Plain language translations for nonprofits

HookPR_Plain_language_translations_for_nonprofits_017 practices to adapt and translate content so that any client can easily understand your services.

Nonprofits are often subject to the “curse of knowledge.” You have in-depth expertise about your organization and services. Your reflex (and good intention) is to provide as much information as possible, in terms you’re most familiar with.

The problem? Content-heavy and jargon-filled texts are difficult for general audiences, especially those with limited literacy skills. These texts also don’t always transition well in translation.

That’s why the use of plain language has become so important. In recent years, countries around the world have made a push to make content simple. The Plain Writing Act of 2010 aimed for clarity in federal government information so that people can “find what they need, understand what they find, and use what they find to meet their needs.”

Here are 7 tips to ensure translations for nonprofits are easier to read:

1. Focus on the reader

Make sure your content clearly meets a need. Emphasize the action people need to take and the steps involved. For example, you can write, “Do at least 30 minutes of exercise” instead of “The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend a half hour or more of moderate physical activity.”

2. Use simple vocabulary

Simple vocabulary means avoiding complicated terms or acronyms. It also means changing words such as “accessibility” to “access” or “get.” Or instead of “make an inquiry,” use “inquire.”

Be kind to your translators and avoid chains of nouns in English, which are particularly difficult to translate. Instead of “public service community information dissemination program,” write “a program to inform the public.”

3. Structure your text

A clear structure makes it easier for people to understand information at a glance. People with limited reading skills can feel overwhelmed with huge blocks of text. Instead, cut the text with:

  • Clear headings
  • Short sections
  • Smaller paragraphs with lots of white space
  • Parallel ideas in bulleted lists

4. Use design to communicate

Graphics, lists, tables, illustrations and design help people understand content without the need to read. This is especially important if your nonprofit produces safety information.

5. Test your content

In 2011, the Nielsen Norman Group tested usability on the websites of a sample of nonprofits and found that clearer content was a priority.

Internal staff might not be the best people to decide what is simple for an audience. Get a sample of clients to give feedback about anything they can’t understand.

6. Consult plain language resources

While plain language guides around the world have similar goals, your translators should consult plain language manuals in the target language. Languages can have slight differences in style, paragraphing, vocabulary and level of formality that affect plain language choices.

Governments in Hispanic countries have plain language manuals that are readily available:

Mexico: Lenguaje claro, Secretaría de la Función Pública

Colombia: Guía de lenguaje claro para servidores públicos de Colombia

For other languages, the Plain Language Network lists international resources.

7. Adopt a plain language philosophy

These suggestions will improve your content and translations not only for people with low reading skills but for everyone who needs your information. Plain language content will help you engage your audiences and persuade them to take the actions you want them to take.

While it may take time to get used to plain language writing, the benefits are worth it:

    • Better outcomes for all clients. They will use the information because they understand it.
    • Greater understanding of your messages, which translates into fewer service calls or information requests.
    • Fewer words, meaning lower translation costs.

When you adopt a plain language philosophy, you’ll help clients with all reading abilities get the services they need quickly and effectively — making your nonprofit that much more effective, too.

Hook PR Group works diligently to ensure translations for nonprofits are easy to understand yet accurate. For more information, send us an email or call 302.858.5055.