How can style sheets help you to improve your business?

I attended a webinar by Karen Tkaczyk entitled Take charge: develop your technical style set, hosted by Alexandria Library in May.

I wanted to write about what I learned in the webinar and I also feel it fits in quite well with Claire’s blog post last week on time management.

The webinar focused on developing personal style sheets for your clients in a technical setting, and considering the importance of this in moving forward in your career. This was particularly relevant for me as I work predominantly in the technical sector, but I also think that this tool can be applied to any area of translation.

Why are personal style sheets important?

I’m sure that all of you reading refer to standard style guides in your work at times – the Chicago Manual of Style, the Economist Style Guide, etc. As language professionals, we can use these to guide us when we have doubts, to provide us with solid arguments if our choices are questioned or if we question the choices of others. If you want to read more about the effective use of style guides in our work, take a look at Nikki Graham’s blog post on the subject.

Personal style sheets take it one step further. By developing these we can then have the choices and preferences of our repeat clients at our fingertips. This not only helps to ensure consistency, but also speeds up our work and makes us more productive. This is of the utmost importance in areas such as technical translation, where there is an abundance of abbreviations, acronyms, terminology or spelling preferences. The inconsistencies I often find in the technical texts I translate make this all the more relevant.

The first time I used a personal style sheet/checklist was when I was working on a Portuguese-English dictionary project for Oxford University Press. A full style guide was available, but it was very long, making it difficult to look up specific queries quickly when finishing a batch of entries to deliver. I therefore pulled out the aspects that were most relevant to me and collated them in a very simple checklist.

Dictionary translation is different from other types of translation as you are working with very short lengths of text, with a particular focus on many different linguistic aspects of words, such as phonetics, register, dialect, etc. However, the reasons behind using a checklist or style sheet are the same – to remind you of anomalies to look for, to ensure consistency, and to speed up the whole process of translation and editing.

Since working on the dictionary project, I have worked with a number of other style guides (both client ones and professional ones) to aid me in my work. In the past I have generally made checklists to highlight specific aspects for different clients. However, the template provided by Karen after the workshop was in table form, which  I think will be more effective due to the visual way it spreads out the information.

Karen said something that really struck a chord with me during the webinar: technical writing is often considered to be badly written. However, our job as professional linguists is to create a report, article or information leaflet that is concise, accurate and well written. Style guides, and moreover personal style sheets that we have developed for our clients, can help us to achieve this more efficiently.

What can you include in a style set?

Anything that changes from client to client, a specific requirement for a client, or specific aspects of the language for which consistency is paramount to ensure a coherent text. Here are some examples:

  • Use of decimal points
  • Units of measurement
  • Formatting – bold, underlined, font size, etc.
  • Client-specific terminology preferences
  • Inconsistent use of vocabulary
  • Inconsistent use of spelling (between US and UK English)
  • Numbers (numerals or letters – a mix is often used without following normal style rules).

Are these similar in your area of translation? Would style sheets be useful in keeping track of these and correcting them when necessary?

How does having a style guide help you to eliminate inconsistencies from your translations?

I worked on the Oxford Dictionary project consistently for two years, yet I would still forget aspects of the style guide as it was so extensive. Having a checklist to highlight particular aspects that often slipped through the net was essential for giving my brain a nudge in the right direction, and for focusing on the specific issues to look out for when checking batches for delivery.

The same applies to style sheets. Currently I work with a mix of clients: I have a couple of main clients with whom I work most weeks, others with whom I work most months, and others with whom I work on the odd project. A style sheet ensures that you don’t forget the issues specific to each client, and that you continue to provide a consistent service. Rather than wasting time wading through paperwork and trying to find the specific requirements for each client, you will have all the details on your style sheet. You’ll also have your extra notes on the terminology choices you have made (when not otherwise specified) or that you have decide on using a suitable general style guide of your choice.

 What does this mean for the client?

By developing a style sheet, you can provide your clients with an improved, sleeker service. Furthermore, taking the time to attend to details in order to ensure consistency throughout the text will show your client that you care about the quality of the text. It is worth highlighting your efforts to new clients, firstly to make them aware of the consistency measures you are taking with their texts, and secondly so you can collate a list of their preferences.

Do you think this technique works in your area of translation? What are the similarities/differences in the issues that come up in comparison with the technical sector? Please comment below!





by Claire Harmer

For translators, time management can be a difficult task, particularly when we have large projects on the go. A few weeks ago I delivered a large (20,000 word) translation which left me feeling overwhelmed and overworked, so I decided to do some research on time management for translators. I’m hoping that I can use this research to implement some rules for myself and learn to manage my time better in the future.

One particularly helpful resource I came across was one of Tess Whitty’s Marketing Tips for Translators podcasts: ‘Simple time management tips for translators’, in which she interviews David Rumsey of North Country Translations. You can listen to the podcast at

Some things I learned about time management while I was researching:

Smart phone tips

For most of us, our smart phones mean we can respond to queries or project enquiries when we’re out of the office, which is great, but it also means that clients can contact you at any time of the day or night! If you work with clients across several time zones, this can be particularly difficult as some may assume that you have read their message even if there is a nine or ten hour time difference.

