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!




2 thoughts on “How can style sheets help you to improve your business?

    • Sandra Young says:

      Karen, it really was incredibly useful. While I already had an adhoc system, it has really helped me to focus on how to systemise my efforts and make them work better for me, with the added bonus of improved quality/consistency in my translations! Thank you!


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