Response to Gnome writing guidelines

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The Gnome Project (GNOME is a popular open-source user interface for Linux-based computer systems) has a very interesting writing guide in its documentation pages for the community. The “Writing Documentation for an International Audience” outlines some basics on how to best write copy and technical documentation for international audiences, i.e. including texts that are meant to be translated to various languages. It sets forth a few guides and examples on writing (that being from an English-language standpoint) and makes recommendations as to how much the localization process could be facilitated by prior care about the writing style.


How important is the writing style in your product? Many would argue it is at the center of a good content strategy and usability. Consistency, clarity and readability make any product better in terms of communication. You are served well if your software or website follows its own style. Style can be something you could be identified by. Take for example the British weekly magazine The Economist, which has its own very distinct writing style applied throughout the publication (the magazine does not even include authors’ names, the magazine is the brand).

The one thing where I am not so sure, and that is where I would love to read your opinion, is when the Gnome guide recommends actively changing content (no jokes, etc.) in order to accommodate future translations. That might work in a strictly technical context, but will result in a rather bland and boring user-facing communication when it comes to actual user interaction or marketing. Good localization will take into account such nuance and replicate that as far as possible across all channels. Rather than oversimplifying the original text, more effort could be made to translate it properly. What do you think?