Writing for Translation: How to Improve Translation Quality

How to Improve Machine Translation Output

Translation software applications such as Google Translate use software to translate between languages. Translation software, commonly referred to as machine translation, is not perfect but can yield excellent results if used efficiently. One of the key factors to obtaining a good machine translation is the quality of the text being fed into the translation software. Here are some tips that you can use to improve the quality of your translation.

1. Spell check

Before you submit your content for translation, check your text for typographical errors, spurious words and incorrect uses of words that may bypass your spell checker (e.g. ‘role’ instead of ‘roll,’ ‘gait’ instead of ‘gate’). Translation software has no way of correcting spelling errors and the result will be poor translation quality. You can use the MS Word spell checker before posting your content.

2. Grammar check

Use a grammar checker on your content prior to posting it. You can use the MS Word grammar checker; if you are writing with WordPress, you can use the After the Deadline plugin for both grammar and spell checking.

Some grammar tips: Use a comma to separate a subordinate clause at the start of a sentence. Separate list items in a sentence with a comma. Do not use periods inside words or abbreviations since this may confuse the MT engine. Do not use a semi-colon to separate two independent clauses. Do not end a sentence with a colon. Do not use a slash as a word separator.

3. Keep your sentences short (but not too short)

Keep your sentences short, with no more than 22 words per sentence. But try and avoid writing sentences of four words or less. Avoid overly complex sentence constructions. If your content has long sentences, try and split them up into separate sentences separated by a period or by a semicolon.

4. Do not use pronouns without a clear antecedent

It is very easy to create a sentence that uses a pronoun without a clear, unmistakable noun antecedent. Avoid the use of pronouns, especially if they have an indefinite referent. For example: Instead of writing:

Install the GTS plugin on your website and then activate it.
The men told the managers that they need to leave.


Install the GTS plugin on your website and then activate the plugin.
The men needed to go and told the managers that they are leaving.

5. Only use dictionary words

If you are using a word that is not in the dictionary, chances are that the machine translation will not know it either. The MT will either not translate the word, or translate it to something intelligible. Keep to the approved meaning of a word in the dictionary. Do not use the word with any other meaning.

6. Avoid abbreviations and acronyms

Avoid the use of acronyms and abbreviations. Acronyms are often not applicable to another language, and are abbreviated in a different way. Try and spell out acronyms clearly. For example:

The GTS plugin uses the latest in MT technology


The GTS plugin uses the latest in Machine Translation technology.

7. Avoid the use of slang, humor and informal language

Slang, jokes and metaphors often do not translate well between languages. Such texts require the special attention of a professional human translator or a translation company, and may not be handled well by machine translation software.

8. Don’t be too creative in your writing

What works well for creative writing may not work for machine translation. Try and use the same words consistently in your writing; do not use different words for the same concept.

9. Use Active Voice

Using active voice makes your text more clear and concise, which in turn makes it easier to translate. For instance, instead of writing “The document will be reviewed by the team,” write “The team will review the document.”

10. Avoid Idiomatic Expressions

Idiomatic expressions can be hard to translate as their meaning doesn’t directly translate into other languages. Instead, try to communicate your message in a more straightforward manner.

11. Use Simple Vocabulary

Stick to common and simple words, avoiding the use of jargon or technical language as much as possible. These might be hard to translate accurately and could confuse the translation algorithm.

12. Double-Check Proper Nouns

Ensure proper names of people, places, companies, or products are spelled correctly. Incorrect spellings can throw off the translation software, causing errors in the final translation.

13. Consider Cultural Nuances

If your content will be read by audiences from various cultures, it’s best to avoid using cultural references or metaphors that may not be understood or may have different connotations in different cultures.

14. Use Formatting for Clarity

Use formatting tools like bullet points, numbered lists, and headings to help clarify the structure of your text. This will make it easier for the machine translation to understand and preserve the original meaning.

Following these steps, along with your initial rules, can significantly enhance the accuracy of machine translations. However, it’s important to remember that machine translation has its limits, and for more nuanced or technical content, a human translator might be required for the best results.