Note: This blog entry was originally written in Japanese in 2019 for our Japanese website. We used our machine translation platform Translation Designer to translate the entry into English and to post-edit the output for readers outside of Japan. The original Japanese entry can be found here.

What are the key points to maintain the quality of translation?

There are various factors such as the skill of the translator, the existence of reference materials, and the completeness of translation memory and glossary. But the style guide is even an important factor that is indispensable for maintaining high quality translation. In this article, we will introduce what kind of role the style guide plays in maintaining the quality in translation work.

What is a style guide?

A style guide is a document that summarizes the rules for expressions and notations for the writing of documents. At translation companies, by proceeding the translation work while referring to style guides, the variation in the translated text is eliminated and the work is finished with a sense of unity. Style guides are indispensable, especially for large-scale projects involving multiple translators. By setting rules in advance for items that can have multiple expressions, we can prevent inconsistencies among translators and maintain the quality of the writing.

Other than the aspects of consistency and quality, style guides can even help you create the translation you aim for. Since the style of the writing affects the impression of the document, if you have a certain image of what kind of impression you want to give, such as having a soft tone or making it concise, define rules according to that image. By doing so, you can create the document in your preferred style.

A style guide may be provided by the client as a reference material, or a translation company might be instructed to match the style defined by Microsoft. Unless otherwise specified, the translation company will create and select a style guide after checking the contents of the document to be translated and its related materials.

What is included in a style guide?

So, what exactly is a style guide? What is defined? Here are some examples of items listed in a style guide. (The content of a style guide varies depending on the language used. Here is an example of translating English into Japanese.)

Style of writing
Roughly speaking, "style of writing" in Japanese writing is indicating whether to use desu and masu (formal) or da and dearu (colloquial). The feel of the writing changes depending on this style of writing. The formal style in Japanese has a softer impression, so it is preferred in user manuals and website texts. Since the colloquial style can make the writing concise, it is often used for presentation slides. It's not about which is the right one. What is important here is to be consistent within the document. (In reading materials such as articles, there is an expression method that dares to mix the formal and colloquial styles in order to give a rhythm to the writing.)

In addition to the rules for the entire document, specific rules such as "colloquial style should be used with bullets" are also set in some cases. Moreover, there might be instructions that say, "Headlines and the like should be nominal sentences (ending with noun phrases)."

You may think that you don't have to make such specific rules, but if you try to revise the style later, it will take a lot of time and effort. You can avoid the risk by setting it in advance. For translation companies, it even helps reduce the number of questions they get from translators after they start translating. Above all, by defining the style of writing, you can control the ultimate impression of the document to some extent.

Letters and characters
Letters and characters that can be used in the writing are also defined in a style guide. "Letters and characters" here refer to hiragana, katakana, kanji, alphabet, numbers, and so on. It is unlikely that a style guide will prohibit the use of hiragana, but you may prohibit the use of some kanji to make the text easier to read. The standard policy is to use only the kanji in the Common Kanji Table stipulated by the Cabinet Notification, but depending on the field or industry, kanji other than the common kanji might be used on a daily basis, so confirmation is required.

Alphabet and numbers can be written in both half-width and full-width characters, so you will have to decide which one to use. Since the impression of the writing changes by half-width and full-width characters, it is necessary to unify them.

Example using half-width characters: ENTERキーを2回押します。
Example using full-width characters: ENTERキーを2回押します。

Katakana can also be written in half-width, but in general, full-width is used. However, in cases such as when there is a limit to the text display area due to the user interface, half-width katakana may be allowed to be used to shorten the translated text.

Symbols, for example, are the following used in sentences:
「」()-_?!。 、:”/・・・・%

There are various symbols such as parentheses, punctuation marks, exclamation mark, question mark, hyphen, and colon. A style guide defines which symbols can be used and how. For example, if quotation marks are used in an English text, you can define whether to use the quotation marks as-is or change them into parentheses in the translated text. Other cases may be, whether to allow the usage of exclamation marks or question marks in the translated text, or only in certain context. Also, since many symbols can be written in full-width or half-width, you can specify which symbol to be written in either way.

There are cases where you use English-derived symbols such as quotation marks and colon as they appear in documents that include a lot of English terms, for example, IT product manuals and programming documents. However, it is important to note that many readers may find it uncomfortable to see these symbols in a general document.


In this article, we have introduced three items in a style guide. But there are many other items that can be included in a style guide. Depending on the content and volume of your document, styles might not have to be detailed, but the more text you translate, the more important a style guide becomes. A style guide is also essential if the client has a specific image of the final translated document.

At translation companies like Kawamura, we are committed to delivering translations that meet our clients' preferences. If you are planning to request work to a translation company and do not have an existing style guide, you can provide related materials or old editions of the translation. Those may help the translation company to create the translation in a similar style. Also, if you have any preferences for the items that were introduced here, you should suggest those as well.

The translation quality committee of the Japan Translation Federation (JTF) provides the JTF Japanese Standard Style Guide (for Translation) free of charge. If you want to see a sample of what a style guide looks like or want to introduce a style guide within your company, it might be a good place to start.

Kawamura's translation service

Kawamura International not only provides translations based on style guides, but also can create style guides for you.

We cover industries such as IT, software localization, medical devices, pharmaceuticals, finance, IR, legal affairs, tourism, manufacturing, and SAP-related documents. The most suited translators will be assigned according to your industry and specialty. We offer comprehensive solutions to all of your problems. Please feel free to contact us for translation requests or if you have any questions about translation services in general.