The goal of any written material is to pass a message onto the reader. Regardless of the length or complexity of the text, it is essential for its content to be easily understandable if you want to achieve your goal. This can be related to website localization, add optimization, manuals, or any other piece of written text.

All of us are familiar with the phrase “to get lost in translation” however, more often than you expect, readers are lost in the text even if it is written in their own language. Here we talk about readability and how a reliable Language Service Provider (LSP) can improve it.

It is essential to know what constitutes a readable text and why plain language is important, especially if you write for translation.

What is readability and why does it matters?

Readability is one of the main criteria that can make or break your writing. The first concerns is how the text looks so that it is legible or decipherable. That means adding or removing spaces between words, adding the right punctuation marks, spelling words properly, and the like.

It’s more important feature, however, is per the definition of the Oxford dictionary “the quality of being easy or enjoyable to read.” If the text is readable it means that it is written in a way that is easy to digest and recall. It does not have too many complicated words that might be unfamiliar to the general audience such as jargon, slang, or specialized terminology.

Another aspect of readability focuses on the visual side of the text. It should be well organized into paragraphs with titles and subtitles, bullet points, etc. Adding a graph, chart, picture, or other nonverbal means to present the information is also recommended as it makes the idea clearer.

How to measure readability

Strange as it may sound, readability can be measured and there are several ways to do that. Perhaps the most popular one is the Flesch Formula, developed by Rudolph Flesch in 1948 and considered one of the most accurate ones, despite being the oldest. This is an index of readability that ranges from 0 to 100 and takes into account sentence length, complexity of words, number of syllables in a word, etc.

The higher the score, the more readable the text. Generally, a score between 60-70 is considered ok, but if it falls below 29 than the text is regarded as very confusing.

Whenever you start writing a text that needs to be translated into a foreign language, you need to strive for the highest possible readability index. Thus, you will avoid ambiguity and confusion in the source text and their possible transmission into the target language. So, it is good to avoid the following language elements when writing for translation:

  • Jargon words
  • Highly specialized terminology (unless we are talking about technical documentation and the
  • Specific technical translation services needed therefore)
  • Complicated and wordy sentences
  • Unusual punctuation (too intensive use of columns or series of dots, for example)
  • Clusters of adverbs or adjectives

Applying these simple rules will make your text more appealing to the readers and will catch and keep their attention.

Can translation affect readability?

When it comes to translation, a professional translator with significant experience in the area can actually improve the readability of your text by using the right language elements in the target language. As a whole, translation can affect text readability in a positive way if you have selected the right language service provider and you work closer with your partners.

Localization is the key factor in making a text sound proper in a foreign language. It adds the specific cultural nuances typical for the target audience, while bearing the same tone and message of the original.

It is fair to mention, though, that a poor translation can actually decrease the readability of a text. When the translator is not a professional in the field, they can mistranslate words, phrases, or whole sentences and change the overall meaning of the source text. This can happen if you choose a bilingual friend, a foreign-language speaking employee or even a translator who is not a subject-matter expert in the field for your translation project. Using machine translation can also affect readability in a negative way. So, it is better to select your translation partner carefully, utilizing criteria such as knowledge, experience, expertise, and certification rather than price to lead you in your decision.

Readability or plain language

When writing even a purely specialized text – technical documentation, conclusions from clinical trails or legal regulations – it is still necessary to strive for readability. Here comes plain language as defined in the US Plain Writing Act of 2010, which tries to enhance citizen access to Government information and services.

The idea behind plain language is that the text shall be written in such a way that lay people who come across the document should be able to understand it the first time they hear or read it. It aims to make complicated text sound natural and therefore easier to understand by the user of the service and not only by the professionals in the field.

We can conclude that plain language makes a specialized document more readable without decreasing its official value. It’s focus is on the user of such specialized documentation who are not working in the field, but simply utilizing the service provided by the experts.

Therefore, the great difference between readability and plain language is that readability concerns all type of written texts, from fairytales to court rulings, while plain text is used to make a specialized document more understandable by a lay audience. In any case, the translation partner you have chosen should strive to maintain the same level of readability or even improve it while doing their job.

Here at ICD Translation, we provide a wide range of translation and localization services that aim to help you reach a broader audience. We make sure that you speak the language of your target users

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