses the following terms:

  • Define abbreviations. Abbreviations can be confusing out of context, and they don't translate well. Spell things out whenever possible, at least the first time you use a given term. For more information, see Abbreviations.
  • Don't use too many modifiers. In particular, don't use more than two nouns as modifiers of another noun.

    Not recommended: A hybrid cloud-native DevSecOps pipeline

    Recommended: A cloud-native DevSecOps pipeline in a hybrid environment

  • Don't misplace modifiers. For example, place a word like only immediately before the noun or verb it relates to.

    Not recommended: Developers only need to apply for one token.

    Recommended: Developers need to apply for only one token.

  • Don't omit relative pronouns. To provide clarity and to avoid ambiguity, use relative pronouns such as that and who. For more information see Optional pronouns.

    Not recommended: Running in a hybrid environment means some of your processing happens on Google Cloud and other processing remains on-premises.

    Recommended: Running in a hybrid environment means that some of your processing happens on Google Cloud and other processing remains on-premises.

  • Clarify antecedents. Using pronouns can get tricky when translators are working with small, unconnected strings of text. Help them out by making things as clear as possible. For example, if a pronoun is ambiguous, then replace it with the appropriate noun.

    Not recommended: If you use the term green beer in an ad, then make sure it's targeted.

    Recommended: If you use the term green beer in an ad, then make sure the ad is targeted.

  • Use helper words. Helper words, such as if, then, and of, are frequently left out of conversational English. Use these words to avoid ambiguity.

Be consistent

If you use a particular term for a particular concept in one place, then use that exact same term elsewhere, including the same capitalization. If you use different names for the same thing, translators might think you're referring to different concepts, and thus might use different translations. Inconsistency in terminology and phrasing can greatly increase translation costs, particularly when translation memory and machine translations are used as first steps in translation.

  • Don't use the same word to mean different things. In particular, avoid using the same word as both a noun and a verb in close proximity. For examples of the multiple-meanings issue, see the word list entries for once and since.
  • Use standardized phrases for frequently used sentences, introductory phrases, and other common tasks. For examples, see introducing links, introducing output, and reviewing code samples.
  • Use standard English word order. Sentences follow the subject + verb + object order.
  • Use the conditional clause first. If you want to tell the audience to do something in a particular circumstance, mention the circumstance before you provide the instruction. For more information, see Clause order.
  • Make list items consistent. Make list items parallel in structure. Be consistent in your capitalization and punctuation. For more information, see lists.
  • Use consistent typographic formats. Use bold and italics consistently. Don't switch from using italics for emphasis to underlining. For more information, see Typographic conventions.

Be inclusive

You're not writing for your culture. Write with inclusivity in mind. For more information, see Writing inclusive documentation.

  • Don't be too culturally specific. In particular, don't refer to specific holidays, cultural practices, or sports unless you're certain they're known worldwide.
  • Use a diverse set of example names. If you need to use people's names (for example, as email addresses), use a diverse set of names. For more information, see Example domains and names.
  • Avoid colloquialisms, idioms, or slang. Phrases like ballpark figure, back burner or hang in there can be confusing and difficult to translate.
  • Avoid culturally specific humor.