Writing for a global audience is a challenge for many different writers. How can you adapt your writing to resonate with an international reader? Have you been writing in a way that's likely to result in misunderstandings - or worse, offense - for international markets? Today, we're going to step through the best practices for writing for a global audience.
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6 Tips for Writing for an International Audience
Knowing who your audience is is a big part of writing. Not every story is meant for everyone, but universal themes can appeal to more than just an English-speaking audience. To craft something that many people will understand and care about, you'll want to avoid anything that could get in their way, such as regionally-specific language or incorrect translations.
Here are some key points you need to know while writing for international audiences!
1. Keep Writing Simple & Straightforward
When writing for a global audience, it's essential to keep things simple. Write in short, straightforward, and complete sentences and avoid using contractions. Say what you mean without using metaphors or idioms.
Something else to reconsider is the use of phrasal verbs. A phrasal verb is when a verb paired with a proposition creates a new meaning. For example, to let down versus disappoint.
This sentence can confuse non-native speakers because they might take "to let down" literally. Is Emily being physically let down? You can replace the phrasal verb with a more specific verb to avoid confusion.
You've written the sentence with a more direct meaning, making it easier for a global audience to understand.
2. Understand Cultural Differences & Context
All cultures have their differences and similarities. What we don't know about another culture or assume about them can often get in our way of understanding. For example, some Asian and South American cultures value working together to achieve an objective. They value the needs of the group over individual wants. In American and Northern European cultures, the value is placed more on the individual. Those cultures are more focused on personal achievement. Not understanding this difference can confuse a global reader who might think Americans are selfish and only look out for themselves.
Try to be mindful of cultural context and how other cultures might perceive country-specific practices. If possible, provide some explanation.
3. Metric System vs. Imperial Units
Something as simple as units of measurement can confuse international readers when writing for a global audience. As an American, I'm always thinking about measurement in terms of imperial units. Inches, feet, yards. However, the metric system is the most widely used measurement system around the world. So, when you're writing and trying to reach a global audience, it may be essential to adjust any measurements you use accordingly. Keep your specific audience in mind.
4. Mind Your Currency
This is a common mistake among mostly American writers, I find. We'll say "dollars" or "cents," not realizing other countries use those terms too. For a global audience, "dollars" and "cents" aren't clear enough to discern what currency you're talking about. Try using USD, CAD, or AUD to differentiate between American, Canadian, and Australian currencies.
5. Specify Phone Number Formats
Often, a person will write their 10-digit phone number out without thinking. They'll include the area code and the number itself. When writing for a global audience, it's important to remember to include your country code at the beginning of the number! For example, in the US, it's +1, and in Brazil, it's +55.
6. Avoid Jargon, Figures of Speech, and Clichés
A big part of writing for a global audience is the challenge of translating one language to another. Every language has its own figures of speech, slang, and everyday conversation. It's important to be aware of this and how it translates to another language or how non-native speakers might not understand it. For example, "a swing and a miss" or a "home run" are both baseball terms that Americans often use in everyday conversation, and baseball is an American pastime, so these sayings wouldn't translate well. You may be surprised to find how many clichés you use in your writing when you start looking at it from this perspective!
When writing for a specific audience based in another country, it's important to research to understand cultural practices. The main goal of your writing should be clear. You want your audience to understand you. After that, you want your writing to be targeted to a specific audience. This might mean adjusting the units of measurement, phone numbers, currencies, and cultural practices in your work. What connects with a Chinese audience might not connect with a European one or a Latin American audience. It's important to research so that you can speak directly with whom you intend to.