One of the first things every budding journalist learns in J-School is the 5Ws: Five basic questions every news story should answer.

Who, what, when, where, and why.

Incidentally, these questions can help make your translation projects better as well. By answering the five Ws when you ask for a translation of your marketing materials, website, ad or business communications, you can help the translator understand your goals and provide the necessary background to create compelling copy in the foreign language.

Let’s take a look at the five Ws in more detail.


Knowing who your target audience is makes a difference when it comes to translating your material. A website that targets medical professionals needs to be written in a different tone than a patient brochure that will be placed inside doctor’s offices. Translators need to know your intended audience to find the right register and style for the translation.


What are the requirements for this translation? What format is the source text, and what would you like to get back from the translator? Do you have reference materials such as previous press releases, style guides, etc. you can provide for the translator? What are your expectations from the translator? Discussing the details of the project with the translator up front helps ensure a smooth transaction.


When do you need your translation back? Be realistic when you’re setting deadlines. A little bit more time can often guarantee a much better final product. Translators who have ample time to research your brand can craft translations that sound like you, and allowing a day or so between translating and revision helps create distance that helps the translator look at the text from the perspective of a first-time reader (as close as is feasible).


Where will the translation be used? Is it for internal purposes only or will it be published on the web, in a brochure or newsletter? If you are localizing a website, the translator will need to pay attention to the length of words that are to appear on buttons, tabs, and in drop-down menus, for example. When translating brochures, headlines may need to be kept to specific lengths to fit within the allocated space. Press releases that are sent to newspaper editors may need to follow slightly different rules than those to be published directly on the web.


This question really is at the heart of your project. Why do you want your material translated? Do you want to expand to a new market or provide information for existing customers in their native language? Help the translator understand your purpose, and you are more likely to receive a translation that aligns with your objectives.

Good translators will ask you these questions when you are approaching them with your assignment. But it never hurts to make like a journalist and provide these details unasked. Believe me, translators can never have too much background information about a project.

About the author - Marion Rhodes

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