Writing hacks – Part 1: Keep it simple

For good writing and for good translation, always pick the simplest phrasing and word you can find. “Find” means it sometimes costs you more work to find a snappy three-letter word than dropping the Latin bomb that first blasts into your mind.

Microsoft has a writing policy that no specialized terms should be used in end user texts. So it’s “check” not “activate”, “open” not “access”, “change” not “transform” etc. This helps us translators work on technical texts. German tech writers, for example, love to boast their expertise through lofty verbs: “beheben”, “aufrufen”, etc. If you translate that as “fix” or “open”, no one can accuse you of a mistake; you’ve actually improved on the original within your professional scope of judgement.

Remember, the basic rule is to find the easiest expression. It works wonders in academic editing as well.

So let me repeat Orwell’s golden rules:

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

There’s one exception though – if your audience is international, Latin words are often preferable, because second-language English speakers will understand them  more easily. But use your common sense; everyone understands “fix”, so you don’t have to write “remedy”.

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