Know for whom you are writing
As the members of Tom Tom Club asked themselves in their 1981 song "Wordy Rappinghood": what are words worth?
What do you want to achieve with your words? Do you want to inform the readers? Convince them? Make them curious about your product or service? Do you want to keep them on the edge of their seats, or quite the opposite, let them sit back and relax?
Before you start writing, think carefully about the message you want to convey (content), the effect you want to achieve (impact) and the medium of your message (web/paper). Use these three rules of thumb to guide what and how you write. Consider:
- How will you structure the text?
- What will you emphasize?
- What style will you use?
- And what tone of voice?
- Do you need an in-depth piece or would you prefer to keep it short, with keywords and bullet points to enhance the SEO of your website?
- Do you want to guide your reader step-by-step or would you like to go straight to the point with a powerful punchline?
- And last but not least: is your audience familiar with the subject or are you writing for laypeople?
If you do not heed these considerations, misinterpretations might arise, causing your efforts to miss the mark.
The reader will zone out, forget the point you are trying to make or worse, feel like you are wasting their time. Either way, your message will be lost.
So it's important to know for whom you are writing.
I beg your pardon?
What applies to writing applies to translation, but the latter also involves a whole new set of challenges.
A quality translation is not a word-for-word conversion of the original text into another language. Differences in grammar, vocabulary and culture can quickly make a literal translation feel awkward or even downright incomprehensible.
Worse, literal translations aren't sensitive to cultural differences, which can turn off your target audiences.
Indeed, whereas some languages are very direct and straightforward (Dutch), others prefer a more diplomatic, indirect approach (French). And it’s precisely those 'untranslatable' differences that make the process of translating so rewarding.
The invisible translator
That's why, as a translator, I always aim to have the same effect on the reader as the original text. Because, let’s face it, it's not just the content that has to be conveyed, it's also the style, tone of voice and especially the spirit of the original text.
An experienced translator creates a seamless interface between people who otherwise would be unable to communicate with each other. This also means he or she needs to keep an eye on everything that goes on between the lines.
A good translator picks up on all kinds of implicit nuances and subtleties in the original text and knows how to incorporate them into the translation. The best translators can do this without the readers even knowing that they are reading a translation!
In other words, the best translators know how to make themselves invisible.