How to shorten a text when proofreading.

Working in a team of translators, you learn a thing or two about other languages. One of them: how to shorten your texts. German translations from English, just like French translations, Spanish translations, Italian translations, etc. are usually much longer than the English text. That’s just the way it is. Here are four ways translators and proofreaders deal with that:

#1 Remove superfluous words

This is especially useful when translating English to French, Spanish, Italian, or Portuguese. Latin languages use prepositions to connect nouns. English doesn’t. Let’s have a look at the translation for “Intel Lab” and “Game Browser”:

Table showing the translations into French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian of two English phrases
Latin languages are not economical with words

Not only are the translated words longer, there are more of them. One thing that’s often done in video game translations is removing the prepositions. Here, that means getting rid of “de/di”. It’s not as good as the original translations, but it saves some space.

Example of how prepositions can be removed to shorten a text in proofreading.
Maybe there wasn’t enough space for the whole sentence.

The picture above shows a great example of it. You can see how some sentences include the prepositions: “Vitesse de projectile”, “Bonus d’évasion” (projectile speed, escape bonus). But one omits it: “Piercing range bonus” is just “Bonus Portée perforation”. Looking at the capitalization of “Portée”, it might be because of a compound string. More likely though, it’s to avoid cut-offs or overlapping issues with the stats on the right.

But that’s not the only thing the proofreader did to shorten the text. Did you spot that?

#2 Shorten with ellipses and full stops

Going back to our “intel lab” translation, we can see just how much longer the translation is in every language. A quick an easy way to make the text much shorter is to use abbreviations. It doesn’t even have to be official abbreviations. Just pick a word that’s easily recognizable, and make it shorter.

In the picture above, the word was “Defense” (which you can shorten as “Def.”) In this context, users will know what it’s about. We talked about it for “Main Menu” before, sometimes shortened as “Menu princ.” instead of “Menu principal” in French.

The alternative is to use ellipses at the end of the phrase. You can set it up to automatically implement this once a certain character limit is reached. This is what has been done in this game lobby:

Age of Empires game lobby with ellipses used to shorten the text
The whole word “lieutenant” would not have fit. Proofreading/QA caught this and now you have ellipses.

“But this makes games ugly”

Ellipses and abbreviations are a quick and easy fix for cut-offs. However, sometimes clients favored other solutions. It was time for translators to get creative.

#3 Paraphrase and reformualte

Arguably the hardest, yet most satisfying option when done right. All recruitment tests for translators should include a question like: “Shorten this text as much as possible without losing any meaning”.

Of course, it’s easier to do it with longer texts. You can find new formulations or new vocabulary that easily replace the original translation. Do you need to spell out “veterinarian” when “vet” does the job?

The same goes for long paragraphs. Sometimes you can still capture every detail of the source text and stay economical. Sometimes you can’t, so you go to the next strategy:

#4 Get the essence of the message

When that translated text just won’t fit, you need to ask yourself: “Is this essential information for the user?”. If yes, keep it. If not, start cutting. Go through the whole text and prioritize the content users will see.

Take a look at this text box:


Battle Pirates text box with English text that can be shortened
Introduction text for an online game

Two things:

  1. The translation does not need to be word for word. You can capture the essence of the message in completely different words if that’s what you need.
  2. Important information can be classified in a few points: The Earth is mostly water, it’s chaos out there, and two forces are opposed (you are one of them). You can omit the rest and the player will still understand the premice of the game.

Thankfully, the text box looks big enough to fit even a German translation. There might be no need to shorten the text at all. A little bit of QA will tell though.

Bonus way: Dynamic font resizing

This is what you do when you have developers working for you. It does not always work. Sometimes the text will shrink to an unreadable size. But other times, well, translators can stay close to the source text while the text suffers no loss or paraphrasing. Here are some examples to illustrate this:

Side by side comparison of the font sizes in English and German
The font size is visibly smaller in the German translation

These are four strategies we use a lot in proofreading and QA. You can shorten almost any text with them.

What strategies do you use in your work? Forward slashes? Mention them in the comments!