  • I normally leave my phone on silent when I’m working so I don’t get distracted by instant messages, texts and phone calls… basically anything that’s not translation-related.
  • I tend to leave my email open while I work so that I can see when a new message comes in. However, I’m thinking about changing this and only checking it on the hour or every 2 hours instead. This means I won’t be as responsive, but I believe it will be more conducive to work. Does anyone else manage their email in a similar way?

Business hours

In Tess’s podcast, David Rumsey explains that many translators don’t feel like they can stick to pre-fixed business hours because they’re worried that if they don’t respond to every single email, LinkedIn request, Skype message, etc., that people will go elsewhere and they will therefore lose clients. He maintains that it’s important to set out what it is you want to achieve and how you want to work, and stick to this.

I completely agree with this and often wonder ‘how are my clients going to respect my working hours if I don’t respect them myself?!’

Further to David’s suggestion, I’m thinking about telling my clients that I’m trying to stick as closely as possible to my scheduled work hours, as well as setting an out of office auto-responder for non-work hours (i.e. any time that’s not 9am-6pm).

Does anyone do this already? Has this change been well-received by your clients?

Inundated with emails?

If you open your email after the weekend and have tens (or even hundreds!) of emails waiting for you, it can take hours to sort through them, which can prevent you from getting your actual paid work done!

Here are some key things you can do to reduce so-called ‘email stress’:

  • Create subfolders in your inbox and sort your emails into these folders so there’s not a long list of them staring at you! You can programme most email applications to do this for you automatically, which I only found out recently. If you use Gmail, this link shows you how to use messages to create filters:
  • Send short, concise messages. If your email message is longer than 2 paragraphs long, perhaps it would be easier and less time-consuming to call the person instead? A phone call might even be more effective, as many people don’t read lengthy emails anyway (and if they do, they often skim read them)!
  • ‘If you want to receive less email, send less email’. David mentions that we should think about who the message really needs to go to before we send it. Don’t copy people in to emails unless they really need to be copied in, because you’ll probably get responses from everyone, which means more messages for you to read!
  • Create email templates for responses you end up writing a lot, for example you could have a ‘thank you for your enquiry, I am currently booked up until [insert date]’ template, or a template for responding to questions about rates, Trados discounts, etc.
  • Unsubscribe from emails you never read. I have subscribed to a huge number of websites over the years, so this week I’m planning to get to grips with the email management tool and assess which ones I still want to hear from. I’ll let you know how it goes!

Planning your work for the week

This tip is from David via Tess’s podcast and I’m going to do my best to implement it in my own work schedule!

Take time out, whether it’s 15 minutes or an hour at the start of the week, to create a to-do list, and organise it into the following categories:

  • things you have to accomplish this week,
  • things you want to accomplish this week,
  • and things you would like to accomplish this week.

Focus on the have to list first, and don’t move on to the want to list or would like to list until the first list has been completed. If you stick to this system, you can free yourself of the biggest tasks first, leaving less urgent and therefore less stressful tasks for later. Try to keep the have to list to a minimum: it needs to be achievable and not overwhelming!


  • If you take on work that you actually enjoy doing, you’ll procrastinate less. So if you like working in a particular area or for a particular client, seek that kind of work out, rather than taking on everything that lands in your inbox.
  • Identify what time of the day you’re most productive and schedule your work accordingly. Some people are early birds and some are night owls. I’m still trying to figure out which one I am… it seems to vary depending on the weather!
  • The following idea was mentioned during Marta Stelmaszak’s Business School for Translators, and is particularly good for when random things pop into my head when I’m working and I think ‘oh yes, I need to do that!’ but the actual task isn’t work-related. Whenever something like this tries to invade my translation space, I jot it down on a post it and put it in a box in the far corner of my desk. That way it’s out of sight so it doesn’t distract me from my work, and the worry of forgetting about it altogether goes away. I check the box at the end of the week if I have time and go through everything. Before using this method I honestly used to spend about an hour a day procrastinating on these tiny things. Thanks for the tip, Marta!

Some apps that might help

Pomodoro – Sandra, a fellow blogger at The Deep End, introduced me to this tool and it has been a huge help, particularly when I’m working on large translation projects. It breaks your work time into manageable 25-minute chunks and ensures that you take regular 5-minute breaks after each one, followed by a longer 20-minute break after you’ve completed four 25-minute chunks. You can buy the timer or invest in a Pomodoro course at the official website, but so far I’ve just used one of the free online versions.

Wunderlist – Personally, I prefer a good old-fashioned paper list, but Wunderlist is great for people who love apps and have various different to-do lists.

Toggl – A useful tool for recording how much time you spend on different tasks.

Trello – Helps you to manage projects easily. For each project you can create tasks and sort these into categories: ‘ideas’, ‘to do’, ‘doing’ and ‘done’!

What about you? Can you recommend any time management techniques that have helped you to become more productive? If you have any, please share them in the comments section below to help us all avoid ending up like this…