How to optimise your multilingual content strategy (part two)

Matt Colley continues his guide through the labyrinthine world of multilingual digital and print content in the second part of this series.

So, you’ve read and digested my first article on multilingual content. If not, get to it! You’ve got good translators on board, your clients love your content, and you’ve set up your glossaries and style sheets. Good to go, right?

Not so fast. Plenty of other potentially problematic scenarios can still crop up. But the good news is that these can be avoided with prior planning and a healthy dose of pragmatism. Let me show you how we do it.

Formatting multilingual content

Formatting can go missing in so many ways.

Let’s say I write some copy in Word, adding a word in italics for emphasis. The designer then lays the article out and I send it to the client.

After reviewing it the client sends some revised copy. When this is approved, we strip it from the layout and put it back into a Word document for translation.

The translator returns the copy in Hungarian and one of our team typesets it. The Hungarian client then resupplies a whole paragraph to superimpose over the original.

One lonely little word in italics has to pass through all these stages to make it on to the printed page or live website. It could go missing at any stage without proper care and attention.

Control multilingual production

Never underestimate the amount of time it takes to accurately complete a multilingual project. We know from experience that this certainly isn’t a one-person job.

Even if the workload is theoretically manageable by one person, it’s still best to split it up. For example, if I spend a whole day typesetting or proofreading I know I’ll get ‘tunnel vision’. My accuracy will decline the longer I do it. It’s also not going to be a great deal of fun, even for someone with a very peculiar interpretation of the word.

My team therefore shares the workload to keep it fresh. We also like to check each other’s work when time permits. It’s not uncommon to have four or five of us working on a multilingual project at peak times.

Managing Multilingual Content

Be top of the charts

It’s important to always stay on top of the project. Our solution has been to devise exhaustive production charts that allow the team to see at a glance what stage each article is at in each language.

A quick scan of the chart means anyone should be able to see which translators are running late, which articles have been sent to the client for checking, which markets are being tardy with feedback, and how close each edition or web article is to completion.

Everyone involved in the project is aware that keeping the chart bang up to date is vital. Whenever we do something, we mark it on the chart.

Manager first, editor second

It’s crucial to have a clear distinction between the roles of an editor and project manager. When working on the ‘master’ magazine or website I need all my regular editorial skills, but once I switch into multilingual mode I’m more of a project manager.

The chances are that I’ll also be communicating with clients in many different countries to get the articles checked and approved. This means I’m also effectively playing the role of a client services manager alongside my editorial duties.

The trick is to never be afraid to pick up the phone and make an international call. I also never underestimate how much just one or two words in an unfamiliar language will be appreciated by clients in that country.

Dealing with multilingual mail

We could get hundreds of megabytes of mail every day with dozens of annotated PDFs and questions from different countries. How do we cut through it all and make sure our inboxes don’t crash? And what if the articles are huge and can’t even get through to our clients in the first place?

Using online proofing tools such as ProofHQ has revolutionised the way we work. No more coming into the office in the morning to find that I didn’t receive any messages after 6pm because my inbox was full. Instead, our clients simply make their corrections online.

They don’t need to download any software, and I get automatic notifications whenever a proof is corrected and the changes are ready for me and my team to implement.

A final word on multilingual content strategy

Following these tips helps to iron out any procedural difficulties when creating multilingual digital and print content. In the final part of this series, I’ll take a look at the back end of the project as well as feedback and assessment.

As a whole, Dialogue publishes content for brands in 16 languages and distributes to more than 100 countries. If you want to know more, feel free to contact us at